Most cats are quite fastidious when they deal with bathroom matters. Their toileting tactics are pretty simple: They go to their litter boxes and discreetly do their business. But for every generalization about cats, there are plenty of exceptions.
One of the most vexing exceptions occurs when a cat anoints a vertical surface such as a door or wall. This unwelcome deviation from what we consider acceptable behavior is known as spraying.
A matter of communication
Seeing a cat stand straight-legged, hold up and quiver its tail, and release a blast of malodorous urine is frustrating. But according to Cornell University Animal Behavior Clinic Director Katherine Houpt, VMD, its important to curb such frustration. The cats not being vindictive, Houpt explains. You need to be sympathetic.
Thats because a cat that sprays generally does so to communicate, and sympathy can help you decode your feline friends message. Here are some possibilities:
Im looking for love (or a fight). Cats generally dont start spraying until they reach puberty. Thats also when they start noticing the opposite sex and wanting to signal their presence to would-be mates. For such cats, spraying is often the come-hither method of choice for both sexes. Spraying is also a means of advising other cats that this territory is occupied; its the cats way of saying no trespassing.
Its too crowded here. Spraying is very common in multi-cat households, particularly if the cats are prone to fighting. When there is ongoing aggression between two cats, its almost impossible to stop the spraying, warns Houpt, who is board certified by the College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
This is my turf. An indoor cat that sees outdoor felines around the house may mark its territory by directing urine against the door or window through which it sees the intruders.
I dont like change. An alteration in the cats environment, such as a move to a new home, can prompt the animal to start spraying, according to behaviorist Wayne Hunthausen, DVM, co-author of Cat Behavior and Training: Veterinary Advice for Owners .
I dont feel well. According to Houpt, about 20 percent of the spraying cats she surveyed in a study also had physical problems. That could be coincidental, she acknowledges, but since most of the problems were urinary tract disorders, I dont think so.
Stopping the spraying
Ending a cats spraying requires its people to be patient, consistent, and willing to look beyond a quick fix. For example, although neutering is a good first step, after neutering, one out of 10 male cats and one out of 20 female cats will spray during its life time, says Houpt. If thats the case with your cat, you need to figure out why its spraying – and from there, take appropriate steps to address the cause.