Spraying, or marking, is something not all cats do, but when yours decides to call out a spot in your house for his personal bathroom use, it’s hard to think of a more offensive cat behavior.
My cat, Max, was a sprayer. And of all the places he picked to mark his territory, it was my stovetop! The smell permeated everything to the point where I couldn’t even use my oven or stovetop for quite some time.
What Is Spraying?
Spraying is essentially your cat’s way of marking his territory, much like how some dogs will urine mark. But what’s the difference between spraying and urine marking?
Essentially, it’s in the position your cat assumes. When cats spray, they’ll back up to a standing object. It might be a wall, a chair leg, or another piece of furniture. They raise their tail erect and squirt urine, usually on vertical surfaces.
When cats urine mark, they’ll squat just as if they’re peeing normally and they’ll do this on a flat surface, like your carpet or your bed.
In both scenarios, the behavior is intentional, and not a matter of their inability to “hold it.” It’s purely a behavioral issue.
What about female cats? Do female cats spray? Yes, female cats spray too. This behavior is not limited to male cats. Although I’ve never had a female cat that sprayed, it’s fairly common.
But why do cats spray?
Why Your Cat Sprays
There are several possible reasons for this annoying and smelly behavior. Take a look below and see which resonates with your cat. And remember, there could be more than one reason, as was the case with my cat, Max.
Spraying Reason #1: Stress
Cats are most certainly creatures of habit. Have you changed anything in your cat’s routine or environment? In Max’s case, we had recently moved into an apartment while we were waiting for our house to be built.
Just like how humans cope with stress by engaging in certain soothing rituals, cats may use urine marking, or spraying, to relieve their stress by marking out their boundaries. They may try to self-soothe by creating their own “safe space.” This is one way that cats communicate their stress to humans.
So think about your life recently. Have you moved? Have new family members been brought into the home? Has your routine changed?
Spraying Reason #2: Medical Issues
If your cat has stopped using the litter box or if he urinates right in front of you, it’s time to see your veterinarian. A urinary tract infection may be responsible for your cat’s recent spraying behavior.
Kidney disease may also bring about changed urinary habits, including more frequent urination.
Since cats can’t verbalize when they’re in trouble, they may use changed behavior to signal to you that something is wrong and they’re experiencing a medical problem.
Spraying Reason #3: New Pets
In Max’s case, it wasn’t just that we had moved into a new apartment, it was also that he was sharing this new space with two other male cats. And while they weren’t new to him, he felt it important to stake out his turf in our new digs.
If you’ve recently adopted a cat, dog, or another animal, your cat may be feeling threatened and may simply want to establish that this is his territory.
And, if you’ve thought sharing a litter box was fine, think again! Cats actually need a lot more “bathroom space” than they’re often given. Just how much? Dr. Liz Bales recommends one litter box per cat, plus one. So if you have two cats, you need a total of three litter boxes.
Check out the rest of her litter box secrets here, which can be particularly helpful for multi-cat households.
Spraying Reason #4: Your Cat Isn’t Neutered
Do neutered cats spray? Male cats that aren’t neutered have a strong desire to spray or mark their territory. If you can neuter your cat before he’s five months old, most of the time you can prevent the behavior from developing in the first place.
If you’ve adopted an older cat, you can still get him neutered and most of the time, this will end the spraying behavior.
How to Stop a Cat from Spraying
Did you discover the reason for your cat’s indoor spraying? Now it’s time to match the spraying cause to the spraying solution!
Spraying Solution #1: Curb the Stress
If you’ve recently moved, it may take some time for your cat to feel comfortable in his new home. Start by providing small boundaries for him, perhaps giving him one room.
If a new person has been introduced into the family, make sure to give them and your cat plenty of time to bond.
In addition, pheromone therapy can produce wonderfully calm behavior in cats. I use this diffuser from Feliway in my house. It emits pheromones that mimic those of a nursing cat mother, calming your cat naturally.
For more about pheromone therapy, see this post from Dr. Liz Bales, the “Cat-vocate.”
Other natural and effective therapies that can be used during transitional periods include Zylkene. This capsule is lactose-free and contains a naturally soothing milk protein. It’s safe for both short and long-term use, so it’s perfect if your cat just needs to get over the “hump” or if the situation is long-lasting.
Spraying Solution #2: See Your Veterinarian
If your cat’s spraying indoors is related to a medical condition, it’s important to see your veterinarian right away. Kidney disease and urinary tract infections are nothing to play around with, so be sure to book an appointment right away.
If you need a refresher on kidney disease symptoms, please read this post.
Spraying Solution #3: Help Your Pets Adjust to Each Other
Often, this is just a matter of time. But don’t force the issue! Remember, don’t make your cats share a litter box, and make sure each box is sized appropriately for each cat.
The ideal size for a litter box can be measured from the length from your cat’s nose to the tip of his tail, plus another fifty percent. And most cats prefer non-hooded boxes. This is the one I used for my cat, Olivia.
Spraying Solution #4: Neuter Your Cat
Remember, most spraying behavior can be eliminated by getting your cat neutered. You can do this even at five months old, and typically your cat will never start spraying in the first place.
Spraying Solution #5: Use a Cat Spraying Deterrent
If you’ve tried all the solutions above without success, then it’s time to try a deterrent spray! Cats are naturally repelled by certain essential oils and odors, like the ones contained in this deterrent spray. It’s safe for most surfaces and won’t leave any stain marks behind. You can even use it on your plants!
Spraying Solution #6: Switch Your Litter
If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know I absolutely love World’s Best Cat Litter™. Their Attraction Action® Formula is specifically made for kitties who are having trouble or just flat-out refusing to use the litter box. This high-performance litter has a natural, plant-based additive that safely draws your cat to the box. So if your cat is spraying indoors, try Attraction Action® to end the problem.
How to Clean Up Cat Spray and Get Rid of the Smell
Cat pee is… pungent! And it’s notoriously difficult to get rid of. I couldn’t use my oven or stove for months after Max began spraying on it.
That was before I learned about the right way to clean up cat pee and get rid of the smell for good.
Once you’ve identified the reasons for your cat’s indoor spraying and found the appropriate solution, you’ll need to revisit the scene of his crime and clean it properly.
Certain enzymatic cleaners, like this one from Kinderbean, are designed not to just clean the mess, but actually eat up the bacteria that cause the odors. Once the odor is gone, your cat is far less likely to spray there again.
Here’s the step-by-step process to effectively clean up cat urine.
- Terrycloth rags
- An enzyme cleaner like this one
For Kinderbean No Stress Mess Eraser, the steps for soft surfaces are:
Step 1: Soak. Shake your bottle well, then saturate the stained area and just beyond its border. Be sure to fully soak but not flood the area.
Step 2: Rub. Gently rub the product into the stain with the bottom of the bottle, then cover it with a clean, damp cloth. Leave for several hours (or overnight if you can).
Step 3: Air Dry. Remove the cloth and allow the area to air dry.
For hard surfaces, only leave the product on for 15 minutes for sealed surfaces and 5 minutes for non-sealed ones.
If you’re using a different enzymatic cleaner brand, please check its label for its specific directions.
If the stain is deep or has been there a long time, you may need to repeat this process. However, once the odor is gone, and you’ve gotten to the root of your cat’s spraying behavior, your house should once again become pee-free!
I’m happy to say that Max did eventually quit his nasty spraying habit. It took time, patience, and understanding of what he needed to feel safe and calm, but we managed to once again have a clean home.
Your cat’s health and happiness are important! Be sure to download the free cat health checklist below and learn how to take your cat’s vital signs at home so your next visit to the veterinarian will be well informed.