Spraying or urine marking is a common issue with cats and while in many cases the cause is behavioural, sometimes there is a medical reason for the inappropriate elimination.
Animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti, author of Cat Toileting Problems Solved, says solving a cat's toileting problem firstly requires understanding why the cat is spraying, and ruling out any medical problems is the first step.
"Bacterial bladder infections, feline lower urinary tract disease, urinary incontinence and gastrointestinal upsets can result in toileting 'accidents'," says Dr Righetti. "Increased urine production can also be a sign of serious disease, such as kidney infection/ failure, diabetes and liver disease. If your cat starts to spray urine, you need to consult your vet immediately."
If your cat doesn't have a medical problem, then he's most likely just leaving a 'pungent' message, particularly if he's living in a multi-cat household.
"Cats also use spraying to deposit their scent around their environment, telling other cats of their presence or their status, or that they are looking for a mate," says Dr Righetti.
Urine marking also makes many cats feel safe and secure. Sometimes cats feel anxious about a change of household routine or renovation, a conflict with another feline, loud noises or other phobias, and they relieve their anxiety by spraying their scent around them, she says.
"All cats can spray, even desexed females. But unneutered male cats are more prone to urine marking. This may be to let females know they are available or to let other cats know of their presence," she explains.
What Can You Do To Stop Spraying?
Once you confirm your cat's inappropriate toileting is not a medical issue, Dr Righeti suggests some ways to stop the urine marking behaviour:
- Desex your cat (if he or she isn't already).
- Close the doors, blinds and windows.
- Install a lawn sprinkler to go off in the presence of neighbourhood cats.
- If you have a multi-cat household, add litter boxes in case there is conflict over use (have one box per cat and one extra).
- Clean all the litter boxes daily and replace the litter once a week to reduce the presence of any 'offending' cat scent.
- Cats need space - provide more perching areas for cats to rest, away from others.
- Provide multiple sources of water, food, toys and scratching posts to avoid conflict between cats.
- Use cat pheromones spray or diffuser in urine-marked areas to relieve stress in cats.
"It can be a challenge to stop your cat from spraying around the home. It's important to never rub your cat's nose in his urine, hit or throw objects at your cat," says Dr Righetti.
Not Sure Which Cat Is Marking?
If you have more than one cat and you're not sure which one is spraying urine, you can either isolate them for a period of time or give one of your cats fluorescein, a veterinarian-prescribed harmless dye that doesn't stain and causes urine to glow blue under ultravoilet light for about 24hours.
"If you're not sure if your cat is spraying or urinating, the difference is that spraying is done against a vertical surface with the cat standing, whilst urination is performed squatting against a horizontal surface," says Dr Righetti.
Some cats with high stress or anxiety may require medication to help.
"You need to consult your veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist for advice," she says. “Increased stress equals increased unwanted spraying!”