So, you found some cat pee where it didn’t belong. You’ve cleaned it up, but what next? It’s time for some detective work if you don’t want this to become a recurring event in your life.

Urine outside the litter box comes from one of two behaviors: spraying or inappropriate urination. It is absolutely essential that you figure out which of these two problems you are dealing with, since their origins, and therefore the treatments that can help, are completely different.

When a cat sprays, he or she (yes, female cats can and do spray) usually stands in front of a vertical surface and squirts a relatively small amount of urine onto it. He may rapidly vibrate his tail while he is doing this. If you are finding splatters of urine on the wall, your cat is probably spraying.

When a cat urinates outside of the litter box, he or she usually squats and leaves behind a larger amount of urine on a horizontal surface. If you are finding puddles of urine on the floor, your cat is probably urinating inappropriately.

Spraying is a form of marking behavior; anything that makes a cat feel like he needs to defend his territory will make him more likely to spray. Thanks to their raging hormones, unneutered male cats are the most notorious sprayers. Neutering before the onset of puberty is one of the best ways to prevent male cats from ever starting to spray. Once the behavior is ingrained, neutering can help, but it is not nearly as effective.

Cats that live with other cats are also more likely to spray than those that live in single-feline homes. However, any cat that interacts with other animals through windows and doors may still feel the need to spray.

So how do you make it stop?

To eliminate spraying, you need to make your cat feel secure in his territory. In a multi-cat household, if you are able provide separate living areas for your cats, do so. Separating your cats will also help you to determine who is spraying if it is not already apparent. If this is not feasible, provide a lot of elevated perches, hiding places, and covered escape routes so that the cats can easily avoid each other. If it appears that neighborhood cats are a stimulus for spraying, keep the drapes or blinds closed.

If your cat routinely sprays in the same location, cover the area with aluminum foil. Most cats do not like the sound of a stream of urine hitting foil.

But sometimes simply changing a cat’s environment doesn’t solve the problem. The next step is to try a stress-relieving nutritional supplement (e.g., L-theanine) along with Feliway pheromone diffusers or sprays to help keep your cat(s) calm and relaxed. If these products are not strong enough (i.e., your cat continues to spray), talk to your veterinarian about whether a powerful anti-anxiety medication like fluoxetine is appropriate for your cat. I’ve seen these drugs turn chronic sprayers into welcome members of their now pee-free homes.

If you have determined that your cat is urinating outside the litter box rather than spraying, you have a more complicated situation to deal with. Inappropriate urination can be caused by medical disorders, environmental concerns, or behavioral issues. Rooting out the exact cause of a cat’s inappropriate urination is the first step to stopping it, and this is what we will cover next Friday.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Ace to Ace by Pietro Jr / via Flickr