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Cat Spraying and Marking

Cat spraying and marking, or eliminating outside the litter box, is best addressed by uncovering and addressing the cause. This behavior is caused by stress or medical issues. The SprayAlert can be a useful tool for tracking behavior but cats typically won't respond to training as well as dogs.

You should determine and address the root cause. It will be one or more of these four reasons: 

1. Medical issues
2. Problems with the litterbox setup
3. Environmental Stressors
4. Tensions on a Multi-Cat household

Cute Cat

1. Medical issues

Has the cat been spayed or neutered? Unsterilized cats are more likely to spray and mark.

Does the cat seem healthy? For example eliminating with no vocalization or straining, no blood in urine
or feces, healthy stool, no excessive elimination, eating/drinking is normal and healthy activity level. The cat should see a vet for any of these potential issues. There are various medical reasons for cats not using the litter box and cats are good at hiding illness. Rule these out first.

If the cat is eliminating next to the box it can suggest a problem with the type or cleanliness of the litter box, or a medical issue. The cat wants to use the box, but is avoids it when dirty, or she associates the box with pain.

2. Problems with the litterbox setup

Common examples of poor litter box setup:

  • Not enough litter boxes. Large and open little boxes with scoopable unscented litter are best.

  • Litter box location is not in a place the cat perceives as safe.

  • Litter box is dirty, not scooped often enough.

If the cat is repeatedly eliminating in the same location: The simplest solution may be to give the cat a litter box in that location as, for whatever reason, this is where the cat wants to eliminate.

3. Environmental stressors

Indications of environment stress, when a cat feels unsafe and insecure:

  • Defensive posturing and aggression

  • Compulsive behaviors

  • Hiding and withdrawal

  • Loss of appetite and health issues

  • Marking and inappropriate elimination

​Don't get upset with the cat. If yelled at or if she senses frustration and anger this will only increase cat stress and worsen the situation.


Urinating near windows and doors indicates there may be outdoor cats who live near the home and who are creating stress for the indoor cat. Urinating on clothes, shoes, or bedding can be the cat meshing her scent with the scent of her people as a self-soothing mechanism. Or, there may be an issue with the litter box set up and the cat is selecting soft objects as an alternative substrate choice.

Practical Ideas for Positive Environment

  • Interactive play sessions with the cats. Also in areas where the urination is happening. Most cats love fishing rod toys with string and feathers attached to the end.

  • Create vertical space in the home with a cat tree or an existing furniture. Place treats or catnip in this area. Cats feel safe and secure when up high and enjoy observing their surroundings. 

  • Make Your Cat Work For His Food: This can be very stimulating for cats and help reduce stress. Instead of just putting dry food in a bowl you can put the food inside a toy that allows your cat to think, play, and move.  Or place small amounts of dry or canned food on small plates throughout the home for your cat to find.

  • Most cats like to have a designated place to scratch. Scratching posts or scratching pads are highly recommended.

  • Introduce new paper bags and cardboard boxes or paper boards into the home frequently for cat enjoyment.

  • Have a good selection of solo play toys, store bought or homemade, for example balls, mice, crumpled paper, catnip toys, tin foil balls


​4. Tensions in a multi-cat household

The amount and extent of the household pet population will determine possible tension between cats. Cats will often establish a hierarchy which includes when one cat bullies or intimidates the other

Addressing possible tension between cats: 

Reinforce positive associations amongst the cats by giving them highly valued treats a couple times a day when near each other. Feed together as well. Interactive play amongst cats that don't get along can have a positive effect. 

Consider giving space or private space to the stressed or bullied cat. All cats need their own respite space where they can go anytime to feel safe and secure.

5. Summary - The Keys to Understanding Cat Behavior

1. Cat Body Language and Behavior Signs: Many cat owners do not understand their cat’s and often misinterpret their cat’s actions. The first step to resolving many behavior issues is to understand what the cat is saying with her body language and behavior.

2. Home Environment: It is essential that cat owners create a home  environment that provides for their cat’s physical and psychological needs. Specifically, cats need to exercise their hunting instincts (through play) and feel safe and secure in the home environment. If owners create an appropriate home environment, it will help to ensure
behavior problems do not start. If there is an existing behavior problem, creating an ideal home environment is a big step to resolving the problem.

3. Stress – A Cat’s #1 Enemy: Stress is an underlying source of many, if not most, cat behavior problems. Cat owners must understand the potential stressors for their cat, as well as how to reduce their cat’s stress.

4. The Importance of Play: The importance of play for cats cannot be overstated. A lack of play is one of the main sources of behavior issues, and engaging the cat in interactive play is often the solution to behavior problems.

When cats do not feel safe and secure, they experience stress, and stress is the source of many behavior issues. When stress is eliminated or minimized, behavior issues tend to resolve. Here is how safety and security are defined:

A cat who feels safe perceives the home environment as a territory where she can move freely and engage in her daily routines - eliminating, eating/drinking, playing, resting, sleeping, scratching - without fear of any threat to her well-being.

​A cat who feels secure perceives the home environment as a territory that is familiar and predictable, and which provides her with choices of where, and with whom, to engage in her daily routines. Familiarity, predictability, and choice enable the cat to feel a sense of control over her environment which coincides with this sense of security.

​Familiarity and predictability are so important for cats, because they are by nature solitary hunters who live in an established territory. Therefore, their relationship to their physical environment is a matter of life and death. If they are not familiar and comfortable in the environment they can’t hunt successfully and if they can’t hunt successfully they die. Additionally, in the wild if they found themselves in unfamiliar territory they could be attacked by other cats whose territory they are encroaching.

​Here are common examples of what can happen when a cat does not feel safe and secure in
her home and, subsequently, experiences stress:

  • She may avoid the litter box if she does not feel safe while eliminating in it, either because of its location or type.

  • She may hiss, spit, and/or growl if approached.

  • She may hide.

  • She may mark her territory, either through urine and/or scratching.

  • She may exhibit compulsive behaviors like over grooming and overeating as a means of coping with the stress of not feeling safe and secure. Or the stress may cause the cat to become lethargic and possibly lose her appetite.

  • She may potentially go on the offensive and attack if under severe stress.

Reference source for above material: Cat Behavior and Retention Course Student Manual, Humane Society of the United States. 2016, Matthew Wildman.

Cat Resources

You’re Setting Up Your Litter Box All Wrong! by Jackson Galaxy, YouTube

Urine Marking in Cats from ASPCA

Urine spraying in cats from International Cat Care

Eliminating Cat Urine Odor Using Oxyclean from International Cat Care

Feline Spraying Cat Spraying Urine from Cats of Australia

Spraying and Marking by the Indoor Pet Initiative, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine

Litter Boxes by the Indoor Pet Initiative, OSU College of Veterinary Medicine


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