Spraying problem?

Urine spraying

Urine spraying is a common behaviour in cats. Unlike toileting, spraying is carried out with the cat standing up and pumping out small jets of urine on to a vertical surface. Spraying is behaviour similar to facial marking for the cat; it is a way of leaving a scent mark in the environment. In entire toms and queens, it is used to attract members of the opposite sex, but it also occurs in neutered cats of both sexes. Whereas facial marking is used where cats feel relaxed and happy in their environment, cats will use the urine spray scent to indicate those parts of their territory where they feel anxious or insecure. In most cases this will be where there is an overlap in territory between neighbouring cats or between cats in the same household that don’t see each other as part of the same social group. The spray mark is like a ‘warning message’ to the resident cat to be careful in that part of their patch. Because it is a message, it makes sense for the cat to go around and check up on its marks, topping them up if they have faded.

Situations where cats may start to spray are:

  • The cat is living with too many other cats in close quarters.  Too many cats in too small an area can often be highly stressful for the animals, and they will seek their own personal space. Providing each cat with its own ‘core area’ where its food, water, litter tray and toys are kept, will help reduce the amount of conflict in a household, as cats will need to pass each other less in order to get the things that they need. If only one of the cats in a household is a sprayer, then it may benefit from a less crowded living environment in another home, or even being the only cat. Prospective new owners should consider the number of cats they already have before taking any more.
  • The cat is feeling threatened by other cats in the neighbourhood.  A neighbour’s cat coming in or peering in through the cat flap can intimidate a cat. As before, the cat should be given its own safe spot in the house, totally undisturbed, to which it can retreat when under pressure. If the cat flap is the source of stress it can be locked when the owner is not around, to ensure that ‘foreign’ cats cannot come in, or it can be dispensed of altogether. 
  • Other changes in the house are causing insecurity.  Cats can also start to spray for other reasons, for example, at the arrival of visitors, a new baby, builders, or even a new scent entering the house on a person’s feet. Sometimes cats are disturbed by changes in their owner’s routine, or are upset by inconsistencies in their owner’s behaviour.
  • Attention seeking. Although spraying will always start for other reasons, cats can sometimes learn that spraying is an effective way of getting a reaction. This is particularly the case with Oriental breeds of cats, but can also happen with non-pedigrees. In these cases the spraying usually starts for other reasons, but the cat learns over time to use the behaviour to get human attention.

It is important not to get angry or punish a cat for spraying. It is unkind but also counterproductive. It will make the cat more stressed, anxious and insecure, meaning it will be even more likely to spray in an attempt to relieve such feelings.

If a cat has suddenly started spraying in inappropriate places around the home, the first step is to have it checked by a vet. This is particularly important if there is nothing new or potentially stressful in the cat’s immediate environment that could be responsible for the change in behaviour, such as the arrival of other cats in the neighbourhood. A vet will be able to investigate whether there is a medical reason for the spraying. If no medical cause is found, the condition can be treated as behavioural.

Treatment of spraying
In the treatment of urine spraying, it is essential to identify the reason why a cat is spraying and deal with this. In addition, it is important to stop the ‘topping up’ of existing marks as the cat patrols around.

Suggested cleaning regime 
  • Clean the area thoroughly. Most popular household cleaners are unsuitable, as they contain ammonia and chlorine. Both of these compounds are found in cat urine and therefore can make the problem worse. Wash any soiled areas with a warm, dilute solution of biological washing powder, which removes the protein components in cat’s urine.
  • Rinse the area with cold water and allow to dry.
  • Then spray or dab the whole area with surgical spirit (if the surface is suitable), which removes any fatty deposits in the urine, and leave to dry thoroughly.
  • Some specialist products are specifically designed for cleaning up accidents and are available from pet shops or vets.
  • Whatever you use, remember to do a small patch test on any material first to ensure that it will not be damaged.
  • Do not allow the cat access to rooms or areas where this cleaning regime is being undertaken. It is sensible to restrict access for a couple of days if possible.
The use of commercially available synthetic pheromones (Feliway) has been found to be effective, in combination with behaviour therapy to resolve the reason for spraying. These products discourage the cat from ‘topping up’ previously sprayed areas by changing their perception of the area from one associated with anxiety, to one associated with comfort. This will only be effective if the cause of anxiety is dealt with at the same time.

More information and help is available here