Why Do Cats Spray?
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Why Do Cats Spray?

Est. read time: 6 min.

Conflict Resolution: Dog or Cat?

When it comes to conflict resolution, there are two types of people in this world. There are the people who address things head on. These are the confrontational negotiators who prefer to resolve the matter as soon as they realize it is going to be a problem. They sniff out the issue and would rather make a new friend than an enemy. Let’s call these people the “dogs.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the avoiders. The people who do not wish to deal with the issue head-on, so they let the discord fester. They go through measures to feel better about the situation without actually addressing it. Certain actions may appear sneaky and deceitful. Let’s call these people—you guessed it—the “cats.”

Passive Aggressive Cats

If cats feel that they are being confronted, say another cat threatens them, they are attempting to mate, or they experience high stress in the home, they rarely get into a “cat fight.” Contrary to popular belief, cats are more likely to avoid direct confrontation. Instead, they leave messages for the offender as a way to show who's boss. They would rather leave a subtle hint than have a full-on tussle.

Spraying versus Urinating

This is where the tactic of spraying comes into play. When cats spray, or mark with their urine, they are defining their territory in an attempt to gain control of the situation. Cat spraying should not be mistaken with misplaced urination. Cats spray usually on horizontal objects. This might include walls, furniture, or curtains, when your cat is completely upright with her tail erect. Spraying emits a much smaller quantity of urine than misplaced urination. (Misplaced urination results in a pool of urine on the floor from your cat crouching as if she is in her litter box). If your cat is doing the latter, you should consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible. This could be a warning sign of a urinary tract infection, kidney failure, diabetes, or something else.

When might make cats spray to mark their territory? Perhaps a new cat is introduced into your household. Maybe the existing cat in your household now has to compete for use of the litter box. It could be as simple as a favorite couch or perching post is being inhabited by other household objects (your laundry, the kids’ book bags). It could be that an outdoor cat is catching your cat’s attention through the sliding glass door. Anything that disrupts your cat’s preferred way of doing things will cause increased stress, and a desire to spray to gain control.

The Role of Hormones

Any kind of conflict between your cat and other animal, human, or even unwanted object can provoke spraying, but its likelihood is increased if your cat has not been neutered or spayed. Intact cats have higher levels of hormones, which make them more emotional and reactive to stress. The first rule of business when it comes to avoiding spraying is to spay or neuter your pet.

Punishment Won't Help

It is also important to know that your cat should never be punished. Although some animals respond well to punishment by seeing the pattern and learning from their mistakes, this won’t work for cats. Instead, punishment will prolong the desire to spray because they will feel further threatened on top of the original stimulus. If they feel even more threatened, their stress levels will go up, and so will their tendency to spray.

How to Help

The only way to completely remove the chance of spraying is to make your cat feel completely comfortable and at ease in your home. That may sound like a tall order, but there are measures you can take to make sure cats spray no more.

If you have other pets in your household, determine if this is the source of the conflict. Make sure your animals are interacting harmoniously. If this is not the case, experts suggest a temporary separation, desensitization, training, and positive reinforcement. If it appears that your pets are fighting for common ground, provide each one with his own space (read: territory) in separate rooms to avoid conflict over a single or the entire area. Always have one more litter box than the number of cats you have. When it comes to meals, feed them at the same time and distribute resources evenly to demonstrate that they can share a common resource and live together peacefully.

Limit stress

Veterinarians suggest that indoor cats should be exposed to the outdoor environment through windows, perching points, and chaperoned adventures outside. This will keep their imaginations fueled and have them not feel severely isolated inside. But if there is an outdoor animal that comes around often to scope out the premises, your cat may feel threatened and that their territory is at stake, leading to a higher risk of spraying. If this is the case, limit your cat’s time observing the outside world or try to steer away other animals that may come into your cat’s line of vision.

It is also important to remember that any change in your cat’s routine will cause stress. They expect their living arrangements, feeding times, and interactions with other people and animals to be consistent on a day to day basis. If any major life change is about to take place, give gradual clues as opposed to completely blindsiding your animal one day. If you are planning to bring another cat home, bring in another litter box one day, possibly a baby gate the next, maybe new toys the next, etc.

Be Proactive

Urine marking is not something that cat owners should be cleaning up every day or take lightly. Cats spray now and then, but if it becomes a frequent issue and your efforts to fix the situation fail, consult a veterinarian. Your cat may be trying to tell you something important, and it is your job to figure it out.

Your cat may act avoidant when it comes to conflict resolution, but you shouldn’t. Be the “dog” and address the problem once it starts!