Urine spraying is the most common behavioural problem in cats and a leading cause of cats being surrendered to shelters and/or euthanised. Actually, while we humans consider it a problem, it is actually quite a normal and is their way of "marking their territory". Naturally, this behaviour is seen as anti-social to humans and thankfully most household cats don't need to mark their territory.
What is the difference between spraying and urinating outside the litter tray?
Spraying is different to urinating outside the litter tray (which can be behavioural or medical) as spraying occurs on vertical objects such as furniture, walls, windows, blinds etc. The cat will smell the target object, then turn around and with the tail erect and quivering will direct a stream of urine onto the object. Feline spraying is a deliberate act and is not related to urinating at all and shouldn't be confused with inappropriate urination.
It is most common in entire male cats, however, it is possible for neutered males and female cats to also spray.
Why do cats spray?
Cats communicate non-verbally in many ways. By scratching objects, body language, rubbing their cheeks and lips against objects (the face contains glands which when rubbed against an object secrete pheromones), defecating and spraying. There are numerous reasons why a cat may spray. Stress and territorial issues being the most common.
Territorial: Cats are extremely territorial and spraying sends a powerful message of ownership to other felines in the area. Spraying is your cat's way of marking his territory and defining boundaries. Territory problems may occur between cats living in the same household or if a neighbourhood cat comes onto your cat's territory (such as garden, garage or in some cases into the house). Other cats may spray outside your home, on the front door or walls, which causes your cat to spray to re-affirm his territory. Male cats are generally more territorial than females, particularly entire males. Some cats will spray new furniture or objects, this is in an attempt to remove the unfamiliar smell of the new items.
Stress: Stress is another common cause of spraying in cats. It may be that you have recently moved to a new home, a new family member (human or animal) has come to live with you, a territorial battle between cats (be it two cats living in the same household or a neighbourhood cat threatening your cat's territory), a change in household routine.
Sexual behaviour: Female cats may spray when coming into estrus to attract male cats. Male cats mark their territory and attract females.
Overcrowding: In multi-cat households, the higher the number of cats, the greater the chances of spraying behaviour. Which is again stress-related behaviour.
The location of the spray can also give you a clue as to a possible cause. Is your cat spraying close to a window or door? This could mean that another cat outside is bothering him. Have you had a new baby? Is he spraying on the cot or other furniture associated with the baby?
How to treat and prevent urine spraying?
Firstly, take your cat to the veterinarian for a thorough checkup to rule out a medical condition. The most important issue is to find out the causes of spraying and try to resolve the problem. If you own an entire male or female, desexing your cat is the most effective way of reducing spraying.
If the cat is spraying in reaction to a neighbourhood cat entering your property (garden, house or external buildings such as sheds and garages) then try to minimise your cat's exposure to the outdoor cat by blocking the view (where possible), or find ways to deter the invading cat from coming onto your property.
If the cause is stress then try to reduce it as much as possible. Spend more time with your cat and engage in play sessions with your him. Pet owners should spend at least 15 minutes per day playing with their cats, it is a great way to bond with and bring down his stress levels.
If your cat is spraying in one location only, where possible, place food and water bowls near the location as cats are clean animals and don't like to urinate/spray near their food source.
Clean the area thoroughly inside and outside your house and spray Feliway (a synthetic pheromone which mimics the feel-good pheromones cats produce) where the cat has been spraying. If possible, cover the area with aluminium foil to deter him re-spraying the cleaned area. Feliway also comes as a plugin to help relieve stress in cats.
If the problem is caused by two cats in your household not getting along it may be better to keep the cats separated as much as possible. Another method is to try and foster a harmonious relationship between the cats. This can be done by creating positive associations such as playing with the cats together, feeding them together etc.
Desex any cats who you don't intend to breed with. Between 80-90% of cats who are desexed (spayed or neutered) will stop spraying. It may take several months for your cat to stop spraying after being desexed).
Know your limits. Some cats do better on their own, some are fine with one or two feline companions. I have found so much variance between cats. Some cats just aren't particularly territorial and welcome new family members, others can be very funny if or when a new cat is introduced and this can bring about spraying. If you know your cat doesn't do well with new additions, limit how many cats you keep. Again, the more cats you have, the greater the chances of spraying in one or multiple cats within the household.
If you have a cat who has a habit of spraying on new furniture, make sure he is only allowed in the room when you are present until you are confident he won't spray. Spray any new additions (furniture that is) with Feliway.
If the above methods are unsuccessful in stopping spraying behaviour, your veterinarian may recommend medications.
There are several anti-anxiety medications available which can be helpful in reducing or completely eliminating spraying behaviour in cats. Some of these drugs have contraindications and therefore it is advisable you speak to your veterinarian about possible side effects prior to using them so you can weigh up the pros and cons.
If the problem persists speak to your veterinarian about seeking specialist help from a feline behaviourist.
How to clean urine spray?
Cat spray has a pungent aroma which is unmistakable. The use of an enzymatic cleaner can help remove the odour. In Australia, many cat owners and breeders swear by a laundry powder called Bio-Zet. It is important you do not use an ammonia based product to remove the spray as this will lead your cat to believe another cat has sprayed there and therefore make the problem worse.
There are many commercial products on the market which can be purchased either from your veterinarian or local pet shop.