We all know that the occasional bathroom accident isn’t a big deal. Cats are allowed to make mistakes, right? But if you’re regularly finding new urine stains on your walls, curtains, or furniture, inappropriate toileting isn’t your main concern. There’s a good chance your cat isn’t having bathroom accidents—they might be spraying. Cats spray a mixture of urine and natural secretions onto vertical surfaces for several biological reasons. It’s a natural feline behavior, but that doesn’t mean we love it. If your cat is spraying either in or around your house, your first order of business is to understand their motives.
Why Do Cats Spray?
Contrary to popular belief, all cats (not just intact males) have the ability to spray. Male, female, intact, or neutered/spayed—cats spray as a means of communication. They do it inside their houses, in their backyards, on the neighbor’s fence, and just about anywhere else. No matter where you find that pungent mess, cats spray to send a message.
While cats have the sharp claws and teeth to handle any type of conflict the hard way, violence is rarely their first choice. They’d much rather resolve their issues through communication. Spraying is their way of leaving behind a message for whoever/whatever is causing them unease.
If the conflict is with a new pet in the house, your cat might spray strategic places to tell the newcomer what’s what. Spraying helps cats in multi-pet household determine who’s in charge and if there are certain areas that are off limits. The conflict could even be with a person or object.
Whether there’s a specific threat or not, some cats feel the need to spray to mark their territory. This behavior is most common with outdoor cats, but indoor cats are also known for marking what they believe is their property.
If there are several other outdoor cats in your area, your territorial feline might spray certain places to let those strangers know he/she has a claim on that turf. The other cats might even send their own spray messages, and that leaves you with a whole lot of stink from their urine-drenched back and forth conversation. Even if your cat never goes outside and is the only pet in your home, they could smell another animal and feel the need to put out “no trespassing” signs, just in case.
Male and female cats (especially those that have not been neutered or spayed) use spraying as a type of dating message board. Males leave behind a pungent brew of urine and secretions from their anal glands. The smell lets all the ladies in the area know that they’re available and looking for love. It also serves as a warning to tell other males to back off.
Meanwhile, female cats also spray to let eligible bachelors know when they’re in heat and ready to reproduce. The high levels of estrogen in their urine signals and attracts the males.
If your indoor, neutered, and single cat is suddenly spraying inside your home, stress could be the culprit. The stench of their urine might burn your nose hairs, but to your cat, it’s a comforting and familiar smell. When they’re feeling especially anxious, afraid, or plain-old stressed out, surrounding themselves with their own odor is a type of coping strategy. The smell can boost their self-confidence and help them feel more secure in their surroundings.
There’s a never-ending list of reasons why your cat could be stressed. It could be something simple, like a recently redecorated room that’s freaking them out. Or it could be something serious, like an illness they’re trying to hide. Think of any recent changes in your cat’s life. Did your cat start spraying around the same time? If the timing makes sense, consider your cats spraying a sign that they’re in need of some serious TLC.
It’s never pleasant to walk into a room and get a good whiff of acrid cat urine. It’s even worse if your stubborn kitty insists on aiming their spray on your living room furniture or bedroom curtains. If your cat is spraying and you wish they wouldn’t, the first thing to do is get them spayed or neutered. That minor surgery isn’t guaranteed to solve the problem, but neutered cats are much less likely to spray. Other things you can do include making sure your cat lives in a stable, stress-free environment, and provide them with plenty of personal interactions. A cat which sprays is typically doing so as a means to ease their anxiousness, and creating the most stress-free environment possible will absolutely help.