As most cat owners know cat spray is one of the worst smelling odors around. Spray is actually created when the cat mixes a small amount of urine with glandular secretions called pheromones. Cats have a very distinctive position when they spray; they stand straight up and lift their bottoms high in the air to spray rather than squatting as they do when they just urinate. If your cat does not take this upright position he/she may actually be urinating, not spraying. If your cat is actually urinating please see the section improper elimination.
Pheromones play a very large role in a feline’s life. Cats use these pheromones to mark their territory. Cats have glands that produce pheromones on their mouths, chin, face, cheeks, ears, paw pads, anal area, and upper surface of the tail. When your cat rubs up against you, or rubs up against your furniture he is actually leaving a little trace of pheromones that say, ‘this is mine’, in a friendly way. Spraying is another common way for cats to release pheromone, however, this way usually meant to say, ‘stay out’, in a more defensive tone. Unlike other friendly uses of pheromones, spraying is not generally acceptable to us humans!
The number one reasons cats spray is due to being in heat or to wanting to mate. Female cats will spray to attract a male. Male cats will mark the outside perimeter of their territory so as to section off the area that they will find a mate in. In such a case spaying or neutering your cat should be enough to stop him/her from spraying.
Cats can spray due to illness. So before you start trying to correct spraying from a behavioral standpoint you may want to take your cat to the vet to rule out any sort of health problem that could be the culprit.
Some of the behavioral reasons that cause spraying are as follows:
- A stressful event has occurred that has upset your cat (moving, a large party at your home, construction done on the home etc.)
- Dominance behaviors
- Territorial or aggressive behavior
A classic example of a dominance or territorial behavior is when you introduce a new cat into your home. If your current cat feels his position of dominance is threatened he might start spraying (even if he is neutered) to show who is boss and whose home this really is. Another classic situation is when an indoor cat starts to see outdoor cats in the yard through a window, feeling threatened and territorial the indoor cat starts spraying.
In such situations try to reduce your cat’s need to spray by making sure your cat feels his/her territory is sound, that his/her dominant position (or position in the hierarchy) is safe, and keep your cat’s stress level low. For example, if you have introduced a new cat into the home you may need to help your cat accept the new pet and realize that his dominant position in the household is still safe and secure. If a stressful event has occurred you may need to retrain your cat to accept his living environment as a safe, stable and non-stressful home.
You will also need to remove all signs of the odor using a special odor controlling solution. Although you may feel you have cleaned the area thoroughly and that it smells fine, cats have a keen sense of smell and will most likely still designate the area as being marked unless you have used an odor neutralizing solution designed for cat urine and spray. Until the area is truly clean your cat may continue to go back to the area and spray. You can find such products at your local pet store. And until you completely get rid of the smell you may also need to train your cat to stay away from old spray-areas by using some of the techniques listed in the aversion techniques section as a cat who smells old spray may be tempted to revert to old behaviors.
A new breakthrough in controlling feline spraying is the use of pheromone therapy. Such therapy works by spraying a ‘friendly’ pheromone in places where your cat has been spraying. Known as Feliway®, this pheromone product is sprayed over the marked area and adjacent areas (after these areas have been thoroughly cleaned of course). The spray must be applied multiple times a day for approximately 30 – 60 days and sometimes longer with more severe spraying behaviors. This method seems to be fairly effective but you do need to follow the directions carefully and use the spray for the full time period for it to work effectively. For more information on Feliway® consult your veterinarian or visit their website at Feliway®.com.