Reasons female cats pee on things

The phrase “pee on things” is very general. It could mean urinating in the usual way, outside of the litter box or it could mean spraying as a “calling card”. The way the title is framed I believe that people want to know why female cats spray urine so I’ll deal with that first.

Cat scent marking by spraying urine horizontally
Cat scent marking by spraying urine horizontally. Males and females do it but females less often than males. Photo: Gerard Lacz – Minden Pictures.
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Spraying

The reason why female cats spray on things is essentially the same reason why male cat’s pee on things. But in addition, females may scent mark when in heat to signal sexual receptivity. The difference between males and females is that females and neutered cats of both sexes spray urine less frequently and the scent of the urine is less pungent.

The odour of sprayed urine is distinctly stronger and more pungent than that of normal cat urine because it contains two unusual amino acids, felinine and isovathene. These amino acids degrade after they are deposited on the object. Male cats excrete much more felinine in the urine than do intact females or neutered cats. An adult tomcat excretes about 95 mg of felinine per day compared with about 20 mg per day excreted by female cats.

Domestic cats don’t spray urine to defend territory. They spray urine on vertical objects to tell people that they have been there. The other cats will not run away from that pungent smell but go to it and investigate. In investigating the smell, they can gain information about the individual who delivered it and indeed a male cat might smell the sprayed urine of a female cat who is in oestrus i.e. in heat. This would provide the male cat with information about the female cat’s reproductive status.

I’ve seen one domestic cat outside my window spraying urine onto a bush. And then along comes another cat and sprays over it. This seems to be an act of competition over that patch of territory outside my window between competing cats. It is saying that this is mine, or I live here. It is not trying to deter the other. They are laying claim to that plot of land or territory but often domestic cats share the same territory because they have to due to population size.

This sharing of a home range would happen if the cats’ owners are apartment dwellers and the common area for cats and people is outside their apartment. The common areas become a shared home range for the domestic cats who go outside.

Inside the home it is said that female and male cats are more likely to spray because they are stressed and anxious. The stress and anxiety will be caused by the amount of space available which has been compressed and so there is potential friction between the cats. Under these circumstances a cat, either female or male, may worry that their territory is being invaded by another cat in the house. They spray inside the home to tell other cats that this is their place. It also reassures them because they surround themselves with their own scent.

It’s a form of claiming ownership of the core of their home range which is very small in multi-cat households if they are all full-time indoor cats. Cats are very adaptable and if five cats share the inside space of one detached home, they live in an environment which is essentially unnatural in terms of space. They adapt to it but some better than others. And some cats might be bolder than others or shyer. The timid cats are going to be more stressed than the bold ones.

The person who sums up spraying better than anybody else is Dr. Desmond Morris. He says that the scent marks made by spraying urine function “rather as newspapers do for us. Each morning we read our papers and keep up to date with what is going on in the human world. Cats wander around the territories and by stiffing at the scent marks, can learn all the news about the comings and goings of the feline population.”

That is spraying urine from the recipient’s point of view i.e. from the point of view of the cat smelling the urine. The cat delivering it is writing the newspaper. They are telling the other cats that they are around and claiming what they consider to be their rights.

Cats spray urine regardless of how much urine they have in the bladder. If it is nearly empty the urine is rationed. A cat spraying delivers the same number of squirts no matter how much liquid the cat has drunk. Even if a cat has run out of urine it will continue to complete the scent-marking routine. The act of spraying is independent of the presence of urine in the bladder.

What causes a cat to start spraying?
This is a good illustration of a lion spraying to mark its territory. It reminds us that this is a hardwired form of feline behaviour inherited from the African wildcat with respect to the domestic cat. Photo in public domain.

Urination

Turning briefly to urination, female cats, like males, can suffer from cystitis which means that they can deposit urine in inappropriate places because they can’t help themselves due to a bladder infection. Idiopathic cystitis is often exacerbated by stress caused by other cats. Cat owners should look to the environment that they have created for their cat if they see small drops of urine around the home, sometimes in the bathroom and in the bath. The urine might be bloody as a result of the bacterial infection.

Another reason for inappropriate elimination is the position of the litter tray, the wrong substrate, and being bullied by another cat if they share the litter tray when each cat should have their own. That’s a brief summary. Declawed cats are seven times more likely to eliminate inappropriately compared to other cats. This is almost certainly due to the fact that the substrate in the litter box hurts them. Further, this points to the fact that they have sore feet all the time.

Home range

On the issue of home ranges, females normally have smaller home ranges than males. This applies to all the wild cat species including the big cats. In the world of big cats such as tigers, the male home range may encompass the home ranges of four female tigers. Female tigers tend to make their home range not far from their natal range i.e. where they were born whereas smell tigers tend to strike out much further to find their home which may get them into trouble when fighting with other tigers.

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