A common complaint among cat owners is spraying or “marking” areas around the house. This is often confused with bad litter box behavior or a medical condition. Simply peeing outside the litter box is not the same as spraying. So what is the difference here?
What is “Spraying”?
When a cat “sprays” an area it is to mark territory or to attract mates. The term is literal of what is implied here. A cat will spray out urine in a highly concentrated form that has pheromones in it. They do this while standing, not squatting. You will often find feral cats doing this on trees, shrubbery, and sides of buildings such as houses. Most indoor house cats do not spray after being fixed. Some may continue to spray for a while if they are fixed at an older age but will eventually stop.
Urinating Around the House
If you catch your cat squatting and peeing outside the litter box, this is not spraying. The squatting position implies the cat is simply relieving itself. The reason why people view this as spraying is because of the strong smell that cat urine gives off. Cat urine has high amounts of ammonia so even if a cat is not spraying, it can still smell very pungent. Unfortunately, cats who have been declawed are more likely to pee outside the litter box due to damaged nerves and pain.
Reasons For Peeing Outside the Litter Box
The three most common medical reasons for a cat to pee outside the litter box is due to a UTI (urinary tract infection), kidney disease, or diabetes. When it comes to urinary tract infections and peeing outside the litter box, this is more common in female cats than males. Females will often seek out soft surfaces to pee on such as towels, clothing, bedding, and rugs. Males will often have an issue with crystals over a UTI that will cause them to urinate in other places. If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, taking them in for a checkup is advised to rule out any underlining medical issues.
If your cat has a clean bill of health, this can be a behavioral issue. Some external issues include using cat litter your cat does not like, moving the litter box to a place your cat feels unsafe or introducing a new cat into your home. Internal behavior issues are a bit more complicated. A cat who has separation anxiety, depression, or high amounts of stress can cause them to pee outside the litter box. It can be hard to determine an internal behavioral problem and often takes weeks of closely moderating your cat’s behavior and reactions to different situations. I always advise cat owners to take a natural approach for things like anxiety or depression as most medications prescribed to cats for these issues have a lot of side-effects.
What To Do If Your Cat is Spraying
If you know for certain your cat is spraying, you have to determine why. A cat that is not neutered or spayed will almost always spray indoors as it is part of their natural instinct to mate and form territory boundaries to keep other cats off their turf. You will want to get them fixed if they are not.
If you have a cat that frequents the outdoors, this can be a likely cause. Feral cats may be spraying on your house or in your yard and you will want to deter them from doing this. Use fresh lemon or orange peels and scatter them in gardens, near bushes, and put some in a tin on your porch and deck areas. You can also use small metal containers of vinegar around your yard.
If you recently stopped letting your cat outdoors after allowing it, this can cause them to spray indoors. You will want to provide an enclosed area for your cat to still be able to go outside when they please to avoid this. There are several options you can buy online that are prebuilt and just need to be assembled or you can opt to build one yourself.
You can also train your cat to walk on a harness and take them on several short walks throughout the week if an outdoor enclosure is not optional where you live.
Cleaning Up Spray
You will want to make sure to thoroughly clean the areas where your cat is spraying and neutralize the smell. Do this by mixing white vinegar with water in a 1 part to 3 parts ratio and allow the mixture to sit for 10 minutes before cleaning it away. This will get rid of the smell by neutralizing the ammonia and pheromones in the urine. If your cat sprayed on any items that can be washed, be sure to use a laundry detergent that contains baking soda or add in a few cups of vinegar to the wash cycle. Using a product like Feliway can help correct this behavior and is highly recommended.