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Reasons cats spray and how to prevent it

Cats will choose to spray in the home for a number of reasons. Discover the cause of the problem and learn how to prevent it.

Take a look at the following advice from Jon Bowen, Honorary Lecturer in Small Animal Behaviour at the Royal Veterinary College.

Typical spraying behaviour cat owners should look for

  • Your cat sniffs the spot where it intends to spray, often with the top lip raised (this is known as the flehmen response).
  • Your cat backs up to the area and sticks its tail upright.
  • Your cat deposits a small amount of urine that leaves a greasy mark when it dries.
  • The spray mark can be 30cm, or higher, up the object.
  • Your cat’s tail twitches and twiddles as it passes the urine.
  • Your cat might have a glazed look on its face, and will often paddle the ground with its paws whilst spray marking.
  • The location of spray marks is usually in easily visible locations where it will be seen by other cats.

Spraying is usually different to urinating

When cats urinate they will usually go to a quiet, out of the way place where they will not be disturbed. They will crouch and pass a larger volume of urine that does not leave a greasy mark when it dries.

However, if cats have cystitis they may urinate standing up, and they may sometimes only pass small volumes of urine. If you suspect your cat has cystitis, speak to your vet for advice.

Common reasons a cat might start spraying

  • After the stress of a house move.
  • After the introduction of a new cat to the household.
  • Conflict with other cats in the neighbourhood, especially involving home invasion.
  • After major redecoration or the introduction of new furniture.
  • Change in household routine, such as after a change of job.

Common reasons a cat might start to urinate in the home

  • The cat’s outdoor toilet is unusable, due to bad weather, muddy or frozen soil, or conflict with a neighbourhood cat.
  • Their litter tray has become less appealing, due to a change of litter, shared use with other cats, or a location that lacks privacy.

The places a cat sprays can indicate the source of the problem

  • Mostly spray marks around windows and external doors. This is likely to be due to conflict with non-resident cats.
  • Mostly spray marks around internal doors and corridors. This can be due to tension between resident cats, or can be a sign of home invasion by other people’s cats.

Top tips to prevent spraying and urination in the home

  • When moving house, let your cat settle into one room for a few days while you unpack and set up the home. Install a Feliway diffuser in this room, and let your cat have free access to food, water, a toilet and lots of places to hide and climb.
  • When introducing new furniture, unwrap it and let it air for a few hours until any chemical smell has dissipated, before letting your cat come into contact with it.
  • When you redecorate, let the smell of the new carpet and paint dissipate, and consider installing a Feliway diffuser in the room for a few days before letting cats into it.
  • Install a secure cat door so that other people’s cats cannot get into the house.
  • Reduce stress for cats by giving them free access to food and water at all times.
  • Give the cats a deep sided litter tray filled to a depth of 2-3cm with an odourless mineral based litter (not wood or pulp pellets), and position it where cats can use it without being disturbed.
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