Behaviour

How to Stop Your Cat From Urine Spray-marking


Are you at your wit's end? Help is here!

“Spraying is a major reason that cats get sent to the shelters or put out on the street. My job is to end the spraying and change the storyline. Like a director in a movie, I insist on my own ending, the happily ever-after ending with the cat and the owner staying together. And I always get my ending, because spraying is surprisingly easy to remedy.”—Mieshelle Nagelschneider in The Cat Whisperer: Why Cat’s Do What They Do and How to Get Them to Do What You Want

At The Cat Behavior Clinic I’ve performed thousands of urine spray-marking behaviour consultations by phone or video Skype. Spray-marking is one of my favourite consultations because so many cat owners have been told urine marking is an unsolvable issue. On the contrary, it’s one of the easiest behaviour issues to solve. Once the reason for the behaviour is identified and then eliminated, the urine marking can stop completely—sometimes even literally overnight. It may sound too good to be true, but as long as there is no longer a reason for spray-marking to be performed, then it shouldn’t happen, ever. In the majority of cases I’ve dealt with, it’s as simple as that.

What is urine spray-marking anyway? And why does your cat stand there with tail held high and vibrating and insist on shooting urine vertically on your curtains and what might seem like any vertical surface he or she—that’s right, females can perform the behaviour too—can find? Even once neutered or spayed, cats can still urine spray-mark for territorial reasons, though fixed or unfixed, cats generally don’t urine spray mark before they are two years of age when they move into social maturity (social maturity happens between the ages of two and four years; sexual maturity at about 6 months). In my cat behaviour book, The Cat Whisperer, I’ve devoted an entire chapter to urine spray-marking, giving answers on why cats spray urine, how to stop the behaviour, and why you need to calm down already.  There are several reasons cats urine-spray mark, but for this article, I’m going to discuss the number one reason.

The #1 Reason: You have outside cats.
No, really, you have outside cats!

Your cat has become aware of an outside cat’s presence and feels his territory may be under threat. This is, by far, the number one reasons my client’s cats will urine spray-mark inside the home. There can be other reasons at play, but this is the main reason in the majority of the cases I work with. Your cat seeing (or smelling) outside cats can cause him to bolster up the perimeter of his home’s territory with urine. Doors leading outside, windows, walls—any location that is perimeter-based in your home—can become a prime urine marking location. In your cat’s mind, urine marking the perimeter will help deter outside cats from crossing the territorial line— “thou shall not pass”, so to speak. Yet many cat owners will tell me they have “never, ever seen an outside cat.” I tell these clients that their cat marking in the home indicates they most likely do have an outside cat (or cats, which is usually the case) visiting their property where their cat can see them. Feral cats are actively hunting between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and often not seen by the cat owner—but are seen by their cats.  Or your cat may simply see a cat all the way across the street in the neighbour’s driveway once a week and that is enough for daily urine marking.

Think you’ve tried everything? I’m pretty sure you haven’t.

Deter Outside Cats: Make your inside cat think he is the only cat in the universe. In other words, no outside cat of any sort (stray, feral, or neighbourhood cats) should be seen or smelled by your cat. This can mean a combination of two strategies—using humane outside motion sensor cat deterrents (Cat Stop and The Scarecrow by Contech are very effective) and blocking certain windows in your home so your cat cannot see outside cats where motion sensor deterrents may not reach. Many of my clients use wax paper on certain windows to block the view in cases where their cat could still see outside cats all the way across the street. 

Remove Urine Odour: Use an enzymatic or neutralizing urine cleaner and discontinue using any products that contain ammonia in your home (ammonia is a constituent of urine). My favourite urine removal products are Zero Odor and Anti-Icky-Poo.

Promote Claw Marking: Give your cat an alternative way to mark territory that doesn’t involve urine. Place cat scratching posts or corrugated cardboard scratchers right in the areas where the urine marking is occurring.  This will help promote claw marking which can help take the place of urine marking behaviour. Sprinkle cat nip on cat scratch areas to entice clawing behaviour.  

Promote Body Rolling: Sprinkle dried catnip in the urine marked areas to create body-rolling behaviour in your cat. Cats also mark territory by body rolling in the location they wish to “mark” and this behaviour can help take the place of urine marking behaviour.

Trigger the Prey Drive: Encourage your cat to play in the area where the urine marking is occurring by maneuvering a wand toy daily in this area. This will help change the association of what your cat does in that area. Instead of having anxiety and urine marking, he is hunting and feeling confident.  

Place Food Strategically: You can also feed your cat in the urine marked areas to help change the urine marking association to an eating association. Cats tend to keep eating and urine marking areas very separate.

Encourage Facial Marking: Replace the territorial behaviour of urine marking with friendly facial marking by utilizing friendly feline pheromones found at pet stores and online. The Feliway pheromone can be very effective, especially once you eliminate the outside cat threat.

Above all, please remember that urine spray-marking is a natural behaviour. Your cat isn’t bad or trying to spite you. He is responding with his natural instincts to the environmental circumstances in which he has been placed.

Need more help? To schedule a behaviour consultation with Mieshelle Nagelschneider by phone or Skype video, please visit thecatbehaviorclinic.com.

*Medical Alert: Due to painful urination, some cats will actually urinate standing up which can look like urine spray-marking. Please be sure to work with your vet to rule out urinary health or kidney issues that can cause stand-up urination due to pain or discomfort.

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4 Comments

  • Allyson Lang

    My cat shakes his tail on many objects near me. He only sprays when in the yard supervised. Why the tail shaking?

  • Jayne

    I have two cats female and male that spray over each others areas how do I stop that they are both neutered when they was very young

  • Geoff McColgan

    i have a five-year-old male Bengal and he has been with us since he was twelve weeks old. We do have one outside cat and our Bengal has been spraying for two years plus. We did try the Fellway pheromone and it didn’t help.
    He sprays near the patio door which leads to the back yard porch or deck. The outside cat lives in one of the units across the back year and they let this cat wander outside during the night and during the day.
    Our Bengal also marks against the wall to the left of a window in the living room and also on the bottom of a table surface located on the right side of the same window.
    The hardwood floor area to the left of the window has been stained as a result of the spraying in that particular area.
    We have tried different solutions to remove both the stain and the urine smell from the floor area in that spot but the stain remains.
    It’s a tough problem to kick in my opinion.
    Sometimes we even lower the blinds so our guy can’t see outside but he still tends to spray the same areas.

  • Terry

    Hello: We have a 5-yr-old Bengal, who has been with us since he was 12 weeks old. He developed the spraying/marking issue from about the time he was roughly between a year old to a year and a half.
    He discovered a white cat whose owners let him or her outside to roam free whenever they want, usually in the evening and all night long. I have been awakened many times by the sound of this particular cat’s constant cries during the early morning hours, 4 or 5 a.m.
    Now I also started taking our cat out for walks on a daily basis on a harness and leash since he was hardly a year old. He has encountered this white cat from time to time on our walks but I try to avoid any sighting whatsoever.
    In any case we have 3 litter boxes, one on each floor and it’s the one in the living room area, near the patio door which leads to our small deck, that our guy refuses to use the most.
    He tends to spray up against the outside of the box while facing the patio door itself. He has also backed up and sprayed against the side of the couch, which is next to the litter box in the living room.
    He has also taken to marking the dining room rug and one leg on the dining room table as well.
    Now we’ve tried quite a few things, including spreading catnip this past Saturday but he was spraying the rug barely ten minutes after I laid the catnip down. So that suggestion can be omitted.
    We also tried the Pheromone plugins and they did not help at all either. We tried, at the advice of the vet, to keep the upstairs blinds and patio door/window curtains in the living room shut and closed but to no avail.
    This problem could be more difficult to cure for some cat owners than it is for others, depending maybe on the cat and breed.
    Quite frankly I’m beginning to wonder if the issue is non-curable for us at this stage.
    Thank you.

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