- This post contains affiliate links. Read more here.
- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Spraying, also called urine marking, happens when a cat marks their territory by spraying a small amount of pee on a vertical surface. You can tell the difference between spraying and urinating because a spraying cat will stand, not squat like they do when using their litter box.
Any cat can spray—male or female, “fixed” or not—but unneutered male cats are most likely to spray. For this reason, getting your cat spayed or neutered can often be a good first step toward stopping the spraying. Other ways to stop cats from spraying include enriching their environment and having your vet check them out for health concerns.
Without a doubt, spraying can be unpleasant—but whatever you do, don’t punish your cat for spraying. Punishment will only stress them out more and may make the spraying worse.
Read on to learn why cats spray and how to handle the problem effectively.
Why Do Cats Spray?
It’s important for anyone who lives with cats to understand what might provoke this very common cat behavior.
Cats spray very pungent urine to attract mates or let other cats know that they’re in heat, explains Stephen Quandt, Feline Training and Behavior Specialist and owner of Stephen Quandt Feline Behavior Associates, LLC.
Other behaviors common in cats hoping to mate include increased affection and yowling at night.
While some fixed cats may still spray, neutering your male cat and spaying your female cat is the number one solution to stop spraying, Quandt says.
Cat-to-cat conflict and territory disputes can also lead to spraying.
Both indoor and outdoor cats may mark territory by:
“The more cats there are in a home, the greater the potential for territorial stress,” Quandt says. If you have multiple cats, there’s a higher chance of conflict and related spraying behavior.
Territorial stress can also come from outside the home, like when a stray cat comes to hang around on the porch.
Change in routine or environment
Any number of changes could cause stress for your cat that leads to spraying, including:
- Moving to a new home
- Getting a new pet
- Bringing home a new baby
- Moving the litter box
- Furniture rearrangement
- A dirty litter box
- A change in litter brands
- Too few litter boxes
- The absence of a family member
- The return of a family member
Quandt says associative marking is a lesser-known form of cat spraying used to strengthen the bond between a cat and their owner. Cats do this by spraying their urine on objects they associate with their owner, like bedding, clothing, backpacks, and similar items.
“Basically your cat is telling you they want to strengthen the bond between you so they offer their urine as a gift in places where they smell you or spend time with you,” he explains.
Giving your cat more attention may help stop this type of spraying.
“Spraying behaviors typically begin when cats are kittens. When cats begin spraying at an older age, it’s more likely there’s an underlying urinary medical issue,” Miller says.
For instance, Quandt says that cats who have crystals in their urine or an inflamed bladder are likely to urinate outside of the litter box or strain when they try to pee. The stress and pain of the condition might also cause them to spray.
Is My Cat Really Spraying?
Not sure whether your cat is spraying or urinating outside of the litter box? Your vet can offer more guidance.
Even if you’re certain your cat is spraying, it doesn’t hurt to consult your vet. It’s important to address medical causes first, before you can work on the behavioral causes, Quandt says.
|Amount of urine
|Varies. Cats with medical conditions such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) may urinate small amounts often.
|Straight up and quivering
|Upright and backed against a vertical surface
How To Stop Spraying In A Multi-Cat Household
If you’ve already spayed and neutered your cats, these tips may help stop cat spraying in your home.
Add more litter boxes
In households with more than one cat, litter boxes can become a source of territorial tension. “So, we always recommend having one more litter box than the number of cats in the house,” Miller says.
These tips can help improve litter box usage for your cats:
- Place at least one litter box on each story of your home in an easily accessible spot.
- Set up litter boxes away from heavy foot traffic and noisy appliances like the dryer.
- Keep the litter box area clear of obstacles and provide a 360-degree view with multiple exit points—going to the bathroom is a vulnerable time for cats!
- Scoop litter boxes at least once a day. Change out the litter completely and deep clean the box about every two weeks.
- You can also try an automatic litter box so your cats always have a clean litter box to use.
Set up comfort spaces
“Cats spray to mark their territory and indicate that they need space, safety, and comfort,” Miller says.
So, making sure each cat in your home has a variety of resting spots where they can get space from other pets may help stop spraying.
Provide enough resources for everyone
Making sure all of your cats have enough resources may help reduce competition and territory conflict.
- Water bowls: Place multiple water bowls around your house, away from high-traffic areas.
- Food bowls: Feed each cat from their own food bowl. Place the bowls at least a few feet apart, or even in separate rooms if possible.
- Litter boxes: Provide one litter box per cat, plus one extra. Place the litter boxes in different locations around the house, and scoop them daily.
- Scratching posts, perches, and trees: Offer multiple scratching posts, perches, and trees throughout the house, in separate rooms whenever possible.
Add in more playtime
Playing with your cats may help relieve any stress they’re experiencing and minimize cat-to-cat aggression.
Cats have a natural instinct to hunt, and play allows them to express this instinct in a safe and controlled environment. Playing with your cats also helps them burn off energy. When cats have an outlet for burning excess energy, they’re less likely to become bored and frustrated—which means they’re less likely to engage in stress-related behaviors such as spraying and scratching.
Neutralize pet odors
To help break the cycle of spraying, clean any soiled furniture, walls, items, or areas right away.
This is an important step to preventing future spraying, since cats are most likely to spray or inappropriately eliminate in places they’ve previously marked.
Tip: Avoid cleaning products containing ammonia or vinegar, as they can attract cats to mark the same area again. Instead, use an enzymatic cleaner to neutralize the odors rather than simply deodorize them.
Try stress-relief pheromones
Pheromones are odorless chemical signals that cats use to communicate with each other.
Calming pheromone diffusers and sprays work by releasing a synthetic version of reassuring chemical messages, which can help ease stress and anxiety in cats. This, in turn, can help stop cat spraying.
Miller recommends the Feliway Enhanced Calming Pheromone Optimum Cat Diffuser. You plug this into an electrical outlet, where it releases a continuous stream of calming pheromones. This can help reduce spraying behaviors and keep cats from scratching furniture, too, she says.
How To Stop Cats From Spraying When They See Neighborhood Cats
Spraying warns other cats to stay away, Quandt says.
Some cats may spray when they see neighborhood cats in order to mark their territory and keep the other cats from coming around.
You may not always find it possible to keep neighborhood cats from coming into your yard, but you can try these tips to keep your cat calm:
- Remove any outdoor food or water sources that may attract neighbor cats.
- Close curtains or blinds at windows where your cat can see other cats.
- Provide your cat with a safe place to hide, like a cat tree or cardboard box
- Use plug-in calming pheromones.
- Play with your cat to distract them from the neighborhood cats.
How To Stop Anxiety-Related Cat Spraying
In some cases, anxiety may lead cats to spray in your home.
If anxiety is causing your cat’s spraying, you can help by identifying and addressing the source of the anxiety. As noted above, this may involve changing your cat’s environment by providing them with more hiding places, adding more litter boxes, or closing the blinds when neighborhood cats visits.
Playing with your cat every day can help banish boredom since it gives cats the chance to act on their natural predatory instincts. As a result, they’re less likely to become anxious or aggressive.
If these steps don’t seem to help, you can also ask your vet about anti-anxiety medications or over-the-counter supplements to help relieve anxiety.