Is a Cat Marking in the House the Same as Spraying?

Is a Cat Marking in the House the Same as Spraying?

A cat takes a nap on a rug.A cat takes a nap on a rug.
A cat takes a nap on a rug.A cat takes a nap on a rug.

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When you have a cat marking in the house, it is a frustrating problem. In fact, this is the number one reason that cats are surrendered to shelters and pounds. Cat marking in the house is similar to spraying. The difference is that spraying is done on vertical surfaces. This is when a cat backs up to a vertical surface with their tail erect and squirts urine. Oftentimes, the tail will quiver while they are spraying. Regular urine marking is done on horizontal surfaces. This is when your cat squats to pee on a horizontal surface, like the floor or the furniture. Both male and female cats can spray and squat while urine marking.

Urine marking is not a litter box issue.

Some cats will eliminate outside the litter box at some point in their lives. Some of these cats have issues with some characteristic of their litter box. To learn more about this problem, go to How Do You Deal with a Cat Urinating Outside of the Litter Box?  The rest of these cats who are urinating outside the litter box don’t have any problems with their litter box. It’s a communication problem.

Urine marking is a form of indirect communication used by cats.

Whenever possible, cats in the wild will go off on their own and claim certain territories for themselves. Through urine marking, a cat is alerting other cats to his presence. He is showing what property belongs to him. Urine marking also tells other cats that they are looking for a mate.

A house cat may not have the same challenges as an outdoor cat, but they still look at the world in the same way and use the communication skills that nature gave them. If your cat’s world is predictable and conflict-free, or if they are spayed or neutered and don’t need a mate, cats have little reason to mark their territory. But if they are looking for a mate or if they are distressed because of something they will mark their territory by urine marking. A cat knows that urine marking will help to keep unwanted individuals away. It also makes them feel more secure.

There are several possible reasons that your cat is urine marking:

  • Mating behavior – Neutering solves most of these marking issues.
  • Stress – Cats are creatures of habit. They don’t like change. Even small changes to their environment or routine may cause a cat to urine mark. Maybe there’s a new pet or a new baby in the house. Maybe there’s a strange cat in the backyard. Even environmental factors that we don’t fully understand can cause your cat to urine mark. This is your cat’s way of dealing with stress. Your cat feels anxious and is trying to deal with his stress by staking out his territories.
  • Multiple cats in the house – The more cats that live in the home the more likely it is that at least one of them will urine mark.
  • Medical issues – A urinary tract infection or a blockage may be the reason for your cat’s urine marking. That’s why it’s always a good idea to see your veterinarian to make sure that there are no medical issues that are responsible for your cat’s urine marking.

How to Tell If Your Cat Is Urine Marking

You will need to do some investigating to determine whether your cat has a litter box problem or if he is urine marking. The cat uses less urine to mark its territory than he would when eliminating inside the litter box, so urine marking deposits are usually smaller than inappropriate eliminations outside the litter box.

Marking on vertical surfaces is caused by spraying. This type of urine marking is easy to detect.

Also, the urine in urine marking has a stronger, more pungent odor. That’s because the urine mark contains more than just urine. It also contains pheromones, which are communication chemicals.

How to Treat Urine Marking in Cats

If you have multiple cats, it is important to determine which cat is marking. Isolate one cat at a time and see if the urine marking stops while they’re in isolation. Sometimes this will work, but if the urine marking is stress-related, isolating the cat may remove the cause of their stress. In that case, you wouldn’t be able to tell which cat is marking.

Another way to help determine which cat is marking is by using fluorescein, a harmless dye that can be added to your cat’s food. Do this one cat at a time. The dye will glow in the cat’s urine when a black light is held over it.

Once you know which cat is marking, here are some things you can do to solve the problem:

  • Neuter or spay intact cats – Neutering eliminates urine marking in 90 percent of male cats and spaying is 95 percent effective in female cats.
  • Odors – Clean up all urine marking as soon as possible with an enzymatic odor neutralizer. A black light can help you to identify all of the spots where your cat has marked.
  • Stress – Try to reduce any stress in your cat’s life. Keep your cat’s life as routine as possible. Spend plenty of time playing with your cat. If there is an unwelcome cat outside the house, keep doors and windows closed. Try to block the lower half of the windows to make the sills inaccessible. Move furniture to deny access to certain windows and use blinds and curtains to cover windows.
  • Litter boxes – Make sure that there are enough litter boxes in your home. You will need one litter box per cat, plus one. (So if you have two cats, you will need 3 litter boxes.) Make sure that the litter boxes are cleaned regularly (at least once a day) and make sure that the boxes are placed strategically at all levels of the house. Place the boxes in low traffic areas with at least two exit routes.
  • Environmental enrichment – Provide more perches or cat trees. This will give your cats more personal space away from the others.
  • Pheromone spray – Try using a pheromone spray like Feliway. These sprays contain facial pheromones and they can deter some cats from urinating in particular locations.
  • Medical examination – See your veterinarian to rule out all possible medical causes.
  • Medications – In some cases, urine marking can be reduced through the use of medications. These medications will help to stabilize the cat’s mood and reduce anxiety.

To learn more about cat spraying, go to Cat Spraying: What Is It and How Do You Make It Stop?

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