What can I do to stop my cat from spraying? It can take patience and keen observational skills to get to the bottom of this unwelcome behavior or it can be immediately apparent. But it is natural feline behavior and so it does not deserve punishment. That would make it worse, in fact. Never punish but use human intelligence to modify feline behavior.
Urination or spraying?
The first point is that you should decide that your cat is spraying or urinating inappropriately. Both forms of behaviour deposits urine either outside or inside the home. Spraying, as the word suggests involves urine being sprayed horizontally onto surfaces to ‘mark’ territory, whereas urination does not need describing. Just check this difference out if you’re unsure and also check out if inappropriate urination is caused by a health issues such as cystitis.
Another important first topic is to make sure that your cat is neutered. By neutered I mean both neutered and spayed. This should solve most marking issues and the longer you wait to spay or neuter your cat the more difficult it is to stop them because the behaviour has become entrenched.
Proactive prevention of spraying
Having got that out of the way I’d like to discuss in a roundabout way cat spraying. Obviously you need to know what causes it in order to be able to stop it. Spraying if most often caused by feline anxiety.
The most common cause of anxiety in domestic cats is probably a concern about the invasion of their home range i.e. their territory which they designate as theirs, by other cats in the neighbourhood. Interestingly, sometimes “invading domestic cats” can also spray within the home range of another cat. It’s about competition.
I have a visiting cat that comes to my home. I like to see her and my cat likes to see her too. It’s good fun but on one occasion she sprayed inside my home. That was instinctive obviously and has not happened again. She felt that my home should be he territory because it was part of her overall home range which overlapped with the home range of my cat. Fortunately my cat did not overspray the same area which might happen if there is competition. He did not respond and accepts her.
I think you will find it is generally agreed that anxiety and fear are the main factors driving cats to mark territory with faeces or urine. Sometimes cats spray the walls or furniture with urine. The intention may be to deter other cats entering their home. Spraying urine and defecating inappropriately are part the same problem. Sometimes domestic cats defecate on their owner’s bed to try and claim ownership of what they consider to be the core of the home because it is an area which most smells of their human guardian.
Indeed, there is an overlap here between spraying and urinating. Anxiety causing spraying can also cause cystitis which in turn causes inappropriate urination.
Jackson Galaxy calls it “territorial stress”. If your cat is marking the perimeter of the house this indicates territorial stress. A cat is probably coming in from the outside and your cat is building a virtual moat to stop it.
This then is one way to stop spraying behaviour. It is to identify cats either being seen outside or coming inside or into the backyard causing your cat to become stressed. It can be difficult to spot these invading cats. Jackson Galaxy recommends motion-activated cameras to detect them. I think that in time you will notice other cats. It just takes a bit of observation and time.
Once you’ve done that you’ve got to prevent them coming into your cat’s territory. If they are stray or feral cats then technically you could TNR the cat by getting an outside agency involved. There are many volunteers in America involved in TNR programs. There may be a hole in your backyard fence which can be repaired and you can use deterrents. Although, I’m cynical about cat deterrents (don’t work?). Also, if the deterrent is placed within your cat’s home range you might be deterring him or her as well.
If the invading cat is a domestic cat living with a neighbour then it may be appropriate to have a chat with your neighbour about it to see if you can come to an amicable agreement. Although, once again, I am slightly cynical about this because such a discussion can become antagonistic which may cause a deterioration in your relationship with your neighbour.
If your cat is looking out the window and seeing a cat or cats outside causing stress then the window can be blocked to stop the view but this I think is a limited solution because cats like to look out of windows. It entertains them.
What about cat deterrents? I have written an article about that but there’s no guarantee. There’s lots of discussion about this on the Internet and I’m convinced that lots of the methods do not work. Perhaps the best thing is to make it known to the invading cat that you do not like his or her presence. You can make your backyard or home unpleasant for this particular cat. You can do that by noise or as a last resort squirting water at the cat. Although I’m very much against punishing animals. If you make the area unpleasant then a cat will normally avoid it.
It may be the case that in a multi-cat household one cat is bullying another. The need to identify the bully. The Humane Society has an interesting method for detecting a bullying cat. They say you should add food-safe resident died to the cats’ food-one cat at a time. I think they’re saying that if a cat in the household is eating another cat’s food causing stress in the victimised cat then the bullying cat’s urine will glow under a black light. In this way you can identify the offending cat.
I have been reminded that the picture on this page shows a cat who sprayed because of a new baby in the home which introduced a new smell and creature into the home. A challenge to the cat’s territory?
The above thoughts are about taking proactive steps. In terms of taking reactive steps you can add a distressing pheromone to the environment. There are many products, the most well-known is Feliway. My neighbour swears by it and she has a multi-cat household which can cause intercat stressed and antagonistic relations.
The area where your cat is sprayed should be cleaned with enzyme cleaner to totally remove the urine and its smell. Otherwise they are liable to overspray and keep topping it up and they may use the area as a toilet as well. This is important.
As a last resort, it may be appropriate to take your cat to a veterinarian to obtain a prescription for antianxiety medication.
I think the underlying key to all this is to reduce your cat’s anxiety in all ways possible and primarily by removing, in the kindest of ways, any invading domestic or stray cat from your cat’s home. Those are the keys. The anxiety may be coming from other areas such as a strange human in the house or some unusual activity somewhere in or around the home. Cats are very sensitive to changes. Some cats are more nervous than others. Nervous cats should be given extra special loving treatment in order to calm them down. Clearly a bit of patient research is required including critical observation of what your cat is doing (and what you are doing) in order to get to the bottom of it.
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