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Why Do Cats Spray or Mark?

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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What makes cats spray or mark their territory? That's the million-dollar question. And once you know why they do it, how can you treat the area and prevent further cat spraying?

Spraying is a type of nonverbal communication among cats that utilizes chemicals in urine. Although natural, this action can be destructive and unpleasant for humans. Spraying or "marking" is not a litter box issue; it is related to a behavioral problem.

When cats spray they mark territory with pheromones. These natural chemicals are produced by animals to serve as a form of chemical communication. Several different pheromones are secreted by different regions of the body and communicate different things including a desire to mate, territorial boundaries, and to signal that all is well. Each cat's pheromone combinations are unique, like a human fingerprint.

If your cat is spraying, there are several things you can do. Please read this article on Feline Urine Marking for more information.

When dealing with spraying, some general guidelines include:

  • If you are unsure if your cat is urinating in the house or spraying - have your veterinarian examine your cat to rule out the possibility of a medical problem. Please DON'T assume that inappropriate urination is spraying if you aren't sure. Veterinarians often diagnose urinary medical problems which were originally blamed on spraying behavior.

  • If your cat has not been neutered, you may want to consider it. Much marking behavior is related to hormones and neutering may eliminate it entirely.

  • Clean urine marks thoroughly with a product designed to neutralize the odor. Avoid ammonia-based products, which smell like urine to a cat's sensitive nose. If they can detect even a small amount of this scent it encourages the cat to spray on the same spot again.

  • If your pet is in a stressful situation, try to identify and eliminate the cause of the stress as a first step. These situations can include a new home, family member, or even a change in furniture.

  • Use a commercial pheromone product such as Feliway®. These are peaceful pheromones that reduce anxiety and discourage spraying behavior.

    I hope this article helps you understand and deal with your cat's spraying behavior. For more information on spraying, please visit a behaviorist's recommendations at Feline Urine Marking.

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