Why Do Cats Spray?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

27 September 2016

Even if you haven’t seen your cat spray you’ll know if they’ve done it in the house from its distinctive and pungent smell. But what may seem like naughty, unnecessary or problematic behavior to you is actually a natural form of expression and communication in the feline community.

What is spraying?

Cat spraying is different to urination; sprayed urine will form a thin line whereas urination will typically form a puddle.

Spraying, or marking as it is commonly known, is a behaviour and a method of communication which involves a small amount of urine being sprayed against a vertical surface - although some cats will spray regardless of whether the object is vertical or horizontal. Sprayed urine reveals information such as age, sex, sexual availability and status. Actions really do speak louder than words!


Spraying is  is commonly associated with male cats who have reached sexual maturity - Toms can mature as early as 5 - 12 months. A mature Tomcat uses his spray as a luring technique to send a clear message to female cats in the surrounding area that he is ready to mate. Although Toms are more likely to spray it is not unusual for females on heat to spray to attract a mate.

Marking its territory

Just like scratching, spraying can be a territorial behavior. Your cat will spray to create a familiar scent for its territory. Your cat is more likely to mark its territory if it feels threatened or anxious by the presence of other cats. However, spraying is not a behaviour that is limited to the outdoors. It’s not unheard of for a cat to spray walls, sofas or their owner’s property as a way of mixing scents and creating a bond.


Your cat is also likely to spray if it feels anxious or stressed in its environment. This could be caused by a number of factors including the introduction of a new pet or new baby or if the atmosphere in the house is particularly tense. Do your best to identify the cause of the anxiety and manage it as best you can.

Spraying is not a problem related to toilet training, it is a natural behavior and can be prevented by neutering and spaying at a young age. All the more reason to desex your cat!


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