Urine-spraying is one of the more complex cat behaviours and one of the least understood.
Why Do Cats Urine Spray?
It is thought that adult cats spray urine on specific targets as a way of communicating with other cats from a distance. It has been suggested that it enables cats to identify the territory belonging to others and therefore take action to avoid meeting them. The pungent spray contains chemicals which it is thought contains information for other cats about the sprayer such as its sex, age and health status. This information allows them to instinctively determine the ability of that cat to defend its territory.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not only male cats that spray, females are also capable of urine spraying although it’s fair to say that more males indulge in this activity than females. Cats that are not neutered also show a higher incidence of spraying.
Urine spraying is a perfectly natural behaviour when performed outdoors and you might often see your cat or perhaps neighbouring cats spraying against fences and bushes.
However, if your cat starts to spray indoors this is a sign that he doesn’t feel safe and is experiencing stress. The home is usually considered a cat’s ‘core area’ where he feels secure and happy to eat, sleep and play, so there should be no reason to spray urine there. However, if there is a perception of danger in the home, cats have limited ways of expressing this intense emotion.
Do Cats that Spray Urine Feel Unsafe?
Sadly, urine spraying is directly related to the presence of other cats either in the sprayer’s own home, or within their outdoor territory. If you have multiple cats living in your home, the likelihood of urine spraying increases directly in line with the number of cats that live together, to as much as 86% with 7+ cats (some studies show a figure of 100% with 10+)1.
Under these circumstances the act of spraying may be used as a coping strategy, a form of self-reassurance or even a displacement activity. Recent research however has shown that it may not be just the sprayer who is stressed, but other cats within the household too.
What Does Urine Spraying Look Like?
It’s important to determine whether your cat’s behaviour is actually urine spraying or whether it could be urinating. From a behavioural perspective these two behaviours are treated very differently. But cats don’t make this easy! Some cats raise their bottoms when they urinate giving the appearance of spray whilst some cats that spray might do so in a lower position.
The usual way that cats spray is by backing up to a vertical surface, and in a standing position with tail erect, they will deposit small amounts of urine whilst treading with their back feet and quivering their tail. The spray might be ejected as a single squirt or in pulses. Common surfaces for cats to spray are curtains, around windows and doors, cat flaps and on walls. They can also spray on new items brought into the house and on electrical equipment. It is thought that cats choose the latter because the scent of an electrical item can change as it heats up as is the case with radiators.
Sprayed urine is usually brown and sticky and may appears as a vertical line and/or drops of urine on the floor or skirting board where the urine has dripped down. If you don’t see the urine you can usually smell it!
What Can You Do if Your Cat is Spraying Urine?
Not all cases of urine spraying have a behavioural cause. If a cat is experiencing pain or discomfort when urinating it may be more comfortable for them to adopt a standing position, rather than squatting. This could be as a result of an underlying medical problem such as feline lower urinary tract disease. So, if your cat is spraying your number one priority should be to have him checked over by a Vet.
If your vet isn’t able to find a physical cause then he or she will refer you to a Cat Behaviourist. A Behaviourist will visit you in your home to try and identify where there may be problems between cats in the same household and/or with cats in the external environment. The Behaviourist will look at what can be done to reduce any tensions and this will undoubtedly involve making changes to your home to help reduce potential stress of all the cats that share it.
A Behaviourist will also advise on how to manage the spraying that is currently happening. If the emotion that is causing the cat to spray cannot be removed, all that can sometimes be done is to give him a targeted location on which to spray and this will at least help make him feel better. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve recommended that clients place puppy training pads or incontinence pads on their walls where their cat is spraying!
One of the reasons why urine-spraying is such a difficult behaviour to resolve, is because it is a normal behaviour for cats and because whatever is causing it might not be something you can do anything about such as other cats outside.
In addition to this, a behavioural programme for urine spraying usually involves a lot of chore-based work as well as an increase in the amount of cat-related paraphernalia in your home (which is going to be needed to get the behaviour to a more manageable level). This means that your cats are going to be taking up more of your space and more of your time, which isn’t always easy.
So, if your cat has started to spray urine indoors, my advice would be to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier you catch it, the more likely it is that you’ll have a positive outcome.