Is cat spraying the same as urinating?

No, cat spraying is not the same as urinating. They have different purposes. The purpose of urinating is to eliminate waste from the cat’s body while the purpose of cat spraying is far more intricate but very specific. Cat spraying is scent-marking but what does territorial scent marking signify and what signals does it carry?

Cat spraying purpose
Photo: Feliciano Guimarães on Flickr.
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The best description of the purpose of scent marking is provided by Dr Desmond Morris. He writes that cat scent marks function like newspapers. Humans read newspapers to catch up on the events of the day. Cats sniff scent marks to learn about the movements and presence of the local cat population.

Cats sniffing urine scent marks tells them how long it has been since they were there. In other words a tomcat who sprays a wall can come back days later and remind himself when he was last at that spot. They can also read the scent of others to tell them the same thing. This is because the active chemicals with respect to scent marking in the urine, felinine, isovalthene, 3-mercapto-3-methyl-1-butanol and 3-methyl-3-methylthio-1-butanol degrade at a specific rate. Spraying is not a threat to other cats. It is a source of interesting information to them. Also each urine spray contains a lot of information about the identity of the sprayer and his emotional state.

Dr. Morris eloquently writes:

When a cat decides to have another spray itself, it is the feline equivalent of writing a letter to The Times, publishing a poem, and leaving a calling card, all rolled into one.

Cats spray urine regardless of whether they want to have a pee or not. If the bladder is almost empty the spraying is rationed by reducing the amount of urine but the number of times the spraying occurs remains the same.

If there is no urine in the bladder the cat will still go through the ritual of spraying to scent mark but no urine will be produced. It is an important part of the social life of cats.

Female cats spray far less often than males and their urine is less pungent in odour. Testosterone enhances the pungency.


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