Urine spraying is part of the cat’s normal scent-marking behavioural repertoire, which also includes scratching, rubbing, chinning, bunting (depositing secretions from head glands on twigs etc.) and middening (leaving faeces uncovered). Using these scent markers cats can deter others from their range and cats, which share a hunting range, can avoid one another without coming into direct conflict. Spraying is also designed to help females in oestrus (‘in season’ or ‘on heat’) to attract males for breeding. When spraying the cat stands with its tail vertical (often quivering at the tip) while it delivers a squirt of urine backwards onto a vertical surface.
Cats may spray when frustrated, upset or subject to competition or challenge. Spraying can be interpreted as the cat increasing its own sense of security by surrounding itself with signals of its own occupancy in its territory. The more anxious the individual, the more he or she will need familiar odours for comfort.
No, all cats, male or female, neutered or not, may spray, usually outside where we may not see them. Unneutered toms and queens in oestrus will spray more.
Most neutered pet cats feel sufficiently relaxed in their own home and do not spray. They identify it by rubbing scent from their body and do not need to mark by spraying, scratching or middening. The most common sites for indoor spraying are near entrances to the house or room, curtains and new items brought into the house e.g. plastic bags, new furniture etc. Individuals may have their own idiosyncratic targets such as washing machines, video players or ever certain people! As with most behavioural problems a little detective work may be needed to get to the root of the problem. While there may be no ‘quick fix’ solution, in some cases helping to find and understand the motivation for the behaviour will help while you work towards a solution.
There can be triggers for a cat marking indoors:
The arrival of a new cat, dog or person in the family, or bereavement.
Changes in the home area such as furniture or new carpets. Disruptions such as building work or redecoration.
Installation of a cat flap, which can make the cat feel insecure indoors.
In rare cases, spraying can be a learned attention-seeking behaviour.
Occasionally urine marking may be carried out from a squatting position usually on the floor, but often on bedcovers or chairs. The cat may still use the litter tray for eliminating larger volumes of urine. This often occurs when owners leave their cat at home in their neighbour’s care when they go on holiday. This may be a form of ‘associative’ marking – the cat feeling anxious because it is alone. The cat becomes relieved when it associates its smell with that of the owner – usually in a spot where the owner’s smell is concentrated such as on the bed or armchair.
Cats marking indoors clearly require a clear and extensive approach to diagnosis of cause(s) and careful development of treatment, which will not unsettle them even more! It is vital to discover under which situations the problems occur, as treatment often depends on defining any specific anxiety-inducing trigger(s) for the behaviour.
It is useful to make a note of the following:
The main aim of treatment is to reduce the perceived threat to the cat and make it feel more secure in its home territory, thus reducing its level of arousal and curtailing the need to scent mark.
Identifiable sources of stress should be removed:
Excluding local rival cats from entering the home by blocking the cat flap or replacing it with a selective one.
Once inappropriate urination has occurred the cat’s sensitive nose will encourage it to use this place as a regular toilet. Wash the area with a 10% solution of biological or enzymatic washing powder and then rinse with cold water and allow to dry. Otherwise your vet can advise you of other ‘spray on’ products to remove residual odours.
In many cases there may be no single obvious threat and the cat’s behaviour may be the result of the cumulative effect of several influences. If such sources of stress cannot be removed or even fully identified, the cat should be provided with a safe haven of a small core territory of one room in the house with access to a litter tray that is regularly cleaned and away from any busy thoroughfares. Here it can safely retreat or be placed to relax without fear of disturbance for regular periods and where it should only feel the need to mark normally by rubbing and bunting.
Often people simply become ‘over-catted’ – they enjoy their feline housemates and because one extra takes up little more physical space and is no more effort to feed, they will continue to collect more. This may be fine until a certain mix of characters just doesn’t gel and relations within the group become strained and spraying begins. Careful introductions can help, but sometimes certain individuals simply cannot share a home without stress and it is better to rehome one or more. Although this may not be a popular decision, it may be the only option if home hygiene is to be maintained. Trying to manage the problems can be very difficult with a number of cats and associated variables.
Should you wish to discuss any of these issues in more detail, please consult your veterinary surgeon.