Help! My cat is spraying/marking!
Cat marking/spraying can be among the most challenging behavioural issues that cat owners have to contend with. As frustrating as it may be, we first need to ask ourselves why cats choose to do it. Each animal species communicates in their own unique way – and for cats, it is through scent. While this method of communication can be frustrating for cat owners- in your cat’s universe, it is a normal and appropriate way to converse with you and other cats (this includes scratching, running their face/bodies along objects and rolling on objects).
What are the signs my cat is spraying?
It isn’t easy to figure out whether your cat is actually spraying/marking or is choosing to avoid the litter tray and displaying ‘inappropriate elimination/toileting’ (urinating or defecating outside of the litter box which is usually linked to problems within the home and/or stress). Inappropriate elimination generally occurs on horizontal surfaces (e.g. floors, etc), whereas spraying is done on vertical surfaces (e.g. furniture, walls, etc). Location for cats spraying/marking is everything. The places they choose to spray are generally areas they want to claim as their own whereas cats displaying ‘inappropriate elimination’ will toilet on surfaces they prefer to their litter tray (generally soft, comfortable surfaces). Cats that are spraying/marking will still likely be using their litter tray (note* marking is seldom done with poop).
Reasons why your cat might be spraying
That’s mine!- Territory: Spraying is often how cats will mark their territory. If there has been another cat hanging around (even if it has not had any direct contact with you or your cat) it may mark and deposit it’s scent on the property which may result in your can responding in kind.
Back off!- Conflict: Cats need their space and in multi-cat households, spraying can be a way to establish a hierarchy, boundaries and settle disputes.
I don’t like that- Change: Change can be a cat’s worst nightmare. Changes in routine, environment, loss/addition of a human or pet can all contribute to the level of security that a cat cat experiences. Even the smallest of changes can result in your cat feeling stressed, resulting in spraying.
It takes two to tango? Mating: It is a myth that only un-neutered males spray, both male and females cats can spray (even when neutered). That said, it is more likely that un-neutered males will mark as a way of communicating to the opposite sex that they are available.
How can I stop the spraying?
Firstly, has your cat been desexed? If the answer is no, then the first thing you should do is get them either spayed or neutered. If your cat has already been desexed, the next thing you need to do is consult your vet to determine whether there is any underlying health issue (urinary tract infections/inflammation for example can often cause cats to display behaviours consistent with spraying). If your cat has been desexed and no health issues have been identified by your vet, there are a few strategies you can put in place to help address the spraying.
Keep surfaces clean: Cats will generally spray on surfaces they have previously urinated on. Thoroughly cleaning surfaces your cat has spray/marked on will help deter them going back to the same location. You will however need a quality enzymatic, bio-based cleaner. Note* Do not use bleach as ammonia-based/ bleach will encourage the cat to reuse the area when spraying.
Feliway: FELIWAY is a synthetic copy of the Feline Facial Pheromone. This pheromone helps cats feel safe and secure and can reduce stress related behaviours such as spraying or scratching.
Prevent other cat interactions: If there is another cat in the home or a visiting neighbours cat that is causing the spraying, try to limit their interactions. Create safe ‘places’ for your cat where they can retreat as needed. Moving their sitting spots from view of other cats may also help. If it is a neighbour's cat that regularly visits (if you have a good relationship with them), it would be worth discussing the issues you are experiencing with them and consider asking them to try their best to contain their cat to their property.
Adequate litter trays/bowls: In multi-cat households there are measures you can take to prevent conflict and behaviours that then follow. Ensuring there are enough litter trays is essential (1 tray per cat with an additional tray- if possible) and placing these in different locations will also assist in preventing conflict. The same should also be done for food bowls.
Environmental Enrichment: Cats are highly intelligent creatures that require plenty of mental and physical stimulation. Providing this for them will help improve their overall well-being and reduce stress-levels (eg. interactive toys and food puzzles).
Natural Supplements: There are plenty of quality supplements that can prove beneficial in helping reduce stress and related behaviours such as spraying or scratching. Your vet should be consulted before administering any supplements.
Missing the litter tray: If your cat uses its litter tray but manages to get urine up walls etc, you may need to invest in an enclosed litter box. The cat will still need a good access point to the tray within the box (ensure opening is large enough).
Cover photo courtesy of AllSorts Photography by Karyn Williams