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Is My Cat Spraying or Urinating in My Home? How Can I Tell?

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Is My Cat Spraying or Urinating in My Home? How Can I Tell?

As a cat lover you have probably heard of cats "spraying" or urinating outside the litter box. Is your cat doing one of these things? How can you tell the difference?

Urination is a natural behavior that all cats must do. In contrast, "spraying" is the act of marking the environment as a way of showing dominance, territorial boundaries, or displeasure with a situation. The key is the chemicals called pheromones which are used for communication between animals. Some cats may never spray and others may do it frequently. All cats can mark with urine but the behavior is most common with unneutered male cats.

Physical posture can tell a lot about which behavior is occurring. Generally, cats will urinate by squatting with their rear end angled at the ground. They will most often do this on a flat surface; however, some cats like to urinate close to the sides of the litter box.

What does a spraying cat look like? They will often back up to a vertical surface such as a wall or door, raise their tail (which often shakes or quivers), will often move their front legs back and forth as though marching in place and spray urine on the vertical surface. This surface is often at "nose" level for other cats to smell this method of communication. The volume may be anything from a few drops to a stream of liquid.

For more information on spraying, please visit a behaviorist's recommendations at Feline Urine Marking.

Cats will urinate outside of the litter box for a variety of reasons. It is important to understand if it is a behavioral or medical issue. Urinary tract infections, inflammatory bladder diseases or bladder stones are common causes of inappropriate urination. If you aren't sure, the best approach is to see your veterinarian for an evaluation. They will most likely perform a urinalysis and possibly an abdominal radiograph (x-ray of the belly) to look for signs of inflammation, infection or stones.

I hope this information helps you determine if your cat is spraying or urinating in your home. If your cat is spraying you are dealing with a behavioral problem. If they are simply urinating you may be dealing with a medical problem. Your vet can help you figure that out.

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