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Why Do Female Cats Spray?

Do female cats spray and how can you keep your cat from spraying? Is spraying a medical issue or a behavioral issue? Reduce your cat's anxiety and provide environmental stimulation and she'll be less likely to spray.

Do female cats spray? “It’s a myth that females don’t spray,” says Dr. Cori Gross, a feline-only veterinarian who provides in-home behavior consultations through Feline Behavior Housecalls. “Spraying is different from inappropriate urination. When a cat is urinating a puddle on a horizontal surface, this is possibly a litter box or medical issue. When a cat is spraying urine vertically against a wall or window, this is a true marking behavior.”

Why Do Female Cats Spray?
The more territorial your cat is, the more likely it is that she’ll mark her territory. Unneutered cats and cats living in multi-cat households are more likely to spray to mark their territory. If your kitty sees another cat, even through the window, she may immediately go into an instinctive marking mode.

“Cats have an instinctive physiologic need to leave their scent — also known as pheromones — around their territory,” Gross explains. “They do this by scratching with their paws, which leaves a visual cue, but also leaves pheromones emitted from the paw pads. They also do this by bunting — or rubbing their cheeks, which also have scent glands — against walls, furniture, and other objects.”

The Anxiety Factor
Unfortunately, cats also mark their territory by spraying urine at a socially significant location. You may be asking why all cats don’t spray if it’s an instinctive, natural behavior. “Some cats have a stronger urge to leave these ‘chemical messages’ behind,” Gross tells us. “We know that this issue is closely correlated to anxiety.”

“Cats often mark their territory to feel more calm,” Gross observes. “The most common issue is conflict with other cats — housemates or neighbor cats who appear outside a window. Changes in routine such as vacations, a new cat sitter, veterinary visits, a new baby, or new boyfriend can all cause a cat to feel more nervous.” Even if your cat seems happy, her anxiety level may spike due to stress.

Clean It Up
It’s really important that you always clean up the affected area. “As the urine scent disappears over time, the cat will need to ‘top it off’ by marking the location again,” Gross tells us. “Remember, these are socially significant locations, and it is important to the cat that the signal be strong enough for others to smell.”

“You must thoroughly clean the urine using an enzyme-based cleaner,” Gross explains. “Otherwise, you won’t get the scent out — your cat can still smell it even when you can’t. Ammonia products are contraindicated because they attract the cat and smell like urine to them.” Some products work better than others, so ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

Reduce Anxiety
Rule out any medical conditions that contribute to anxiety. “Any painful condition elevates anxiety,” Gross notes. “Next, try to identify any anxiety-producing triggers and remove them. If your cat only sprays at the window that the neighbor cat sits near, consider covering the bottom portion of the window to block your cat’s view.” If you have multiple cats, provide multiple bowls, litter boxes, scratching posts, beds, and toys.

Provide Alternatives
“Reduce anxiety by creating stable routines and providing environmental enrichment in the form of cat trees, perches, and other vertical spaces,” Gross recommends. “One study showed that doing a litter box makeover reduced spraying by reducing anxiety. If you make the boxes more attractive or add more boxes, some cats will respond to this.”

Pheromone sprays are artificial versions of the chemical released by a cat’s cheek glands when bunting. “Spray these around the home in the places your cat is spraying to help trick her into thinking she’s already marked this location,” Gross suggests.

If All Else Fails
If these steps don’t work, talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medicine. “Severe sprayers are often chronically anxious, and this affects quality of life. In some cases, putting the cat on anti-anxiety medication can be the most humane option,” Gross remarks. “We know that it works very well at reducing spraying, but you must be prepared to keep giving it for the remainder of the cat’s life. Studies show that when we try to wean them off, the spraying returns.”

Sandy Wallace lives in Central Virginia, where she enjoys the outdoors, photography, time with family and writing about kids and pets. Sandy’s family includes three two-legged and seven four-legged grandkids.

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.