Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

petMD Blogs

Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Feline Urinary Issues: Defining the Problem

Sponsored by:

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

Urinating 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. 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 on it. He may rapidly vibrate his tail while he is doing this. If you find a splatter 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 find the equivalent of 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 who 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, provide separate living areas for your cats if at all possible. This will also help you 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. When neighborhood cats are a stimulus for spraying, keep the drapes or blinds closed.

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

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) and Feliway pheromone diffusers or sprays to help keep cats calm and relaxed. If these products are not strong enough, 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 talk about next week.

Next week: Peeing Outside the Box

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Spraying the woodpile by Shes Not There

Cat spraying woodpile

Meet The Vets