Why does my cat spray?

By: Michelle

So summer is well and truly here! Yesterday the sun was shining, the birds were singing and my 16 year old cat Erroll ventured outside into the garden. He rarely does so these days. As a youngster he spent most of his time outside decimating the local rodent population. Age and life experiences have changed his behaviour dramatically over the years. About 4 years ago he got trapped in a neighbour’s garage for 5 days. This had the effect of persuading him that it was safer to stay closer to home. Since then he has become more sedentary, given up hunting prey (mostly) and reduced his forays outside to essential toilet breaks.

Last Autumn we lost our old dog and shortly after this, Brian (I have changed his name to spare his blushes!), a neighbour’s cat, started coming into the house. Without the deterrent of the dog, Brian’s cheerful determination to visit us, announcing his presence loudly, several times a day, was quite stressful for Erroll. He stopped going outside even for toilet visits. I put a litter tray down for him but he preferred to use our bath. This I could live with, however he then started to use inappropriate places for both toileting and spraying.

What’s the difference between urination and spraying?

Urinating is purely an elimination procedure whilst spraying is a much more complex behaviour. Cats crouch with their tails horizontal to the ground to urinate. When spraying they stand upright with their tails erect and squirt a small amount of urine horizontally at a piece of furniture/wall/tree etc.  This leaves a “message”  to assert their presence and mark their own territory.

Other cats will often spray their own messages in the same area. Outside this is not generally a problem, but in the house this causes issues with hygiene and bad smells. It also intensifies the stress levels for the resident cats causing something of a vicious circle.

How can I help my cat?

Management of this involves identifying and hopefully resolving the cause or contributory stress factors. Cleaning the physical evidence of urine will also help to discourage repeat spraying/urination.

In our case, Brian’s presence was a trigger factor so we had to block the cat flap. We have a tunnel through the wall so it was not possible to use a microchip activated flap. As Erroll had decided he was not going outside anyway, blocking it kept Brian out of the house. The next step was to stop Erroll using the lounge for chemical warfare. This involved removing evidence of the spraying. When dealing with cat urine it is important to remove both the protein and fat components. This is due to residual chemicals stimulating repeated spraying/urination. Mop up the urine as soon as possible and blot the area dry with kitchen towel. Rinse with cold water and soap e.g. washing up liquid and then blot dry again.  Try not to get carpets or other soft furnishings too wet. Once you have cleaned the area, spray with one of the enzymatic cleaners or use a solution of white wine vinegar diluted 1:3 with water. Sodium bicarbonate powder sprinkled onto the stain and left for a few hours before vacuuming off is also helpful to remove smell.

NEVER use any ammonia based cleaners.

Ammonia is a component of urine and will trigger further spraying activity! Also beware of commercial products that are sprinkled onto carpets and then vacuumed up as some can cause severe contact allergies in animals. Now we have removed all evidence of Brian’s visits to the house, Erroll has settled down. He’s started to use his litter tray appropriately and the house smells infinitely better!

Spraying and inappropriate toileting can have either behavioural or medical causes so if your cat is doing this contact us at Bright Side for help.

Look out for our next blog about Erroll and why cats’ scratch….