Spraying — Why cats do it, and how to stop it.

Just like you and me, cats want to feel that their home is uniquely theirs. As visual creatures, we hang our favorite pictures and set out well-loved knick-knacks. We can all feel the difference between the décor in a hotel room and a home. As scent creatures, cats deposit their scent around their home. This proclaims to one and all that this is their home. If they feel compelled to proclaim this very loudly, they may spray. Spraying is unlikely in neutered cats that are not stressed and that have other ways to leave their scent.

Preventing Cats from Spraying

Just because cats like a home well-scented with their unique smell does not mean your home needs to smell of cat. Their noses are much more sensitive than ours, and they do not like the scent to be overwhelming. If you can smell it, it is too smelly for your cat.  However, they do want their subtle scent to be everywhere they hang out, especially in areas where people and other pets come and go. Just like you likely give special attention to the areas of your home that are entrance ways and social areas for you family, so does your cat. And just like you value the rooms in the house you use the most, so does your cat. Only, his focus is on smell. His smell. In these areas.

To prevent spraying, give your cat other means to leave his scent. Litter boxes on each level and at both ends of the house help him scent without your noticing much. You should keep these boxes well-scooped for both your and your cat’s comfort. And alternate which one you wash, using a tiny amount of mild soap, followed by a good rinsing and airing out. You do not have to smell a thing for him to feel he has scented his litter box. But be sure it does not smell of disinfectant or non-cat scents either! You can read more about using litter boxes to their best advantage in my blog on puddles of pee outside the box.

Another great way for a cat to leave his mark is by scratching tall, sturdy scratching posts and long, stable scratching pads. You won’t smell the pheromones he deposits from his paw pads, but he will.

Cats also have scent glands on their cheeks. Have head-level places for him to rub in well-used areas of the home and in high-traffic areas. This is another way for him to scent his house which you will not smell.

Causes of Spraying

And remember, unlike your visual décor, his scent will fade. He will feel the need to re-scent often, especially if you bring in competing smells – like new furniture, or a thorough house cleaning. Do not use strong smelling cleaners throughout your house on the same day. It’s also a good idea to put new furniture in a room that can be shut off from your cat, and let it acquire the unique smell of your home over a few days. Monitor him the first time he gets to sniff it, and make it a fun experience with treats, cuddles, or play. If new furniture must go in a room the cat can access, temporarily cover it and spend extra time doing what your cat enjoys, while he adjusts to the new furniture.

A big, scary source of new scent is new people and pets. These must be introduced slowly, and paired with pleasant experiences. How to do this will be in a future blog. But briefly, first let him get accustomed to their scent. Then if that goes well, let him get accustomed to the sight of the person or pet at a distance. Allow just a little bit of exposure to start – short time and low intensity – to avoid stressing your cat. Bear in mind that there may be people and pets your cat will never like, and he should be given places he can go where they cannot follow. If you need help with an introduction or a re-introduction, consider setting up a consultation with me.

As you can see, stress increases a cat’s need to mark his territory. If your cat has plenty of litter boxes and scratching options yet is spraying, try to figure out what is stressing him, and see if you can remove that. If it can’t be removed, provide him places to get away from it – high shelves and hiding spots just for him, where no one will bother him. An hour or two of “me time” each day can make all of the difference. Play and cuddle time with you is a good way to decrease stress, and is an important tool.

Changes in routine, such as loved family members being away on vacation, can be a source of stress. Hiring a pet sitter that the cat knows and that will play with him can help.

Viewing outside cats can be a source of stress. Strategically covering certain windows with film can prevent the stress of seeing them.

Stopping the Cat from Spraying

If your cat has sprayed, it is important to thoroughly clean the soiled surfaces. Put a tall-sided litter box in this area, at least temporarily. Be sure there is a scratching option nearby as well. Then figure out what caused the spraying.

It can take a bit of detective work to determine what is upsetting your cat. Keeping a daily log of his activities and noting when and where any spraying incidents occur can help you figure it out. Based on your research a plan can be made to decrease his stress while providing other means of scent marking. I’d be happy to help you with any step of this process.

 You may also find my blog on puddles of pee useful.
Patience Fisher owns Patience for Cats LLC, a cat behavior business based in Pittsburgh, PA. She is Associate Certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She holds a Bachelor’s in Biology, a Diploma of Feline Behavior Science Technology, and is a certified veterinary assistant. Visit her on Facebook at Patience for Cats.

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