Woman holding cat with dilated pupils.

No other species is quite like the cat, and the ones we share our homes with boast a long list of feline-specific behaviors. Much of the time, we can accept their preferences and proclivities with amusement, but we draw a hard line when the behavior is unhygienic and smelly. Take, for example, spraying. Many cats go through a period of spraying in less-than-ideal locations (like your closet), and it’s not always clear why they start and why they choose the most inconvenient spots for relieving themselves. There are reasons why some cats spray, and effective strategies to redirect this behavior. 

Spraying Versus Peeing

Cats spray for three basic reasons: to communicate, to attract a mate, and in response to stress. 

There is a difference between simply peeing outside the box and spraying. It is not uncommon for cats to develop litter box challenges that result in peeing outside of their designated area. This can be related to a medical problem that requires diagnosis and treatment.

Spraying is different than soiling outside their box. Done by standing up, cats spray by releasing urine directly onto a vertical surface (in contrast with the squatting position they hold when urinating). Spraying is not typically an action caused by the need to fully empty the bladder. Instead, this behavior is related to either hormonal changes or environmental stress. 

Males, Females, and the Fix

Both genders have the potential to spray, but due to their hormones, the behavior is more commonly linked to intact male cats. Even more striking is the fact that male cats that haven’t been neutered have a more potent urine odor. 

Spaying or neutering your cat will have an impact on spraying. It might not completely eliminate the behavior, but it will definitely reduce the smell and frequency associated with spraying. This straightforward surgical procedure is normally scheduled at 5-6 months old, or before a cat reaches sexual maturity. When cats spray, it could be a strong motivator to get them fixed. 

Cats spray even if they are neutered or spayed. When this occurs, it’s necessary to look for and to understand environmental triggers that cause stress. While they could simply be marking their territory, they could be responding to changes at home, including:

  • New roommate, baby, or pet
  • Routine disruptions
  • New items in the home, like furniture or decor
  • Separation from owner
  • Strangers in or near the home
  • Other cats in the home or just outside

Cats spray where they spend most of their time as a way to say “mine.” It’s unusual for them to spray where they eat, but they will if they feel threatened enough.

How to Help

If your cat starts spraying, it’s crucial to control the behavior before it turns into a habit. Stay calm, never scold your cat, and try to figure out why they’re spraying and when. For example, if you think they only do it when you’re gone, they could be suffering from separation anxiety. 

Clean the area thoroughly to discourage repeated spraying. A special enzymatic cleaning solution can neutralize the urine odor and repel your cat from continued spraying. 

Cats Spray, Until They Don’t

We recommend scheduling a wellness exam to rule out medical concerns that can cause urination problems in cats. Then we can get to the bottom of hormonal issues or environmental stressors. 

Please call us at (603) 926-7978 with any questions or concerns. Our team is happy to help at Hampton Veterinary Hospital