Spraying and Urinating Indoors

Most cats are very particular about their toilet habits and will consistently use a litter tray indoors or soil in the garden. If she is spraying and urinating in the corner of the room it can therefore be very worrying.

Spraying or urinating?
Cats use urine as a scent signal or 'mark' for themselves and other cats. The motivation for the deposition of urine for scent marking is very different to that of urination to relieve a full bladder. It is therefore important to establish whether the cat is spraying or urinating since the potential solutions will vary. To urinate, the cat squats and deposits a volume of urine on a horizontal surface. The cat may then scratch at the area around the urine although this is not always the case. Common sites for inappropriate urination include carpet, settees, duvets, baths or sinks. To spray urine, the cat stands up, usually making a treading motion with its back feet, quivers its tail and a small amount of urine is sprayed backwards onto a vertical surface such as a wall, leaving an obvious scent mark. Common sites for spraying include doors, windows, around cat flaps, curtains, electrical equipment and shopping or rubbish bags. Once it has been ascertained which of the two the cat is doing it is necessary to take action to resolve the behaviour. 

Whether a genuine accident or not, once the cat has urinated or defecated at a particular location its sensitive nose will encourage it to use that place as a regular toilet. The best way to break the habit is to keep the cat away from the area as long as possible, remove any smell that the cat can detect and change the geography of the location by using pieces of furniture to block access. Wash the area with a 10% solution of biological or enzymatic washing powder and then rinse with cold water and allow to dry. Spray the area (using a plant mister) with surgical spirit, scrub and leave to dry. You may want to try a small area first on delicate fabrics. Petfresh (Urine-off) Urine Stain and Odour Remover is a particularly effective product to remove residual odours; this can be purchased from your local veterinary surgery. Carpet is extremely absorbent and the urine often penetrates the full thickness of the carpet to the flooring underneath. If the area is badly soiled over a long period it may be necessary to cut out the section of carpet and underlay and treat the concrete or floorboards underneath before replacing. 

Medical problems
A cat that has started to urinate inappropriately in the house should be taken to the vet for a check up. Cystitis may cause the cat to strain and pass small amounts of urine frequently. A form of urinary tract disease that is stress-related is less obvious in its presentation but one common symptom is urinating outside the litter tray. Any urinary tract infection or irritation can make the cat urinate when standing rather than attempting to go outside or to the litter tray. Urination in this way can sometimes be confused with spraying. Cats often benefit from increased fluid intake if they suffer from recurrent cystitis. This may require your cat to change from a dry diet to a wet one but your veterinary surgeon should be consulted regarding any dietary management. 

Why does my cat spray indoors? 
All cats, male or female, entire or neutered can spray. Usually this occurs outdoors as a part of the scent communication system. They also leave scent signals by rubbing, scratching and bunting (rubbing the glands around the mouth onto twigs or other objects). The cat leaves a scent not just to let other cats know it is there but to 'furnish' its area with its own familiar smell, for confidence. In the un-neutered cat, the urine not only signals the cat's presence but its status. Females in season have high levels of oestrogen in their urine to attract toms. Most pet cats are neutered and do not spray indoors, probably because they do not feel they need to. Spraying indoors is a sign that the cat is feeling stressed and needs to make itself feel more secure, surrounding itself by its own scent. As indoor spraying indicates that the cat feels threatened by something. The most common cause is the presence of other cats, either within the house or in the neighbourhood. However a new baby or person in the household, building work, redecoration or a change of routine can herald the start of indoor spraying if the cat is already slightly anxious. 

Threats from neighbouring cats
Cats often spray around a cat flap or doors to signal their presence to invading cats. If your cat has been unsettled by another cat entering the house, block up the cat flap and let the cat in and out yourself. Fitting a cat flap that has a select entry magnetic or electronic system (using a device attached to your cat's collar) may prevent further invasions if blocking the flap permanently is not an option. Chase other cats out of the garden to give your cat support outside. Once the cat feels that indoors is safe there will be less need to mark it. 

Decorating and building work
A nervous cat or one that is kept entirely indoors may be threatened by changes to its environment. Redecorating or replacing furniture effectively removes all the cat's subtle markings which have been carefully placed by rubbing and scratching. To reduce their impact, keep the cat away from the rooms until the smells are not quite so strong and have mingled with the familiar scents around the house. You can help speed up this process by spreading some of the cat's scent yourself. Take a soft cotton cloth and rub it gently around the cat's face (where scent glands are present which produce the cat's individual scent). The secretion collected contains pheromones that provide a message of familiarity and security directly to the cat's brain. Rub the cloth against furniture or walls at cat height where the problem is occurring and repeat this several times a day. The cat may be less likely to spray if it is aware that its own scent is there already. Your veterinary surgeon can also supply a product which contains synthetic pheromones (Feliway, Ceva Animal Health) which act in the same way. If you are changing your sofa, for example, it often helps to plan ahead and use a fabric throw for a few weeks beforehand which can be draped over the new piece of furniture to make it smell more familiar and acceptable. 

Help your cat feel secure
Even when the cause of spraying is not obvious there are ways in which you can make your cat feel more secure. For example, limiting the area the cat has to patrol to one or two rooms may help improve feelings of security and reduce the desire to mark When a cat is simply too stressed for the situation ever to be resolved it is worth considering re-homing the threatened cat (or the aggressor) to a place with no other cats. Without the pressure of having to cope with other cats the threatened cat is unlikely to spray and this way you can guarantee your cat will be happier. Even an aggressive cat is often stressed in a multi-cat environment and may benefit from a home as a singleton. 

Specialist help
Spraying and urinating can be cured in many cats using the techniques outlined here. In some cases the problem can be more persistent and it is advisable to discuss it with your veterinary surgeon rather than leave it to resolve on its own. 

Ref: Feline Advisory Board - www.fabcats.org

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