Urine Marking In Cats

In our recent discussion about preventing behavioral problems in your cat, we talked briefly about the not-so-nice topic of spraying. Also known as urine marking, this fragrant form of kitty communication often purr-plexes human beings to the point that they become severely frustrated and willing to get rid of their feline friend in order to put an end to the putrid problem.


The first thing you need to understand about why we cats sometimes do the “nasty spray dance” is that it truly is a way for us to “cat chat” with one another. Sure, we meow, hiss, and occasionally yowl, but our main forms of communication are mostly non-verbal ones. You might not even realize it, but when you see us rubbing our chin (or scratching our nails) – purr-haps on the wooden molding that surrounds the bathroom doorway, as we venture in to use the litterbox – what we’re really doing is leaving a message for the other cats in the household that we’ve recently been there. It’s also our way of laying claim to a piece of what we think of as our territory. That’s why urine marking is such a common occurrence in homes that have more than one cat.

Although I purr-sonally have NEVER chosen to communicate with my fellow felines in such a manner, urine marking is a slightly more in-your-face (and up-your-nose) type of calling card that cats sometimes leave. It usually involves us “spraying” a small amount of special-scented urine on a vertical surface (like a table leg or the corner of your bed skirt) while we stand there staring blindly off into the horizon, all the while twitching our totally-upright tail and doing an odd little tap dance with our front feet. Don’t be surprised though if you also find such a tiny (but power-packed) message that’s been “horizontally” deposited in unusual places, like on the clothes you left laying on top of your bed or on your gym duffle bag that you simply dropped on the floor.

As difficult as it might be to purr-ceive, this really isn’t a litter box issue when cats do this. More than likely, the cat who sprays is actually using their litter box just fine. Why then, does a cat choose to communicate in such a smelly manner and just what message are they trying to convey?

As I mentioned before, leaving our scent scattered around the house lets other cats know we’re here and – in doing so – it can help to create a bond between those of us who live under the same roof. Unfortunately, there really is a reason that the term “cat fight” exists, as not all of us do become the best of friends.

Sometimes that happens simply because we’re fighting over “resources,” like litter boxes or sunny window ledges. Other times, we might be reacting to changes that are occurring around us, like the arrival of a new baby (human or furry) or the separation anxiety that we might feel when you start working longer hours outside of the home. Whenever upsetting situations like this occur, urine marking can become a way for us to relieve the stress we’re enduring in such less-than-peaceful living conditions, even if all it does is to help keep “offending” cats away from us.

Another major reason that spraying becomes an issue is actually hormone based. Although not rose-scented like human beings seem to prefer, such odiferous messages help to let other cats know they’re in search of a mate. That being the case, spraying is much more common in unneutered males (in fact, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll eventually begin spraying if left intact), but it can also occur in unspayed females – especially when they’re in heat. Don’t think it ends there though. Even altered male and female cats can spray, especially if they were already urine marking before they got “fixed.”

If you’re dealing with a urine marking problem with your feline friend, what can you do to have the fetid feline conversation finally die down and hopefully never resume? Here are my top ten “insider” tips to help you and your cat get back on non-smelly speaking terms once again.

  1. As always, the first thing to do is to make sure ole’ Felix really doesn’t have some kind of an underlying medical problem that is causing him/her to spray.
  2. If your furry friend isn’t neutered or spayed, DO SO ASAP, especially if you have a kitten that hasn’t yet reached sexual maturity. Estimates vary, but neutering has been reported to eradicate urine marking in 90% of male cats and in 95% of female cats, even in those who have already exhibited such a malodorous behavior.
  3. Refer to the tips listed in the “Preventing Litter Box and Spraying Problems” section of our prior discussion about “Preventing Behavioral Problems in Your Cat“. There you’ll find pointers about how many litter boxes to have, where to locate them, how to clean them, etc. And in case you’re wondering why this might help when I said earlier that spraying isn’t a litter box issue, it CAN help reduce tension between the feuding – and potentially spraying – cats in your household.
  4. Along the same line as litter boxes, be certain to place various feeding/watering/relaxation “stations” throughout your house to help in reducing stressful encounters.
  5. Find some time to play with your cats, preferably every single day. This can help reduce stress levels, both for them and for you. You might even want to encourage joint playing sessions between cats to help form a sense of community. Beware though, as that doesn’t always work for previously feuding cats.
  6. Clean sprayed areas thoroughly and often. Be careful about using potent smelling products though as that might just encourage your cat to continue to cover the “competing” odor.
  7. If your cat(s) seem to have certain items they prefer to spray on, make them “unavailable” by moving them out of their reach or by blocking their accessibility to the area. Some people have had success at “booby-trapping” the area with items like aluminum foil or “scat mats.” If you can’t move the item(s) they’re spraying on, try blocking them, purr-haps with one of their litter boxes or food dishes.
  8. Place pheromone-based products (like Feliway) near/on sprayed areas. Stress levels can often be greatly reduced with the use of such kitty-calming compounds.
  9. Your veterinarian might also prescribe the use of a feline-friendly antidepressant to help take the edge off of Felix. Such medicine might be a quick fix or it might be a life-long need. Work closely with your vet, regardless.
  10. If outside neighborhood cats are causing your kitty’s urge to spray (which you might not actually witness, but can be the cause if you’re finding sprayed areas near “points of household entry”), be diligent in restricting his/her view of the outside world. Close off rooms, move furniture away from viewing areas, hang curtains or blinds, or whatever else you can think of to minimize their interactions, even if it means doing something like leaving a radio playing on your outside porch to discourage cats from coming too close to your house. Just don’t play it so loud that you annoy your actual human neighbors!

I hope that at least some of what I’ve said helps you and your cat companion find some sweet-smelling success at eliminating the urine marking that’s going on in your home. By listening closely to what we’re “spraying and not saying,” you can actually solve this common kitty household problem.