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Cat Urine Marking: Behaviour Explained

We expect unneutered male Tomcats to mark their territory by spraying urine, but what about our sterilised felines? When your well-trained, clean cat suddenly starts urinating in spots in your home, a very thorough investigation for the reason behind it, must begin. Often your cat is trying to tell you something is wrong. This investigation should start by ruling out any medical condition and a visit to your vet is essential.

Once a medical condition has been ruled out, a long process of close observation will need to follow. As urine marking can be normal in some cats, but is always a very unwanted behaviour for pet owners.

In a recent study, it was found that 10% of castrated male cats and 5% of spayed female cats mark urine in adulthood. A urine analysis done in these animals was no different, when compared to another clinically healthy or normal cats. This suggests that urine marking is not necessarily always a pathological condition of the urinary tract.

Having said that, it can be normal behaviour in 5 - 10% of the cat population but is definitely a behaviour we would want to modify, as cat urine has a pungent smell and is very unpleasant, especially in homes.


One of the biggest reasons for urine spraying in cats is due to stress, usually caused by another cat. This other cat can either be part of your pet family, or another cat in the neighbourhood. Cats don’t necessarily like fighting, thus marking their scent is an indirect way in which they can communicate.

Ways to decrease this inter-cat aggression in your home, is done by creating high perches for cats to peer over and hide in, to create a sense of personal space. This can be done with things like boxes, cat-friendly shelves and extra scratching posts.

Give your cats lots of toys (including catnip infused toys) and play with each cat individually in different regions of your home. Attention with their human really seems to help reduce conflict issues and definitely decreases their need to leave each other messages with urine.

Use pheromones to decrease the antagonism between our feline friends. Products such a Feliway pheromone diffuser or powder has in many cases resulted in decreased urine marking. Other products include Nutricalm collars, happy cat and catnip.


A second reason cats may urinate inappropriately is due to problems with their cat litter tray. This includes the number of cat litter trays, the cleanliness of the litter tray, the size of the litter tray, the location of the litter tray and the substrate of the litter tray, to name a few.

In a multi-cat household, each cat needs one litter tray and then there should be an extra one. So if you have 3 cats, there should be 4 litter trays.

The size of a litter tray is important to some cats. If the litter tray is too small a cat would urinate outside the tray and this could be a cause of huge stress. Especially if then not noticed by you or not cleaned correctly and a second cat repeats the process to mark urine over the first cat’s urine. The depth of the cat litter is also important. Too deep and too shallow can be a huge problem for your cat.

Cats are very clean animals and their litter trays need to be cleaned often, with a minimum of once a day, but sometimes more. All the litter needs to be replaced once weekly and the plastic litter tray needs to be washed with the correct detergent.

The location of the litter tray is of utmost importance. Choose a quiet suitable area to place your cat’s toilet. Noisy passageways or closed stuffy cupboards, close to washing machines or tumble dryers, close to dogs or close to the cat’s food bowls are really not suitable at all. The location of a litter tray must always have 2 exit routes so that your cat never feels trapped.

Cats are substrate specific, which means that they have a prefered cat litter. One can observe this by watching the way they walk on the cat litter. If you find a cat litter your cat likes, stick to it, even if it’s not the one you think your cat should like. I have often seen cats that just will not use crystal litter, and would rather urinate on the carpet or next to the litter tray, than touch the crystals. This is the same for other litters such as scented litter, wood pellet litter or fine vs course litter. Just because you find a certain litter the most convenient or best, doesn’t mean your cat agrees.

The cleaning agent one uses if very important. Never use an agent that contains ammonia, as this will change the chemical composition of the urine and your cat will smell another ‘new’ cat’s urine (actually it's now mixed with ammonia) and continue to urinate in the same spot.

Detergents such as Simple Solution and other enzymatic cleaners ˇreally work well and will discourage your cat from marking the same region again.

When your cat or cats suddenly start urinating in your house, it can be very distressing and one can even feel annoyed and disappointed with your pet, but realise that you are not alone in this battle, follow logical steps in your investigation to the problem and even if you don’t find a 100% cure, use tools to decrease the frequency of the urine marking to make life better for everybody, including your cat, who would never do it out of spitefulness towards you. There is always a reason, but finding this reason is not always simple.

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