You know that old song that goes, “Anything you can do, I can do better”? That’s what the girl cats say to the boy cats when it comes to spraying, AKA “urine marking.” Here’s what’s going on, as I explained in response to a reader’s question.
Q: Why does my cat spray? I thought females didn’t do that!
A: Surprise, surprise! Spraying is a normal feline behavior, for females as well as males. Spraying is all about marking territory. It’s the way cats express the warning, “Don’t invade my territory!” It’s also a way of marking territory as their own as well as comforting themselves in a stressful situation by making their surroundings smell like, well, themselves.
You can tell the difference between spraying and normal urination by observing the cat’s posture. Squatting to pee is normal urination. A cat who is spraying stands with tail up and vibrating, raises and lowers his back paws as if he’s on tippy-toes, and shoots a stream of urine straight back.
Urine sprayed onto a vertical surface such as a wall or door is a sign of scent marking, or territorial marking. Most cats who mark vertically don’t have a medical problem. You can almost always chalk up the behavior to a cat’s desire to communicate something, either to you or to other cats in the house. Cat pee is designed to stick on trees in all weather for as long as three weeks, so it’s powerful stuff. Cats can direct their urine very accurately, so the pee is exactly where they want it to be and smells exactly how they want it to smell. Someday, we will be able to identify the particular pheromone that the cat leaves with the urine and that will tell us if he is scared, frustrated, terrorized by another cat or in pain.
Unneutered males are the worst offenders, but it’s not unusual for neutered males and some females to scent mark. Neutering before 6 months of age — which is a good time to surgically alter a cat — sometimes helps to prevent scent marking, but not always.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.