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Urinating Outside the Litter Box and Wandering Away from Home in Cats

6 min read

Spraying and Roaming Behavior


Cats communicate with each other in various ways. One of the primary ways is through scent. Each cat's urine and feces (stool) has a unique scent, so that when a cat urinates or defecates in a specific location, it is communicating with other cats that may come along later. This behavior is referred to as territory marking, and these marked spots “tell” other cats which cat has been to this spot and claimed that area or object as its territory. Another type of marking behavior, referred to as spraying, is distinguished by urinating on walls, furniture, or other upright surfaces.


Cats first begin marking territory as they become mature. For male cats this occurs around puberty, and for female cats it occurs around the time they go into estrus (heat) for the first time. When cats reach the age of puberty or estrus, they also become more likely to stray from home. This is called roaming. Cats will roam to find mates, to explore, and to mark their territory. Cats that are intact are more likely to mark territory and to roam than cats that are neutered or spayed.


Symptoms and Types



  • Cat urinates or defecates in a specific area that it has chosen
  • Owner may not approve of the chosen area
  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • Urinating or defecating near doors or windows
  • Can occur on a horizontal surface, such as the ground
  • Can occur on vertical or upright surface, such as a wall or furniture (spraying)



  • Wandering away from home




  • Can be normal behavior or cab be caused by another disease
  • Hormones make cats more likely to mark and roam
  • Cats learn some marking and roaming behavior
  • Marking
    • A need to define a territory
    • A need to communicate with other cats
    • Bladder infection
    • Anxiety
    • Diarrhea or constipation
    • Diseases of the anal sacs (scent glands near the anus)
    • Litter box not kept clean enough
    • Preference for another kind of litter
    • Stray outdoor cats near doors and windows (causing your cat to want to join them)
    • Multiple cats in household
  • Roaming
    • A desire to explore territory
    • A need to find a mate
    • A need for more food
    • A need to mark territory
    • Separation anxiety 




You will need to provide a complete medical and behavioral history leading up to the onset of your cat's marking and roaming behavior. Along with a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian will order the standard tests: a complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis. These tests will help your doctor to determine whether there is an underlying medical condition, such as a bladder infection, which might be causing your cat's symptoms. Further tests may include a blood thyroid test to make sure that your cat's thyroid level is normal, and fecal (stool) tests to rule out intestinal parasites or nutritional deficiency.


If the urine analysis shows that your cat has a bladder infection, your veterinarian may order a culture of the urine and x-rays of your cat's bladder. The culture will show exactly what bacteria are causing the bladder infection, and x-ray images will show the presence of bladder stones, or other bladder problems, which might be causing the bladder infection.


If you have a female cat that is not spayed, your veterinarian may also do a vaginal cytology, a lab analysis of the cells in the vagina so that the stage of estrus (heat) she is in can be determined. If all of these tests return normal, your cat will be diagnosed with a behavioral problem.




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