Male cats spray, but why?

Cat spraying a bush outside.

Since cats don't use the same language that humans do, many of their activities are really attempts to communicate. One of these habits is spraying urine, but regrettably no cat owner like seeing it, let alone having to clean it up. It might be less stressful and frustrating for both you and your cat if you know why your cat could be spraying and what you can do about it.

What Is Urine Spraying?

Cats may urinate outside their boxes and engage in improper elimination, however spraying or is the term used when cats urinate vertically rather than on the ground or other horizontal surfaces. When a cat marks, it will stand, lift its tail, shake, and back up to the object before spraying pee against a wall, table leg, couch, or other surface. When urinating normally while squatting, only a tiny amount of pee often sprays out as opposed to a constant stream. Even if the quantity could be minimal, the fragrance is frequently not. Both male and female cats are capable of spraying, but only males who are intact (un-neutered) will do so and have the distinctively strong "Tom Cat" stench in their urine.

Why Do Male Cats Spray Urine?

Cats may spray pee for a number of causes, but these may often be categorized as either a territorial action or a response to an environmental stressor. Environmental stressors can include new family members, like a baby, new pets, like a puppy or another cat, home renovations or construction, boredom with your pet's feeding schedule or playtime, litter box issues like scented or dirty litter, a box it doesn't like, like a covered or automatic cleaning box, and more. Basically, a cat will spray if it is agitated or concerned about anything, but it may be challenging for a cat owner to identify the source of their cat's agitation.

The presence of additional cats in the house creating a competitive environment, the presence of outdoor cats or other wildlife that your cat can see or hear indoors, or "marking" to establish specific areas as his own are all possible territorial causes for spraying. Spraying signals to other cats that they have already claimed the area and should not be bothered.

Can Male Cats Still Spray After Being Neutered?

Since testosterone is primarily responsible for this activity, neutering a male cat will significantly reduce the probability that it will spray, but some cats may continue to do so after the treatment. 10% of cats will continue to spray even after being neutered, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center. Even while hormonal influences are reduced when a cat is neutered, it is still physically possible for your cat to spray if it is anxious or disturbed about anything in its environment.

How to Stop Urine Spraying

All types of inappropriate elimination can be difficult and frustrating to stop but there are a few things you can do.

  • Neutering - The best way to decrease urine spraying in a male cat is to have it neutered. This is typically done at a young age prior to the onset of puberty, but can be performed in older cats as well.
  • - If your cat has sprayed urine in the house, the first thing you'll want to do is eliminate any traces of the odor. Simply cleaning up and deodorizing the mess won't stop your cat from spraying in the same spot again so you'll want to ensure you use an enzymatic cleaner to clean up the urine so your cat (and other cats) won't smell any trace of urine there.
  • Change the litter or litter box - If you suspect your cat is spraying because of the litter or litter box, consider switching to an unscented litter in a shallow, uncovered litter box and adding 1-2 more litter boxes around the house in quiet, private locations.
  • Get rid of the stressor(s) - If something in or around your home is causing your cat to become upset or stressed, do what you can to get rid of the stressor or at least block your cat from being able to see and hear it. This of course isn't always possible though, depending on what the environmental stressor is.
  • Pheromones - Sprays, wipes, and plug-ins are available to provide natural calming pheromones to your cat. Pheromones are scentless and help to relax stressed cats.
  • Anti-anxiety medications - If you are unable to get rid of your cat's stressor, or the problem continues despite modifications to the environment, prescription medications may be helpful to reduce your cat's anxiety. This must be discussed with your veterinarian.
  • Anxiety supplements - There are various supplements such as L-theanine, milk whey protein, and colostrum that may help to calm your cat to some degree, although most have not been rigorously studied.
  • Special diets - Therapeutic diets are available from your veterinarian that may help to decrease anxiety-related urine spraying. These diets often contain calming ingredients, similar to anxiety supplements.