Felines have unique ways of notifying the world of their presence.  They rub against furniture or human legs, they sprawl across common spaces, and leave claw marks by scratching surfaces. Rubbing against or stretching out over a couch, bed or other surface leaves a cat’s personal scent (which is emitted through scent glands on his flanks and cheeks, as well as through his paws when the cat scratches) against the object. Though this is their most common go-to method of claiming their territory, sometimes cats also do what is known as “spraying.”

What Is Spraying?

When a cat sprays, he backs up toward some vertical surface (be it wall, couch, table, door, tree trunk, etc.).  He lifts his tail straight up and squirts urine-like liquid directly against the surface.  This is notably different from when your cat eliminates urine (which typically involves him squatting over a horizontal surface). The scent of the spray communicates the age, gender, sexual status (i.e. being able to mate or not) to other creatures.

Reasons Why Cats Spray

  • Spraying is instinctive. Wild cats such as lions and tigers roam over vast areas where they feel the need to establish a sense of their own space and domain. In order to do so, they will spray the tree nearest to their lounging place, or hunting ground.  This warns any other wild cat in the area that it has already been claimed, until another creature decides to challenge or supersede the claim by spraying over it.  While the behavior can be traced back to a domestic pet’s wild roots, there are other reasons which might factor into a cat spraying indoors.
  • Hormones greatly affect a cat’s inclination to spray. Both male and female felines have the ability to spray, and when they are hormonal it is most likely to occur.  This can happen when the cat is in heat, or looking for a mate. Between males, if there is another cat in the house and the cats are competing against each other for the alpha position, they might spray to establish their “zones.”
  • Stress causes spraying. Changes to the environment (such as moving to a new house, having a new baby, or adopting another pet) can cause distress among cats. They may feel the need to carve out their own space, or even vie for superiority over the other cat or new pet. Try to assess what may be causing the anxiety, and how you can reduce stress in your cat.
  • Health issues lead to spraying. Sometimes when a cat is struggling with normal bodily functions, spraying may become the only way he can relieve himself. Urinary tract infections and blockage could be the causal factor, and your cat will communicate this by spraying, or urinating outside the litter box.  If he sprays AND constantly licks that area of his body, cries, and has incontinence it would be advisable to take the kitty to the vet.