You just got back home from work and what do you find? A smelly urine stain on the wall and one guilty-looking cat… Not again! Why is it that some cats spray urine? Is it always bad behaviour? Could there be a medical reason? Read on and find out.

Spraying or Just Urinating?

It’s important to make this distinction. Cats usually spray urine for behavioural reasons. If you catch them doing this, they will be facing away from the surface, tail erect and quivering as they release a spray of urine. Urination to void a full bladder or for medical reasons usually involves squatting to urinate, like most animals. There can be overlap but this is the best way to differentiate the two. In either case, we understand it isn’t an ideal habit so we will spend the rest of the article explaining the various causes and solutions to urine accidents around the house.

Prehistoric Habits

One of the most common reasons for true spraying (usually seen as urine marks on vertical surfaces like walls) is behavioural. In the wild, cats spray to mark their territory. The pheromones in the urine telling other cats ‘MINE!’ Unfortunately, cats are not that far removed from their wild ancestors, so often retain this habit. It is most common in unneutered (entire) cats, and especially entire male cats.

Thankfully, neutering cats at a young age (usually by around 6 months or so) blocks the hormonal drive to spray. It can prevent the behaviour in cats neutered at an older age; but the longer a cat remains unneutered, the greater the chance that the spraying behaviour becomes a habit and neutering will not solve it. We encourage you to neuter your cats as early as your vet recommends.

Spraying as a Sign of Stress

Cats, both neutered and unneutered, can spray when they are stressed. Cats are highly sensitive animals but are also terrible at telling that something is wrong; so it can be hard to even know your cat is stressed. Cats can become stressed for many reasons, but most commonly;

  • loud noises
  • changes around the house like new environments, people or pets
  • pain
  • other cats around the neighbourhood

And many more. Even cats that have grown up together can stress each other out from time to time.

How to reduce stress in your cat

To reduce stress, you can try introducing pheromone diffusers, catnip and safe spaces to hide. For houses with multiple cats in particular, we recommend having multiple resources around the house in quiet areas. A good rule is n+1 for the number of cats; if you have two cats, have three litter trays, food and water bowls, beds, etc. If you have three cats, have four of each, and so on. 

Resources should also be kept away from high-traffic areas like kitchens, to encourage stress-free use. If the stress is related to other cats outdoors, consider moving your cat indoors and closing curtains during the day. In extreme cases, your vet might be able to offer a short course of anti-anxiety medication until they have settled down.

Cleaning up urine marks should be done with a mild-smelling cleaners. Strong-smelling cleaners can actually encourage the cat to spray there again to mask the scent of the cleaner. It is also a good idea to try and prevent access to the area if you can, as cats tend to have a favourite place to spray. 

We often recommend neutering cats like this if not already done so 

This will rule out links to territorial behaviour. If neutering does not solve the issue, we will investigate any underlying urinary diseases (more on this later). Finally once they are ruled out we can assume stress was indeed the cause. Identifying a primary cause can be useful but sometimes this is difficult or it cannot be changed anyway. 

Urinary Issues

As we mentioned above, sometimes ‘spraying’ is actually a urinary issue that we mistake for behavioural problems. Cats commonly get a condition called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). We have written articles on this before, but in brief, anything that causes inflammation of the urinary tract can lead to inappropriate urination around the house. These causes can vary from bacterial infections, urine stones, bladder masses, primary inflammation, and stress again. Painful urination can cause small but frequent passing of urine, passing urine around the house, bloody urine, and vocalisation or aggression when urinating. All of these can be confused with true behavioural spraying. 

We investigate urinary issues by taking blood and urine tests, imaging your cat’s urinary tract and looking for underlying causes. Treatment will involve treating the primary cause but will also involve reducing stress in the same ways listed above. Stress can be a primary cause or can exacerbate FLUTD if secondary, so it is important to minimise stress regardless. FLUTD can also be managed with special urinary diets and supplements.

Other Medical Issues

Finally, other medical issues may be linked to your cat’s ‘spraying’.

Aside from the above urinary issues, diseases such as arthritis or pain, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, liver disease and cancer can all cause an increased need to urinate, resulting in accidents around the house.

Older cats are more susceptible to many of these diseases, so consider asking for further investigation if your old cat with no history of accidents around the house starts making a mess. There are usually other symptoms associated with these diseases, so we can be more confident in ruling out behaviour, stress or FLUTD. Most can be managed in one way or another. 

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