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Cats Spraying: Why They Do It And How To Stop It

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how to stop cat spraying


We're back with certified feline trainer and behavior consultant, Dr. Marci Koski, to do a deeper dive into cat spraying.

We know cat spraying is one of the most frustrating — and stinky — issues cat owners deal with, and it's also a major contributor to cat relinquishment, and even euthanasia.

So, to avoid the stress and anything else that may potentially come with it, Marci provides some great ideas for doing your own sleuthing to figure out the underlying issues as to why your cat is spraying, and then gives some great suggestions for helping stop this unwanted behavior.

Don't forget to check out part 1 of our conversation with Marci, where we talk about the differences between cat spraying and cats peeing outside of the litter box.

First things first, if you notice any changes in your cat's peeing habits, it's time for a trip to the vet. As a quick recap:

There is no way you will be able to make a behavioral change if it's actually a medical issue.

Some of the medical issues that could have a cat peeing outside of the litter box include:

  • Arthritis (which is an incredibly under-diagnosed issue, mostly due to lack of regular exams)
  • Diabetes
  • Urinary obstruction (side note: If you're reading/listening to this because your cat has been going into the litter box frequently, your cat can't pee, or your cat is peeing frequently but in small amounts, grab your cat and go directly to the vet or emergency vet immediately
  • Cystitis
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • The list goes on

Say It, Don't Spray It

As we learned on the last episode, stress and environmental insecurity can be a root cause for both cats spraying, and for peeing outside of the litter box. But, the messages being sent and how they are being sent, are very different.

A cat will spray to send a very overt message —  basically doing their best Banksy impersonation and tagging their territory saying, "I am here! I am reenforcing this with my scent! Listen to what I'm telling you!" In my mind, it's a few steps away from Glenn Close's character who will not be ignored in Fatal Attraction.

But instead of thinking your cat is a jerk (they aren't...at least, we're pretty sure), look for the clues your cat is giving you to decode their message.

Marci says spraying is usually due to territorial insecurity, so they may be trying to tell you they're feeling insecure about some of the scents being brought into the home, and try to self soothe by marking it with their scent.

cat spraying because of outside smells

Or, they could also be saying, "Hey, there are other cats out there and they might be trying to get into my territory. I'm going to let them know who owns this turf."

Cat behaviorist extraordinaire, Jackson Galaxy, says cats tend to take on four different personality types — one of which is the Napoleon cat. This is the type of cat who is stand-offish and quick to strike. They want everyone to know, animal and human, that they have ownership over their lair. Cats who spray fall into the Napoleon personality type.

Want to know your cat's personality type according to Jackson Galaxy? Watch here:

My cat Mazel is definitely a Mojito Cat and I consider myself incredibly lucky.

Cat Anxiety Medications and Supplements

Some cats will spray as a self-soothing measure to ease their anxiety. I know, I know, what do cats have to stress about? Well, in their world, lots of things! Thankfully there are steps we can take to ease their anxiety, and sometimes it is most effective when those steps are combined with medication or supplements.

As Dr. J says, you shouldn't wait to use anxiety-reducing and behavioral modification medications and supplements as a last line of defense because they can help the animal get to below their anxiety threshold enough for them to learn the behavioral modifications you're trying to teach.

The great news is, many of the cats who use these medications can either get weened off of them, or go on much lower dosages over time.

Every cat is unique and should be treated as such, so talk to your veterinarian and/or veterinary behaviorist about what options might work best for your kitty and their unique situation.

Be Your Own Pet Detective

No matter who the client is, Marci likes to collect as detailed a history as possible and she encourages them to keep a journal of their cat's behaviors

  • Did the problem just start?
  • Is this a recurring problem?
  • How frequently is this happening?
  • Has this been happening over a long period of time?
  • Where did it happen?
  • What occurred just before this happens?
  • What happens right after this happens?

If the problem happens only every now and then, she dives right into the behavioral modification. If it's been a long standing issue with not much change or improvement, or it's something that happens all the time, she likes to work as a team with her client's veterinarian to start talking about medications and supplements to use in conjunction with behavioral modification, and her clients have seen great results.

If you have a cat that's too stressed out, no matter what you do to change their behaviors,  they're not going to be picking up what you're putting down.

cat filing nails bored with you and your shenanigans

Follow the Trends and Give Your Cat a Progress Report

Keeping track of your cat's progress around an issue can help you spot the trends to figure out when and why your cat is spraying, and get you closer to a solution to get them to stop.

Print out a calendar and make notes about their behavior at the end of every day. It can be a smiley face, or check mark — heck, get them some stickers or gold stars and have fun with it!

Then, a few months later, you can look back and see if you can spot any trends in their behavior, or if it ends up being something that occurs more frequently, you can bring that information in to the vet or behaviorist to get more help, and then in the future, you can use that data as a benchmark to track progress with any of the new modifications and/or medications and supplements you're trying.

Channel your inner sleuth, and if you're feeling particularly adventurous and want to feel like a part of C.S.I. (Cat Spray Investigators), break out the blacklight and use it to horrify yourself and also ensure you properly clean your cat's pee afterwards.

cat spray investigator yeaaaaah

Also, if you're unsure of whether or not your cat is spraying vs. peeing against the wall, use the blacklight to see whether the stream is more vertical (spraying) or more of a horizontal pool (eliminating outside the litter box). Again, both are very similar in terms of cat pee, but the messages being sent are completely different.

How To Get Your Cat To Stop Spraying

Since cats are often spraying in response to other cats in the neighborhood, it's important to do what you can to minimize the exposure that indoor cats have with outdoor cats. This can be something as easy as keeping the windows shut more often in the fall and spring when intact male cats are more likely to be out on the prowl. This way their scent is less likely to waft into your home and drive your cat bonkers to the point of spraying.

Another thing to try would be to minimize or obscure your cat's view of the offensive trespassers. There are opaque stickies you can put over your windows. Or, you can use my preferred method, and distract your kitty (and everyone else at home) with the beauty that comes along with setting up hummingbird and other wild bird feeders. Here are my boys enjoying their favorite way to neighborhood watch.

marshall mazel bird feeder

 

Another possibly little known fact is that cats aren't nocturnal, they are actually crepuscular — which is a cool word meaning they are more likely to be active during twilight hours at dawn and dusk.

So, when the stray cats start doing their struts around the neighborhood, use that time to keep your cat active with some environmental enrichment. Set out a food puzzle at those times, grab a wand toy, or blow some bubbles for them to chase and catch (another favorite in our household).

Another thing you can do is think, biologically, what are two incompatible activities. As long as you aren't a goat, you probably don't like eating and using the restroom at the same time, or being anywhere near it. Cats don't like to do that either.

couch corner cat scratcherSet things up to deter your cat from spraying in certain areas:

  • One way would be to set up a little snack station near the sprayed area (after cleaning the area really really, REALLY well)
  • Put a shallow storage container out with a food puzzle in there, and your cat can enjoy playing in it while keeping the food contained
  • Set up more scratching posts for your kitty to leave their scent behind through the glands in their paws.
  • Throw down some catnip in the area that's been soiled (again, after cleaning really, really well) and let your cat roll around in it to leave their body odors behind.
  • Put up cat scratchers on the wall corners, or your couch corner for them to leave their scent on

Having multiple ways for your cat to spread their message, is the best way to get them to stop spreading it in the wrong places.

The Importance Of Cleaning The Right Way

We can't really stress the importance of cleaning up cat urine the right way the first time. Unfortunately, the intuitive and quick way to clean is not the right way to clean cat pee, and doing it the wrong way can lead to the sprayed area retaining the smells and turning into a regular spray spot for your kitty. 

Regular cleaners, detergents and sprays aren't able to break down the cat urine crystals to really do the job. The only thing that can really dissolve them are enzyme based cleaners. And unfortunately, if you've previously tried cleaning a soft surface with detergents and soaps, the residual soap will stay in the fibers and when you add water and even if you then use an enzymatic cleaner, it can kill the beneficial enzymes, making your enzyme cleaner less effective.

So be very careful if you've previously cleaned that area with soap or detergent, you'll either first want to use a neutralizer, or run over that area with hot water a few times so you get out all that residual soap and the enzymatic cleaner is able to do its job.

anti icky poo cat urine cleanerMarci's preferred enzymatic cleaner for cleaning cat pee is called Anti Icky-Poo (which is a name I can get behind!). Apparently they have claimed to be 30 times stronger than Nature's Miracle — which is what I've been using over the years. All of that being said, Marci has never run into any cat pee cleaning product that has worked 100% the first time, so keep that in mind and just like a shampoo bottle says, "Wash, rinse, repeat"!

If you need to try to keep your cat (and possibly other animals) away from the affected area, one great tip to use if you can't lock them out of a room completely, is to put an overturned (empty) laundry basket on top of the spot, so it's able to dry properly.

The neutralizer Marci uses is from the same company, and it's called Mister Max P-Bath. She wants you to know she isn't a spokesperson for them, but she's had a lot of experience and this is the best she's come across so far.

Got a product you've found that works well? Let us know!

Thanks for listening (or reading), and as always, if you've got a question for us, want us to cover a certain topic on the podcast, or just want to say hello — drop us a note, we'd love to hear from you!


Quick Links:

Get in touch with Dr. Marci Koski at her website Feline Behavior Solutions

Follow Marci on Instagram, Facebook and if you're having cat behavior issues, join her private Facebook group

Meet Marci at the Pop Cats Convention in Portland this September

Topics: Cat Health, Litter Box, Feline Urethral Obstruction, Cat spraying, Cat pee

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Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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