—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸
The smell hits your nose, and you know it—there’s cat pee somewhere where it shouldn’t be. Spraying and marking behavior is a challenging issue to address, but that’s why I’m here.
Let’s get started.
Spraying is when a cat pees a small amount of pee, typically onto a vertical surface. They will stand by a wall, tail up, and spray urine on the wall—their tail might also shake.
This is usually a behavior done to mark territory. The cat may be insecure or stressed and marking the wall is their way to spread their scent, feel secure, and communicate with other cats.
If your cat is emptying their entire bladder, that is called house soiling and is usually handled differently.
#1 Get an Enzyme Cleaner
Enzyme cleaners contain good bacteria that eat the bad stuff (i.e. pee and poop).
Following the direction on the bottle is key when you’re cleaning up an area where a cat sprayed. Many of them can take a full 24 hours to fully dry and work. It’s important to get rid of any gross stuff so that your cat doesn’t return to the same spot, smell their business, and go again.
#2 Rule Out Medical Issues
There are many medical issues that can cause your cat to spray or mark. One more common issue is urinary crystals, which can cause inflammation in the urethra and bladder. This can be very uncomfortable and cause your cat to mark.
A vet visit and urinalysis are needed to check for crystals, and it will also detect other urinary issues like a urinary tract infection (UTI) or chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Also, if your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, they may spray. This is part of communicating with other possible mates. Spaying or neutering decreases this behavior.
#3 Combat Change With Positive Reinforcement
A new baby. A new pet. A new roommate. A new home. The loss of any of those things. These are possible reasons for your cat to feel stressed. Even small things like moving the litter box, changing litter, or moving furniture can cause stress. Cats are extremely sensitive.
For new people, if they are older children or adults, have them take over responsibilities for feeding and playing with the cat. Building a bond will be extremely important.
When adding a baby to the home, do your best to prep before the baby arrives by setting up the room as soon as possible and allowing the cat to explore it. After arriving home the first time, have the person with the strongest bond enter the home and spend a few moments with the cat.
Allow only supervised visits with the cat and the baby, and reward the cat with treats when in the presence of the baby (and if they’re behaving).
If your cat could be stressed or depressed over the loss of someone, a good overall rule is to shower the cat with love, playtime, and affection as much as possible. You may want to spend one-on-one time with the cat in a separate room to help them feel more secure and help them feel better.
#4 Address Any Resource Guarding
In animal behavior, if one animal is blocking another animal’s access to something, it’s called resource guarding. If one cat is blocking another cat’s access to the litter box, you’ll want to:
- Have one litter box per cat plus one.
- Put boxes in multiple locations that the spraying cat can get to; make sure they’re in spots with more than one exit so the other cat can’t block them.
- Try distracting the more dominant cat with playtime if you think your submissive cat wants to use the box.
If a cat is resource guarding with food, try changing the order you feed the cats. In feral colonies, the kittens eat first, then the females, then the males. Although indoor cats are fixed and end up with a different social structure, you can adjust the order you feed your cats to see if it makes a difference.
You may also want to feed cats that don’t get along in different areas of the room or the more fearful cat on an elevated surface.
#5 Lessen Multicat Aggression
Often, multicat aggression goes unnoticed if it’s the passive form. Of course you notice when cats have big blowouts, but you’re less likely to notice a cat quietly leaves the room when another enters. If you think cats aren’t fully coexisting in your home, try to:
- Use vertical space by adding perches, wall shelves, and cat towers.
- Play with and give devoted attention to each cat, one on one.
- Add pheromone diffusers, use pheromone sprays, or use calming collars.
- Consider reintroducing cats (starting fresh!).
- Allow each cat to have their own personal space; whether that’s time in their own room or a playpen, it can help.
- Train one or both cats to go on walks; time outside in their natural environment can lift their mood and boost confidence.
#6 Keep Strays Away
Strays are usually in most geographic areas, and while you may not see them, your cat probably sees or smells them.
Many strays tend to venture out in the middle of the night when most people are sleeping. All it can take is your cat to see one of these cats to get upset.
If the stray starts marking the outside of your house, your cat may up the ante and do the same. Marking on exterior walls is usually because of something outside. To keep strays away, you can:
- Block the window for your cat so they visually won’t see them.
- Put fragrances outside that cats don’t like—anything citrus should work.
- Use a motion-activated sprinkler.
- Install an ultrasonic deterrent; they emit high-frequency sounds that cats can hear but humans can’t.
- Talk to a local rescue about trap, neuter, return (TNR); sometimes getting a stray altered improves your cat’s response to them (plus, the stray will stop marking the outside of your house).
#7 Tried Everything? Talk to Your Vet or a Behaviorist
See if experts have additional suggestions for you, and if not, you may want to ask them about behavior supplements, anti-anxiety medication, or acupuncture. Sometimes just taking meds for a short time can improve the problem, while other cats do better on medications long-term.
Article by Elizabeth Italia 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist