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Cat Spraying vs Peeing: How Are They Different?


Dealing with your cat peeing inappropriately in your home can be exceedingly frustrating. What many people don’t realize is that there’s a difference between your cat peeing and spraying. While it may not seem like it, the distinction is important because there are different things that can cause your cat to spray or inappropriately pee in your home. There are also different approaches to remedying both issues.

Your vet can help you determine which issue you’re dealing with, but there is information your vet will likely need from you. It’s important to keep track of the behaviors your cat is exhibiting, along with tracking your cat’s litter box usage and any changes your cat may have recently experienced. Here are some of the differences between cat spraying and peeing.

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At a Glance:

cat spray vs cat peeing
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Overview of Spraying:

Spraying is an instinctive behavior exhibited primarily by male cats, especially those that are intact, but it is also sometimes exhibited by female cats who are in heat. Even then, it’s an undesirable behavior that most people work to prevent.

black male cat spraying at the garden
Image Credit: anlomaja, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats Spray?

Spraying primarily serves to mark territory and to let other cats know they’re there. It leaves behind information about the cat via pheromones and odor.

While most cats spray to mark territory and show sexual receptivity, they will also do it if they feel threatened or stressed. This means that spraying isn’t specific to intact cats, but it does occur at a much higher rate in cats that are intact.

Symptoms of Spraying

When a cat is spraying, they typically do so on a vertical surface, like a wall or fence. Generally, they will hold the tail high, sometimes vibrating or shaking the tail, especially toward the base. Male cats, especially tomcats, may have more pungent-smelling urine when spraying than females do. Neutering can decrease the unpleasantness of this odor, but it may still be more pungent than typical cat urine.

It’s not uncommon for spraying to consist of small amounts of urine instead of a full bladder emptying. Some cats may spray the same spot or area over and over, while others may seek out new spaces to spray to mark. Either way, you are going to want a good cleaner to help get rid of the smell.

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Overview of Peeing:

Peeing is a totally normal bodily function, but cats tend to be pretty particular about where they pee. When your cat starts peeing in odd places or skipping the litter box, you should take notice and start looking for causes. The causes of inappropriate urination in cats can range from behavioral to serious medical concerns.

gray cat peeing on cement floor on the edge of side walk
Image Credit: SOMRERK WITTHAYANANT, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats Pee Inappropriately?

There are multiple reasons your cat may be peeing inappropriately. Some cats will begin avoiding the litter box due to stress or changes in the environment, although this can be different from spraying. If your cat has a UTI or other medical issue that is causing discomfort in the litter box, then they may begin peeing elsewhere. In their mind, the litter box is the cause of their discomfort, and peeing outside the litter box doesn’t carry the same stress.

There are other issues that can lead to this behavior, like stress related to other illnesses and changes in the home. Bringing home a new pet or a baby, moving, and even rearranging a room can lead to your cat to pee outside the litter box.

Symptoms of Inappropriate Peeing

Technically, spraying would fall under the “inappropriate peeing” umbrella. However, if your cat is peeing due to illness or stress but isn’t attempting to spray or mark, they will likely squat and urinate normally instead of peeing on a vertical surface. If your cat has a UTI, bladder stones, or other issues with their urinary tract, you may see blood in the urine.

There may not be a strong odor to your cat’s urine if they are peeing inappropriately unless they have a UTI or overly concentrated urine. It’s not uncommon for cats that are peeing inappropriately to seek out unusual places to pee, like in bathtubs and sinks.

Spraying Peeing
Common in intact cats Can occur in any cats
Marks territory or indicates stress Indicates stress or illness
Occurs on a vertical surface Can occur on any surface
Often accompanied by strong-smelling urine Normal-smelling urine

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Spraying is a behavior that is often associated with intact male cats, but can occur in any cat. Inappropriate peeing can occur with any cat and indicates that your cat is likely exhibiting some type of stress or illness. Both spraying and inappropriate peeing are issues that may require veterinary intervention to correct.

Monitoring your cat’s litter box usage can help you identify when there is an issue developing. It can also help you and your vet determine what is causing your cat to start spraying or peeing inappropriately. Make sure to keep a stable, calm environment with plenty of comfy hiding places to help keep your cat free of stress and decrease the chances of either issue developing.

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Featured Image Credit: Elisa Putti, Shutterstock