Friday, April 17, 2009

Why Do Cats Spray?

Both male and female cats are capable of spraying and it is done as a form of scent communication. When cats spray they leave pheromones behind for other cats to find, and they are usually marking their territory. Cats will mark their territory more in times of stress or if they feel threatened. Marking is done by spraying a small bit of urine on a vertical surface and male cats can begin marking as soon as they reach sexual maturity, which can be as early as five months of age.
Unfortunately, what they feel is their territory can include your house, car, yard or your neighbor’s yard, even if that neighbor is several blocks away. While male cats tend to spray more than females, females are capable of spraying as well. While some believe that spaying or neutering a cat may solve the problem that is not always the case. I have a large orange cat, Marmalade that was neutered before he was an adult, and he had never sprayed anything in his life. However, when the males in the neighborhood come into our yard and leave their scent markings, he will endeavor to cover them up by spraying on top of where the other cats have gone. It would be the same as you marking your belongings with a permanent marker to let others know that they are yours.
I was recently talking to someone who mentioned that the cats in the neighborhood are frequenting his yard and marking on his property. In reaction, his cats had begun spraying in the house. This can be a common occurrence especially in the spring when males are looking to mate, though a cat can and will spray all year long. A female will sometimes spray if she is ready to mate and this lets the male cats in the neighborhood know she is available. Even a spayed female can attract the attention of an intact male just by marking her territory.
There are several reasons that your cat may be spraying. If there is a strange cat in the neighborhood, your cas may feel the need to mark his own territory. Introducing a new cat to your household can be another reason for spraying, and your cat may spray for as simple a reason as they don’t like the litter you are using in the litter box. Cats may also spray if the litter box is not clean enough for them. If your cat is spraying while in the litter box and if you have a litter box without a cover, you might consider getting one to keep the walls around the box from getting sprayed. Stress in the household like a new baby, visitors or even taking a vacation or business trip and coming home can make a cat spray as well. Other reasons for spraying could be a loss of a family cat, a student going off to school, moving household furniture or a change in your schedule if the cat is bonded to you.
You can use a black light to find the spots where the cat is urinating. Some pet shops even have them for rent. Then you want to use a cleaner that uses enzymes to clean the spot. You do not want to use ammonia to clean the area, as the active ingredient in cat urine is ammonia and that defeats the purpose. If your cat continues to spray in one area, consider putting a covered litter box there to help alleviate the situation. I have also heard that if you put vinegar on the spot after it is cleaned, that may help. The purpose of the vinegar is to replace the cat’s scent with your own, and the vinegar represents your own urine. 
I have one male, Rocket that has been spritzed so many times with our handy water bottle dissuader, that he will actually come and tell me he wants to go outside to spray. While he will still spray inside the house on occasion, it is usually in a place that is easy to clean. While I am not complacent about the situation, I have accepted it for what it is: communication pure and simple. Spraying urine is a natural function for a cat, though it may seem distasteful to us, especially if done inside the house. We all love our animals, and with understanding can come change.

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