Is your cat urine marking every corner of your house? The smell alone in disturbing, not to mention the sight of a cat positioning his bottom against the wall and spraying a burst of urine on your new curtains or wallpaper.
Worry no more, because in this article you will learn why cats spray urine and how to stop this natural, but unwanted, behavior.
Urine spraying is more than just marking
Before you learn how to stop this behavior, you must understand what it is and why cats do it.
Urine marking has many purposes, and to be honest it is too complex to understand completely. However, in order to stop this behavior here is the minimum you should know about urine marking by cats:
- Urine marking is communication. It lets a cat send information by spraying urine, and gather information back by smelling the markings of other cats.
- Urine marking does not mark borders. Cats, especially male cats, have large territories that usually overlap, so there are no actual borders to protect. Marking with urine lets all cats be aware of each other without a visual encounter.
- The less secure the cat feels the more he or she will spray. Not because marked things are safer, but because the information gathered through spraying makes the territory safer.
- Cats spray over the markings of other cats. It’s not to show supremacy or claim possession. A sprayer actually expects other cats to spray over. It helps to know if other cats visit there.
- Cats “refresh” their older spots. Basically this and the previous point mean that as long as the corner smells like urine, a cat will want to re-mark it.
- Urine marking is never for revenge. If your cat sprays upon your belongings after scolding, believe it or not your cat thinks this may improve your relationship.
Besides urine spraying, cats also mark their territories with scents from their cheeks and forehead, as well as through scratching furniture.
1. Neuter your cat to stop urine marking
There are many reasons why cats spray, but the two primary ones are to find a sexual partner and secure their territory. While helping a cat to feel secure on his turf is a complex process (you will read more below), you can easily stop your cat’s need to find a mate through surgery.
Depending on many things, a cat may stop spraying:
- Immediately after neutering. Happens in the vast majority of cases.
- Within a few weeks, up to a month after neutering.
- Only when additional steps are taken (see more below).
So for most of you, neutering your cat will be the only action necessary to stop spraying. However, if your cat’s spraying does not stop after neutering, keep reading below.
IMPORTANT: You will not stop your male cat from spraying urine without neutering. It’s a natural behavior caused by the hormone testosterone, which is produced in the testes. See here for the advantages and disadvantages of neutering a cat.
2. Find what’s causing your cat to spray urine
If your cat did not stop spraying after neutering, you either need to wait a little longer, or sexual advertising was not the only reason your cat sprays and you need to find out what the reason is.
Here we identify several possible causes of urine marking by cats.
- Other cats. Since urine marking is a form of communication between cats, most likely it is caused by other cats, even if you have a single indoor cat.
- Multiple cats in the same household. Common problems: Cats are not getting along; a cat’s territory or access to resources is threatened; a cat is bullied by another cat; or the hierarchy in a multi-cat household is not settled. Possible solutions: Add more litter boxes in several locations, more water and food bowls, and more napping locations. It is extremely important to add climbing opportunities that have an exit in order to avoid dead ends where a cat can trap another cat. See here for more information about environment enrichment for indoor cats. A great help for multiple-cat owners is the book “Cat vs Cat” by Pam Johnson-Bennett.
Outdoor cats. Common problems: Cat is going outside and sprays urine upon returning; cat sees other cats through a window; or the cat smells the urine of other cats through the walls. This can also cause cat to become aggressive. Possible solutions: Deter other cats from getting into your yard (see here for tips to keep cats out of your garden), clean cat urine from outside doors (tips below), block the outside view (you can use a sticky film to cover the lower part of a window, use blinds, or block access to window panes), and increase playtime to build confidence in your cat.
- Conflict with an owner is a common cause of urine spraying because of insecurity about the environment. Possible solutions: Do not punish or yell at your cat for urine marking or other behavior problems. Disallow as few things as possible. Increase the time spent with your cat (playing, petting, talking, brushing and other), and add climbing opportunities.
- Changes are the most common source of stress in cats, and stress is the most common reason why neutered cats spray urine.
- Changes in environment. Common problems: Almost any change, from something as minor as the newspaper being put in the wrong cupboard, to adding new furniture or rearranging the furniture, to moving into a different home where everything is new, can cause stress in a cat. Possible solutions: Make changes as gradually as possible, ensure playtime with your cat, spray new furniture with pheromones (see below), increase time spent with your cat, and add climbing opportunities.
- New person moves in or visits frequently. Common problems: The person is not getting along with the cat; the cat is afraid of the person; the person is too loud; the person does not like cats; or the person is afraid of cats. Possible solutions: Involve the person in feeding the cat or playing and petting. Teach the person cat behavior basics and the signs of dislike and aggression in cats, and investigate other activties to do with a cat.
- A baby arrived or just learned to crawl/walk. Possible solutions: Modify the environment, and especially look to create secure, elevated surfaces; increase the amount of attention your cat gets (or at least do not decrease what it was before baby… or let it decrease as little as possible); feed your cat in the proximity of the baby; play soft background music at home; and when the baby becomes a toddler start teaching appropriate petting and involve the child in cat feeding.
- Changes in daily schedule, or more commonly changes in the cat’s feeding schedule. Try to make any changes to your routine as gradually as you can.
- Other changes such as a new food brand, new scents, or new sounds may make your cat feel iffy. Possible solutions: If possible, make changes gradually, and if you can’t, ensure your cat gets a ton of attention and playtime.
- Other stress can also cause urine marking by cats. Stress makes a cat less confident, alarmed, and willing to secure territory by spraying. What’s worrying is that in many cases a specific cause of stress is hard to identify, and often there is more than one cause that contributes to accumulating stress. To deal with it, you can learn more about stress in cats here.
- Medical conditions also may cause a cat to spray. Common problems: Cat is stressed due to pain or discomfort, or a medical condition is messing with its hormones. Possible solutions: Visit a veterinarian if you have the tiniest of doubts, especially if you tried everything to stop your cat from urine marking without any success.
3. Properly clean the urine from marked locations
Cats mark their older spots to, let’s say, update them, and cats spray over markings of other cats to, let’s say, reply. If the spot smells previously marked, it’s a good reason to add to it.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to use household cleaning detergents to get rid of cat urine smell. It works well for you, but for your cat, whose nose is more sensitive than yours, the urine smell is still there and that means the urge to spray upon it is still there.
How to clean cat urine?
The easiest method is to use a detergent that is intended for pet urine removal. These are usually enzymatic cleaners that do not mask the smell, but literally eliminate odor-causing molecules.
These can be bought at most pet stores, hardware stores, and online here. Most of them are easy to use as “spray on and let dry,” but check the label for instructions. More information about cleaning cat’s urine here.
How to find cat urine?
But do you know where to clean? At least you think you do. A cat’s urine scent can last for as long as a few months. Yeah! That means you have to clean all the spots your cat has sprayed upon during this time. You either must possess a good memory or a black light flashlight. Black light is an ultraviolet light under which certain substances glow, including cat urine.
Black light LED flashlights can be bought at hardware stores and online, and as you flash this light over a cat’s marking spot, you will see a yellowish or grayish (if the spot is older) splat on the wall. This is what you need to clean as described above. You can learn more about finding cat urine here.
4. Change the purpose of the location that is being marked
The next step to stop your cat’s spraying behavior is to make new associations for your cat about the previously marked spot. Why? Because in nature spraying is not done in certain locations or situations; for example, a cat would not spray where he sleeps or where he hunts. Can you use it in the household environment? Absolutely!
Play with your cat near the spot. Playing equals hunting, and cats do not mark near where they hunt, because if they do their prey animals will be gone the next day. Use an interactive toy and have a few 15 minute play sessions near the place where your cat marks. Repeat daily for at least a week to see significant improvement, and continue to play regularly with your cat after that. Why? Because playing does wonders for your cat’s behavior and health.
- Feed your cat near the spot. Again, eating is a part of the hunting process. If you free feed, place part of the food available at the location. If you provide meals, every day make one of them available near the spot where the cat marks.
- Place a scratching post next to the spot. Scratching not only gets rid of dead nails. For cats scratching serves several purposes, and one of them is marking by leaving both scent from his paw pads and visual markers. If the cat scratches at the location, there is no longer a need to mark it with urine.
- Spray synthetic feline pheromones on top of the location. What? You can buy them at pet stores and veterinary clinics. These are synthetic derivatives of the feline facial pheromones that cats release by rubbing against objects. If the location is marked by rubbing, there is no need to re-mark the location another way. You can find more information about feline pheromones here.
- Place your cat’s bed near the spot. In nature, a cat’s nest must provide security, which means a cat would not mark near his bed because he wants to keep its location undetectable.
- Place a water-bowl nearby. Cats do not leave their urine where they drink.
Note: As you work around one or two marking spots, keep in mind that your cat may start spraying in new ones. Commonly this happens if the cat feels insecure in his environment.
5. Redirect your cat’s attention before urine marking happens
Are you able to notice when your cat is about to spray? Positioning a hind leg against the spot, treading his front legs, and raising his tail upwards are among the common precursors, but likely you will observe more.
Before spraying happens, it’s a good idea to prevent it by redirecting your cat’s attention – in a good way. You can:
- Call your cat. If your cat responds, keep calling and give your cat a treat or pet him if spraying did not occur.
- Invite your cat to play. Scratch a toy against the floor or throw your cat’s favorite ball; if your cat responds, keep playing for few minutes.
- Offer your cat a treat. For all cats, in order to stop whatever they are doing, it’s usually enough to open or rustle a pack of their favorite treats. Do we hear a can opener?
- Use clicker training. You can’t walk around with a pack of treats in your pocket or a cat toy in your hands all the time. In such cases, clicker training is very useful. Find more info about clicker training here.
IMPORTANT: The above applies only if you are able to get your cat’s attention BEFORE he or she sprays urine. If you are too late, this will serve as a reward for spraying, which is something you do not want.
6. Do not punish your cat for urine marking
If you did not make it in time to stop your cat’s action, the best approach is not to pay any attention to it, not physical punishment or yelling.
IMPORTANT: Punishment will make your cat spray more. Neutered cats usually spray as a response to stress, and punishment increases it.
What to do instead? Ignore your cat completely. Later on you will clean up the location as described above, but right now don’t pay attention. Don’t call your cat, don’t embarrass him or lecture, just keep doing whatever you’re doing and next time, try to get your cat’s attention BEFORE your cat sprays.
7. Provide a calm environment for your cat
We’ve mentioned several times that the main contributing factor to urine marking by cats is stress. It is in your best interest to reduce or minimize it. You can find more information about stress in cats here, and if you do manage to limit it, the urine spraying will be a problem of the past, and, quite often, it is likely to help with other behavior problems, as well.