Cats Who Spray in the House
One of the most
common behavior complaints about cats is urine marking, or spraying. You should
take heart, though, since this problem can almost always be adequately
Why cats spray
Urine spraying or marking
by cats is a normal behavior. Cats who urine mark will urinate mostly on
vertical surfaces, though they sometimes mark horizontal surfaces, too. They
deposit small amounts of urine, and display a typical posture while marking,
which includes backing up to the object, lifting and often quivering the tail,
and treading with the back feet.
Urine marking is used as a means of
communication between cats, and also serves to make their own territory smell
familiar to them. In a multiple-cat household, competition over resources maybe
a source of conflict, and could trigger urine-marking behavior.
The first step in tackling the problem
is to take your kitty to your vet for a thorough physical exam to rule out any
medical issues. Even though cats who urine mark have been shown to be no more
likely than cats who do not urine mark to have abnormalities on a urinalysis,
medical causes can contribute to the underlying stress or anxiety that a cat may
be experiencing. Urinary tract infections, metabolic diseases, and neurological
disorders may play a role in a cat starting or continuing the behavior.
Spay or neuter
Second step: Are all your cats spayed
or neutered? We've learned that kitties who aren't neutered may be more likely
to urinate inappropriately. Spraying is a far more common behavior in animals
who are not altered, male or female. Neutering is the best way to stop a male
cat from spraying, and is successful in 90% of cases. In females, only 5% who
are spayed will continue to spray. (Some of these cases are due to remnants of
the ovaries being left behind, so it might be a good idea to check with your
If you have questions about spaying or neutering your cat, read
Friends brochure. You can check the SPAYUSA website
to see if there's a clinic or veterinarian in your area that offer slow-cost
Litter box management
Proper litter box management and cleaning have a significant effect on
decreasing urine marking in cats. First, make the litter box as attractive as
possible. Keep the litter box immaculate by scooping daily and cleaning the
entire box every week or two with mild soap and water, rinsing completely. The
box should be large enough to accommodate the cat; most litter boxes on the
market are too small. The plastic storage boxes designed to fit under a bed are
often a better choice. Don't use covered litter boxes, since many cats find them
too confining. (Also, if the dirty litter box is out of sight, you might not
clean it as regularly!)
Second, make sure you have enough litter boxes.
The ideal number of litter boxes is one per cat, plus one. Spread the boxes
around the house. Cats don't like to be disturbed while in the litter box, so
put the boxes in quiet, less trafficked areas (not next to the washing machine
and dryer, for instance). Don't put a litter box near the cat's food and water
Next, you can work on discouraging your cat from urine marking.
Try placing a litter box in the area where the cat is spraying, and gradually,
inch by inch, move the box to a more appropriate area after the cat is using it
consistently. You can also try placing the cat's food or toys over that
Another option is to make the inappropriate area inaccessible, at
least for a while. If it is not feasible to block off the area, there are ways
to make the area aversive to the cat. Try using one of the following on the
spot: plastic carpet runners placed upside down, heavy plastic, contact paper
with the sticky side up, strong-smelling potpourri, solid-type room deodorizers,
If your cat "misses" the litter box and sprays nearby areas,
there are a few strategies that can help. You can create an L-shaped litter pan
by placing a second box at a 90-degree angle to the first, so they form an L
shape. With this configuration, urine is more likely to be confined to the box
and not deposited on an inappropriate surface. Another strategy is to use a
large, deep plastic bin as a litter box. Cut a hole in the front of the bin so
the cat can enter and exit; the high sides will keep the cat from spraying on
your wall or curtains.
The odor left behind in the soiled area should be
removed by using an enzyme-based cleaner, since they are designed to eradicate
the odor-causing bacteria. Avoid using anything containing ammonia, or any other
Incidences of spraying increase in multiple-cat households. If you have a
multiple-cat household, and you think competition over resources may be a source
of conflict, try creating an "atmosphere of plenty." Place food, water and
litter boxes in multiple areas throughout the house to give your cats access to
these resources without having to enter another cat's "territory." Adding more
cat trees or towers is a great way to expand the vertical space available to
your cats. Providing your kitties with more places to hang out can reduce some
of the tension that comes from sharing living space.
Another idea to
consider: Install an outdoor cattery to enlarge your cats' living area.
Catteries come in all sizes and shapes; you're limited only by your imagination.
They can be large open enclosures with shelves and cubbies where cats can relax
and play (and you can relax and play with them), small covered enclosures just
big enough for a litter box, or something in between.
Even if you live in
an apartment or condo, there are window catteries you can use. Plans and kits
are available online, and you can check out the following articles to come up
with some tailor-made ideas of your own:
Corrals! Disclosures on Enclosures
When you bring a new cat into your multiple-cat home,
spraying can occur as a method of establishing territorial boundaries. To reduce
this possibility, confine the new cat for a while to a room with food and a
litter box, away from the other cats in the household. Anew cat needs time to
adjust to the new house and smells of the other cats, without confrontation by
them. This separation period also gives the other cats time to adjust to the
smell and sound of the new cat. Read Introducing
a New Cat for more specifics.
Other causes of
Other factors can cause stress in your cat and
consequently influence urine marking: new cats or people in the neighborhood or
household; a change in the daily routine; or anything else that causes stress or
anxiety in your cat.
Cats who spray near a door or window usually are
doing so in response to seeing outdoor cats roaming near the house.
Indoor/outdoor cats can get so over-stimulated while they are outside that they
spray when they come in the house.
To deter this behavior, try to block
visual access by closing curtains, pulling down shades or even physically
barring the cat's access to the door or window. At the same time, use some
"creative sabotage" techniques to keep strays and outdoor cats away from the
house. Try some or all of the following:
- Get motion detectors with
- Setout balloons that will pop if a cat brushes up against
- Squirt them with a garden hose.
- Remove bird feeders and
garbage, which attract cats.
- Use a commercial pet repellant.
If a new person enters the household or if you have moved recently, your cat
may start marking the area or objects associated with the new element in his/her
life. Use these methods for cats who are spraying in response to something new
in the environment:
- Temporarily confine the cat to a room by himself
with food, water and a litter box. Let him get adjusted to that smaller space,
then after a few days, open the door and allow the cat to explore at his own
- Let the cat come to the new person, and don't force the kitty to
be sociable. It can also help if the new person starts feeding the cat or
playing with the cat using a favorite toy.
Finally, for any of the
situations described above, try using Feliway, a synthetic pheromone that mimics
the "feel good" pheromones cats produce and is often successful at defusing
stress in cats who are marking their territory.
Cat behavior can be quite complex. If you'd
like to know more, the following books can be very helpful:
There is also a wealth of information about inappropriate
elimination on the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
If you've tried everything and you are still unable to
resolve your cat's spraying behavior, consider consulting a cat behaviorist.
Here are several options:
also try these consulting services:
- Tufts Cummings School of
Veterinary Medicine Behavior Clinic (in Massachusetts) offers PETFAX, a remote consulting service.
Consultation is done by mail, email or fax. You will be charged a fee.
- The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine offers consultations for fees that
range from $55 to $115.