Animals and Pets

Cat Spraying and Inappropriate Urination - How to Stop It

Cat Spraying

Cat spraying, which is a form of urine marking (same as dog urine marking) can be difficult to deal with. Cats spray when stressed, to mark territory and mating. It is also called marking and is not malicious or sneaky behavior.  Even rabbits spray to mark territory.

Urinating outside the litter box is known as inappropriate urination. Inappropriate urination can be a behavioral problem or have a physical cause. Cat spraying and inappropriate urination are common reasons cat owners take their cat to the veterinarian. Punishing or yelling at your cat will not help and may increase stress levels.

Spraying is when a cat backs up to a vertical surface with its tail erect and squirts urine. Their tail often quivers while they're spraying. Regular urinating is when they squat to pee on the furniture, the floor, things lying on the floor, or any other horizontal surface. Both males and females can (and do) spray and squat. Marking with urine is not a litter box issue.

How to Stop Cat Spraying

A combination of spaying or neutering, deodorizing, and removing potential sources of stress to the cat, may help with spraying.  Un-neutered male cats are the most likely culprits to engage in this undesirable behavior. Occasionally un-spayed females will do this as well. Therefore, it is advisable to neuter or spay your cat before the age of 6 months to curb this behavior from developing when puberty hits. However, a small percentage of neutered males and an even smaller percentage of spayed females will spray.

Stop Cat Spraying

When a cat urinates it squats down, but when a cat sprays it stands upright and sprays against a vertical surface. Your cat will back up to a vertical area with an intense look of concentration, tail twitching and lifted, and spray a small amount of urine from beneath its tail in short bursts. Various places may include a wall, couch, bed, countertop, drapes, or piles of clothing.

Spraying is marking behavior, not a litter box problem. It is an important part of nonverbal communication among cats, helping to establish and define boundaries and reassure cats what area (territory) belongs to them. Sprayed cat urine contains pheromones, a substance produced by animals that is used for communication. Combinations of pheromones are like human fingerprints.

Several different pheromones are secreted by different regions of a cat's body. By signaling to other cats, they affect a number of behaviors, including attracting a mate. Some pheromones mark objects and boundaries, while others send a signal of familiarity and well-being. Cats have other methods to mark territory, such as scratching or rubbing against something, or not covering their feces. But spraying is the most common method of marking.

Intact male cats (not neutered) mark because of their testosterone, but neutered male cats also spray if aroused. Females cats spray, especially intact females when in heat. If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, have your veterinarian perform an examination to eliminate the possibility of a medical problem or physical illness.

Cats are clean animals. Urinating outside the litter box is usually a sign that there is something wrong with either the cat or the litter box. A common physical problem causing inappropriate urination is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), but can also be caused by bladder stones, urinary tract infections, or diabetes. Physical problems can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

The most important thing to remember is PUNISHMENT DOES NOT WORK!

Give your cat a lot of attention. Some cats spray for attention. Spend time each day with your cat petting and interacting in a positive manner. Despite their reputation as being aloof and independent, your cat does desire contact with you.


Brushing your cat or playing a game of catch the laser (using a cat laser light) is a fun way to interact. Toys, such as feathers, fake mice, balls, and treat dispensers will give your cat exercise and mental stimulation. Cat furniture gives cats a great way to climb, hide, and rest from a noisy household.

Since cats mark their territory to keep suspected rivals away, if they cannot see other animals, they won't know to spray. Enough distance will need to be between your cat and the other animal, so your cat won't smell the other's scent either. If your cat is spraying, try making sure they can't visualize other cats outside. Sometimes that can just be as simple as keeping your blinds closed, or getting frosting for any windows that are at the cat's height.

How to Stop a Cat's Inappropriate Urination

The first step is to take your cat to the veterinarian for an examination because there may be a medical reason that is causing inappropriate urination. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a common cause of a lapse in using the litter box. The only way your cat can express discomfort is to urinate in unusual places. Sometimes the cat may associate pain with the litter box and choose a new place to eliminate.

There are 2 symptoms usually associated with FLUTD, though not always together

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): Like people, cats can get bacteria buildup causing an infection in their urinary tract that can make urination very painful.
  • Crystals: This often accompanies a UTI. There are 2 types of crystals, Struvite and Oxalate. When the pH in the urine becomes either too high or too low (a pH of approximately 6.5 is normal), these microscopic crystals can develop in the bladder. As they pass through the urethra, they actually slice the tissue, causing blood in the urine as well as allowing infection to begin.

Cats are fastidious creatures and they want a clean litter box. Whether you have only 1 cat or several, be sure you have an adequate number of boxes in appropriate places around the house. Then make a strict habit of keeping all of your litter boxes extremely clean. If cats have to step into a box that is caked with lumps and poo, they may choose to go somewhere else. Cats have sensitive noses and prefer unscented litter. The scent is added for humans, not cats. Most cats prefer open boxes, but a few like the privacy of a covered box. Always start with an open box and add another covered box later if you suspect your cat may prefer a covered litter box.

Stress can be caused by changes such as a new baby, a new partner, moving into a home where pets have lived previously, too many cats, anxiety about being left alone, a noisy household, even the presence of neighborhood cats within their view can cause this inappropriate urination. Cats allowed to go outdoors often begin "marking their territory" around the yard and then bring that behavior indoors.

Adjustments to Make in Your Home

  • Provide at least 1more litter box than the number of cats in your household and keep them clean.
  • Provide toys and scratching posts to keep your cat busy.
  • Spay or neuter your cat. This may solve the problem in just a few months.
  • Clean urine marks thoroughly with a product designed to neutralize the odor. Avoid ammonia-based products as they smell like urine, and will encourage your cat to spray on the same spot again. Clean urine marks with a homemade recipe of equal parts white vinegar and water, with a little bit of dish soap in a spray bottle. This is inexpensive and works.
  • Cats are sensitive. If your cat is in a stressful situation, such as conflict with other cats or separation anxiety, eliminate the cause of the stress. Encourage a positive relationship among multiple cats. Cats that get along are less competitive. Play with your cats together and give each cat equal attention. Try to get them to eat and sleep together.
  • Reduce stress-related behavior including: urine marking, new pet or family member, moving to a new home, visits to the veterinarian, adjusting to a new environment, with a calming spray.
  • Restrict the view outside. When your cat sees another cat, its natural response is to mark its territory - your home. Cover windows with blinds or curtains, move furniture to deny access to certain windows, and shut doors to certain rooms.
  • Be consistent! Change is often the cause of spraying or inappropriate urination. Feed your cat at the same time and keep its food, litter box, and bed in the same places. Place your cat in a separate room when visitors arrive.