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Health & Wellness

Why do cats spray and can you stop them?

Territorial, unfixed cats are more likely to spray urine — and yes, even female cats spray.

So, you just adopted your first cat — such a sweet, purring bundle of fur. Aside from the occasional standoffish moment, or your cat’s affinity for knocking things off counters, everything seems to be going well. Until the day when you walk into the house after coming home from work and a smell hits you … hard. It’s the unmistakable smell of cat urine, and as overwhelming as it is, you can’t quite figure out where it’s coming from.

As you run around trying to discover the location of the cat spray, you may even be wondering: “But my cat’s a female! I thought only male cats could spray!” Unfortunately, no. All cats can spray. Here’s what you need to know about cat spraying and how to stop them.

Why do cats spray?

Cats are finicky creatures — it’s part of the reason you love them, right? They have personalities and big opinions … and you know when they’re not happy about a new change or situation, often because of the spraying.

“Urine spraying in felines is a marking and territorial behavior,” Dr. Kris Hanson, DVM, a veterinarian with Earth Animal in Southport, CT, says. “Urine spraying is often a sign that the cat is stressed. Felines can become stressed when a physical issue arises or as a behavioral response to an outside stressor.” While “outside stressors” can vary widely, Dr. Hanson says it’s most typically due to another cat in the house or general vicinity. So if your neighbor just got a new cat, or you’ve just introduced a new cat to your home, don’t be surprised if your first cat starts marking its territory.

But certainly, the presence of another cat may not be the cause of the spraying. “Other common causes of this ‘inappropriate urination’ are litter box issues, or a new dog or baby welcomed into the house,” Dr. Hanson says. So first, check the litter box — it needs to be changed and cleaned regularly. Second, consider any new cats, dogs or big household changes that have affected your cat’s routine or lifestyle. Finally, consider that there may be an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.

“It’s important to rule out any physical issues with a trip to your veterinarian for an exam and workup,” Dr. Hanson says. This is especially true if the spraying is a new behavior without obvious behavioral causes or is accompanied by any other new health-related symptoms.

Female cat spraying vs. male cat spraying

“Although primarily an issue in males, both male and female cats can spray urine,” Dr. Hanson says. “This occurs more commonly in intact male and female cats.” And, while males may be more likely to spray for territorial reasons, especially when there are other male cats around, any stressed cat feeling threatened may be inclined to spray.

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How to stop a cat from spraying

Once your cat has started spraying, it can be tricky to make the behavior stop. The first step is identifying the cause, whether medical or behavioral. 

Medical issues may be easy to resolve with proper medications or treatments. Also, because intact male and female cats are more likely to spray, it’s also a good idea to go ahead and schedule a spay or neuter for your cat.

It can be a little harder to solve a behavioral issue, especially if it’s somewhat out of your control — like the household changes that naturally take place when a new baby is introduced into the family. Regardless, Dr. Hanson says that identifying and solving the underlying problem is the avenue you need to take to stop the spraying. For instance, if you’re dealing with a two-cat conflict within the home, you may need to be extra conscientious of making sure both cats have their own space, equal access to food and water and sufficient attention and affection.

Of course, all situations are different, and it may be tough to pinpoint why your cat is spraying. You may want to ask a vet or pet behaviorist for assistance in identifying and addressing the underlying cause to stop the cat from spraying. 

In the meantime, make sure you clean the location of the cat spray well and try to prevent the offending cat from accessing the spot. Once a cat has sprayed in a specific location, it may be more inclined to spray there again.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

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