Why Do Cats Spray Urine?

It can be incredibly frustrating when you come home to your feline friend having sprayed urine outside of their litter box. Male cats who haven't been neutered yet are especially known for marking their territory via urine spray, however it is not limited to intact male cats. Neutered male cats and female cats (spayed or un-spayed) will also spray urine sometimes. There are several reasons for this type of spraying behavior outside of marking their territory.

Tabby cat sitting in a top-entry litter box and looking curious up to the camera.
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Types of urine marking

There are two types of urine marking in cats:

1.) Urinating on vertical surfaces: when cats back up to a vertical surface like a wall, or standing piece of furniture with their tail erect and squirt urine.

2.) Urinating on horizontal surfaces: when a cat squats while urinating like they do in their litter box but on the floor, or horizontal items or furniture.

Both male and female cats can spray or squat, even though spraying is more common in males.

Possible reasons for urine spraying

Anxiety

The most frequent reason for urinating outside of the litter box is anxiety. Your cat can develop anxiety for a number of reasons, like a new member of the family, a new cat that lives in or outside the house, or even a dirty litter box. Cats handle pressure and stress by trying to control the situation, and marking territory is a self-soothing act. We might think their spray smells bad, but they think it smells like themselves, which is comforting to your cat.

Try to identify what might be causing your cat anxiety. Make sure there is enough food and water around, that their litter and general space is clean, and if there is a cat or new pet that is causing them anxiety, try to create separate spaces for them to be able to rest in when overwhelmed.

Adorable cat near litter tray indoors
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Medical issues

If your cat is not anxious, they might be spraying or urinating due to an illness or medical issue. Urinary tract infections, urinary crystals or blockages are common in male cats. If you notice your little guy is having trouble using the bathroom, licking his genitals a lot, crying and urinating in front of you, take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. If left unattended, your cat could get seriously ill. To prevent kidney or urinary illnesses watch your cats weight and make sure they have enough water available to them in bowls around the house in addition to adding water to their dry food or giving them wet food. If it becomes a reoccurring problem, talk to your veterinarian about some alternative options.

Mating behavior

The urge to spray is incredibly hard to resist for a cat who is in heat (an un-spayed female). The first thing you can do to make sure to stop this behavior is get your cats spayed and neutered as soon as they are old enough. The longer you wait to neuter or spay your cat, the more likely they will continue to urinate and spray outside of their litter box because it will become a habit for them.

Steps to take if your cat is spraying

As soon as you notice this behavior beginning, it's best to take your cat to the vet and make sure it's not a medical condition. If it is a kidney or urinary blockage, this can become life-threatening in a matter of hours , so do not wait.

Grey cat sitting next to blue litter box indoors
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If your vet gives them a clean bill of health, then you can take steps to address any stress that your cat might be experiencing at home. Make sure to clean soiled areas in the home so your cat doesn't continue to mark the same spot again. Keep objects that they tend to mark out of reach or in your closet (like laundry, visitors luggage or newly bought items).

Finally, if none of this works, you can talk to your veterinarian about prescribing your cat anti-anxiety medication.

No matter how frustrating, know that your cat is not doing this out of spite. Getting angry at them will only make it worse. Be patient and reward your cat for good behavior, instead of using punishment.