Why does my cat spray?

Often you can smell it before you see it. The pungent odour of cat urine. Anyone who has had a cat which sprays urine around the house would know the frustration of having to clean up afterwards.

But why do cats spray urine? And what can you do to stop the behaviour? Read on to learn why cats spray urine, causes for inappropriate levels of urine spraying and where to seek veterinary help.

Urine marking

In the wild, cats use urine, as well as pheromones in the glands on their paws, faces and flanks, to mark trees and other objects as part of establishing their territories. Cats are very territorial and will go to great lengths to establish and maintain their designated territory.

Feral cat territories can be quite large, and as they are largely solitary animals, they use their own scent to reassure themselves that no one has invaded their territory. If they find another cat’s scent in their territory, or they feel anxious, they will increase their marking behaviours. Many pet cats continue to display this pattern of behaviour, so if they feel stressed or threatened, they will increase urine marking in their territory.

Stress and anxiety in cats

What makes a cat stressed or anxious? It varies between the cat. Keeping in mind the territorial nature of cats, and their desire for a large territory, it isn’t a surprise that cats kept in suburban areas where numerous territories overlap can find themselves stressed and frustrated. Some cats feel threatened by new cats in the neighbourhood.

Some cats are stressed by being kept in a household with other cats they don’t get along with. And some cats just become stressed by changes in the household dynamic e.g. new human in the household or moving houses. A good way to determine the root cause of your cat’s stress is to conduct a thorough history and behavioural analysis with your veterinarian.

Medical causes of urine spraying

Although most cases of urine spraying are behavioural in nature (and linked to underlying stress and anxiety), some cases are due to an underlying medical condition. Urinary tract infections, diets which cause a build-up of urinary crystals and stones, and kidney disease, can all cause increased urination which might appear like urine spraying.

Whether the cause of your cat urine spraying is medical or behavioural, it’s always important to get a professional opinion. Punishing your cat for urinating in an inappropriate way, or making them ‘outdoor only’ cats, doesn’t solve the underlying problem and might make things worse. Make an appointment to see your veterinarian to get to the bottom of the problem and help improve your cat’s quality of life.