Inappropriate elimination (urinating outside the litter box) is one of the most commonly reported problems in cats. Some of these cats have issues with some aspect of their litter box, others have a medical condition that may make urinating painful, and some are urine marking, a behavior that is also known as spraying.

The difference between spraying and urinating

Cat guardians often confuse urinating and spraying. Urine spraying is a territorial behavior. Cats stand upright and deposit a small amount of urine on vertical surfaces. Cats who are urinating usually squat and deposit larger amounts on horizontal surfaces. Even though both male and female cats spray, the behavior is mostly seen in unneutered male cats, and occurs more often in multicat households, although even a single cat may spray when he sees a cat outside the window.

If you are not sure whether your cat is spraying or urinating, have him examined by your veterinarian. Inappropriate urination can be an indicator of a serious health problem.

What causes spraying

Cats spray or urine mark as a way to communicate with each other. Cats spray to mark their territory, or when they feel anxious or threatened. Spraying behavior can be triggered by changes in the cat’s environment, such as the addition of a new family member, moving to a new home, or even rearranging your furniture. Spraying can also be caused by the presence of stray cats in your yard.

Where cats spray

Usually, cats will spray on vertical surfaces such as walls, door frames, or near windows, but some cats will also spray horizontal surfaces such as the guardian’s bed or clothing.

How to stop spraying

If you are sure that your cat is spraying, there are several ways to address the behavior.

Neuter or spay your cat. The decrease in sex hormones will most likely decrease or stop spraying.

Determine what is triggering the behavior. If stray cats in the yard are causing the spraying, block visual access to windows temporarily. Use humane deterrents to discourage stray cats from visiting your yard. If the behavior is triggered by conflict in a multicat household, such as bullying or fighting, you may need to engage the services of a feline behaviorist to improve the relationship between your cats and reduce stress in the household.

Never punish your cat. Punishment is ineffective and may aggravate the behavior.

Increase the number of litter boxes

Put multiple litter boxes in several locations throughout your home. The rule of thumb is one box per cat plus one. Make sure litter boxes are in a quiet location. Avoid covered boxes, and stick with unscented litter.

If your cat continues to mark despite all of these changes, your best bet will be to work with a feline behaviorist or your veterinarian.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

11 Comments on Why Is My Cat Spraying and How Can I Stop It?

  1. Please discuss the teeth extractions and dental cleaning and the resultant death
    I’m scared to get a tooth removed on my 5-6 yr old who broke his long fang in the wild- pre- rescued . I hear this catastrophe too much

  2. Thanks for such a detailed analysis! pffff … this urinating outside topic became our problem when my cat Tom turned one year old. A new member of the family was born in our family – our daughter), apparently it was stressful situation for him

  3. Thanks for this awesome article

    Spraying is a common problem for Cat parents (I talk from experience)

    I love that you mention to not punish your Cat and this is really important because punishing your Cat will just make matters worse and can create a negative relationship with your Cat

    I think another thing to mention is to clean the area where your Cat has sprayed thoroughly

    It’s important to purchase the right Urine remover

    Is there any product you would recommend?

    Here’s a top 8 Cat urine remover that has some interesting products

    link has been removed by the editors

    Is there any you would recommend from this list?

    Would love to know your recommendation 🙂


  4. Hi all,
    We’ve recently been dealing with a urine marking issue with our two year old neutered male kitty Shiva. He was perfectly fine until we started to introduce a small kitten into the household, so yes I already know this is likely the root cause of the problem. We’ve had cats for many years and followed standard procedures for introducing the new one, kept her separated from the others for several weeks, introduced them gradually etc. They are actually getting along fine now, eating together, playing etc. In other words Shiva does not act at all stressed or hostile around her at this point. Here’s the thing though, he pees on couches, only on couches. He started doing it on the old couch, it was one that was designed such that it could not be thoroughly cleaned so we eventually had to get rid of it. We just got another one yesterday, I sprayed some feliway on it last night to hopefully make it more comfortable for the cats, Shiva was even sleeping on it for a while. Anyhow long story short, got up this morning and it had been peed on.

    Any ideas on how to proceed from here, I really don’t want to junk another couch if I can help it.


      • Thanks lots for the recommendations Ingrid, we are in fact going to take him in to the vet as soon as possible just to rule out anything, on the one hand it seems to me to be a territorial thing given the selectivity of what he’s peeing on but this is so out of character for him that we can’t help wondering if it could be a medical thing like a bladder infection or something. He’s normally a super good boy and has never peed on anything before not even when we first brought him here with three other strange cats.

        I’ll certainly consider checking out the two behaviorists you mention if all else fails.

  5. I really like how you explained the difference between spraying and urinating – a lot of people get this mixed up. Something else I found interesting when poking around on this subject was that male cats are usually quite a bit more likely to do the spraying (with about 1 in 10 male cats spraying and 1 in 20 female cats spraying). I wrote a post on this as well if you’re interested in checking it out on Cat Veteran!

  6. While this post does cover some important issues, there can be more at play.

    Litter boxes = # cats +1:
    I’ve always been perplexed by the “one more box than the number of cats in the household.”
    It is not like you can label each one for each cat and say no no, this one is only for Fluffy, you cannot use it Tiger! In my case, I always scooped first thing in the morning, and again before leaving for work. When I came home, I would scoop again. Check box #1, nope, box #2, nope, etc until I found the litter box du jour – jackpot! So most of the time they were all using the SAME box!! Just for the record, no they didn’t all get along 100%.

    Even now, with more cats than before, I’ve noted that there are two identical boxes side by side in the finished basement. I do not get down there every day, but when I do, one will be chock full, to the point where it looks like I never clean it and the other might have one or two “gifts” if anything at all. The “full” one is to the point where these supposedly fastidious cats do not have a clean spot to walk in there!!! Go figure!

    That said, I did have one cat who had a pee issue until recently. If I put her in the cat playpen, she would use the litter box. If not, she would go somewhere on the floor. I did have a urine check, just to rule that out, but there was no UTI. I suggested some of her issue is that she tends to be a bit intimidated, but that would not explain it all. The vet suggested anti-anxiety
    meds, as she and her brother over-groom as well, she much more, to the point that her belly and inner hind legs are pretty much bare. I did not like the results and it did not stop the inappropriate peeing, so I stopped that. I have since identified that she is a separation anxiety cat.
    When I am in the kitchen “zone”, she knows I am here, can see/hear me, but is not allowed in. If she starts yowling for me, into the playpen. What I did then was religiously put her in the playpen 3-4 times/day, at fairly consistent times, and let her out after she used the box. It has taken a long time, at least a year to a year and a half, but she has been going into the playpen and
    using the box herself for several weeks now!! That box usage would sync up with the suggestion of having an extra for that cat who needs their own, but really there is no way to ensure no one else uses it!! IF there is, I’d love to know the secret! Although others have used it in the past, for a long time now no one has used it but her. I also in the past week checked her belly – ooooh yeah, she finally has fur growing back in!!! I just hope that she does not backslide after next week, as she and her brother are scheduled for a dental cleaning.

    My point here is that you know your cat better than the vet. Except for ruling out a medical cause for the inappropriate behavior, you have to be more observant and try to identify what is behind the behavior. Sure, a behaviorist MIGHT find it, but several of my cats would likely hide from a new person, and unless you are watching them all day (or know the right time), that could be like peeing into the wind (and throwing your money into the fireplace!) As with the space issue (see below), not everyone can afford to bring in outside help – behaviorist isn’t going to be cheap!

    Multicat households/personality issues:
    I had to make and keep separate zones as some cats here just do not get along. The first two were separated out at my previous home, brother and sister, because he was spraying (even on the Feliway dispensers!) and she would get into big fights with one other, often resulting in a huge mess of fur, urine and feces! While separated in that house, he was still spraying. After moving here, they got their own room (closed door, no visual) and there was no more spraying or litter issues in that room. So that goes along with another reason listed in the article and the solution (however not everyone has the option of separate rooms!)

    Medical issues and dry food:
    One other concern, which could cause any number of medical issues, many that relate to urinary problems, which can lead to inappropriate elimination – is dry food. Ingrid has at least one post regarding this topic. I know that my vet office is now starting to see the issue with this too, as the first dental this year has a recommendation to avoid dry food, initially for the extractions, and further for it being better for his kidneys! THIS is NEW at their office. We found hypercalcemia in that one who was spraying when looking for a medical reason (there were none, he just needed to be isolated with his sister!). Rather than shove a nasty pill (Fosamax) down his throat, I found Dr. Mark Peterson’s blog on idiopathic hypercalcemia, and the thoughts were that the change in the dry formula some years ago (added acidifiers to counteract OTHER urinary medical issues) may be the cause behind the rise in this condition (and some others.) Lo and Behold! We tested him for 1.5 years and it was resolved. He was just given the all clear, no need to test again when we lost him a few months later to a dental cleaning. I had hoped he would be a good test case if he continued to be healthy. 🙁

    That said, dry food is BAD for cats (even the ones who live long and “prosper” on it.) It is not appropriate food (lack of moisture is the biggest problem) and the plethora of medical issues it can lead to are expensive to test for and treat, so as well as costing you more money and emotional pain, causing kitty pain and you could possibly be cutting kitty’s life short – diabetes, kidney issues, UTIs, obesity…those are only a few of the problems dry food can lead to. The urinary issues discussed in the article can be caused, as noted, by medical issues, and dry food can lead to many of these issues. Save yourself time and money, as well treating your kitty to the best!
    Ditch the dry food (and do not fall for the marketing ploy that some dry foods now say they have raw – it is STILL dry food – if you want raw, GET raw, not some bag of dry stuff that has enough freeze DRIED raw to let them call it raw!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.