Urine Marking in Cats

Inappropriate peeing is one of the most common problems people have with their feline friends. It can happen for many reasons. Medical issues such as kidney problems and arthritis can cause your cat to urinate in the wrong place. If these issues have already been ruled out, the cause is a behavioral one.

Why Do Cats Spray or Urine Mark?

Communicating through smells is normal in the animal world. If you’ve ever walked a dog, you know they spend half the time sniffing around, looking for the perfect place to mark. Cats are territorial as well but have different ideas about managing territory. 

Cats have a unique social structure. They see themselves as equal to other cats. They don’t like to share territory, and, when forced to, they don’t have a system like dogs for determining who’s in charge. Cats aren’t well equipped to handle confrontation. When confrontation or change happens, they can get stressed. “Spraying,” or urine marking, is their way of telling other cats or new people to back off without a direct confrontation. 

Your cat may be spraying to communicate about territory or something else. Feline urine marking may happen because your cat feels: 

  • Threatened 
  • An urge to mate and is trying to attract other cats
  • Stressed
  • Discomfort from a medical issue

Litter Box Problems vs. Communication Problems

In some cases of inappropriate peeing, there’s an issue with the litter box that forces your cat to do their business elsewhere. Look for these signs to tell the difference between a litter box problem and feline urine marking: 

  • A cat that’s spraying will have their tail straight up in the air and project their rear toward the target. The tail may shake or quiver. 
  • A cat that’s spraying will usually only mark with urine and will still use the litter box regularly. It’s rare for a cat to mark with stool. 
  • A cat that has a litter box problem will leave their excrement on the floor or other horizontal surface. A cat that’s spraying will usually leave their urine on a vertical surface, like a wall. 

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Urine Marking in a Household With More Than 1 Cat

Cats don’t like change. They can give a frosty reception to anyone from a visitor to a new baby, and may be aggravated when a new pet is brought into the home. That’s because they aren’t equipped to deal with confrontation. 

Since cats see each other as equals and don’t follow a hierarchy like dogs do, they usually move around the house independently of one another — that includes eating, perching, and visiting the litter box. This doesn’t mean it will be a conflict-free zone. 

Conflict between cats often goes unnoticed by cat owners, because it comes in subtle ways before it escalates. Cat conflict style could be described as passive-aggressive. They may stare at each other silently or block each other from food dishes before escalating to spraying, hissing, and fighting. You might notice your cat losing weight if they don’t have access to the food bowl. Since cats spray to mark their territory, keeping the conflict level low is in everyone’s best interests. Recent studies have shown that cats who spray could also be experiencing long-term stress.

In multi-cat households, it’s important to first determine that cat spraying or soiling isn’t happening because another cat is bullying and denying them access to the litter box. Separating cats may be necessary to find out who the offender is.

You can help your cats avoid conflict by setting up their environment to make sure all pets have easy access to what they need and to avoid other behavioral problems. 

  • Spread resources like food, water, and litter boxes around the house to make sure each cat has access. 
  • Be sure to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. 
  • Have different areas for your cats to perch, each with space for only one cat. 
  • You may need to separate your cats by creating individual spaces for them. Closed doors and baby gates can come in handy.  
  • Spread the love. Set aside time to play and cuddle with each of your cats so they all feel equally loved. 
  • Reduce anxiety by using a pheromone diffuser. These are commonly sold at pet stores.

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Urine marking in intact cats. An intact cat is a cat that hasn’t been spayed or neutered. These cats have a higher tendency to mark, due to the hormones they make. Neutering will decrease the odor and motivation to spray, but feline urine marking still happens in up to 10% of neutered cats. 

Spraying caused by conflict with outdoor cats. Indoor cats can get upset when they see an outdoor cat. They can get more agitated if the outdoor cat begins spraying nearby. If that happens, your cat may start to mark their territory by spraying the inside the house. 

If this is the case, close the curtains or block any view your cat might have of the outdoor cat. Using a pheromone diffuser will help your cat relax and reduce their anxiety. Try speaking to the neighbor who owns the cat or setting up remote deterrents that emit sound.

Does gender matter when it comes to cat spraying? Both male and female cats can spray. Unneutered male cats are the most likely to mark. They also have the strongest smelling urine. About 5% of neutered females and 10% of neutered males continue urine marking after they’ve been fixed.

What to Do When Your Cat Sprays

The right response to spraying can help discourage your cat from doing it again. When your cat sprays:

  1. Clean soiled areas using mild-fragrance soap. Strong-smelling cleaners could cause your cat to mark again.
  2. Make soiled areas inaccessible. This will block your cat from marking the same area again. 
  3. Keep items that smell foreign to your cat out of reach to discourage spraying. 
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

Cornell University, Cornell Feline Health Center: “Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling.”

The Humane Society: “What to do if your cat is marking territory.”

International Cat Care: “Spotlight on Science: New research on spraying and house soiling.”

Psychology Today: “Social Conflict Between Household Cats.”

The Spruce Pets: “Why Do Male Cats Spray?”

VCA Hospitals: “Cat Behavior Problems - House Soiling,” “Cat Behavior Problems - Marking and Spraying Behavior.”

VetStreet: “Help! My Indoor Cat Is Being Tormented by an Outdoor Cat.”

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