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Why does my cat spray?

Spraying is normal behaviour for cats, but is a problem when it occurs in the home.

Scent is incredibly important to cats. The depositing of scent is called marking and there are four types of marking behaviour.

Bunting : the cat will rub its head or flank against people and items.

Stropping : creating a scent and visual signal as the cat scratches.

Spraying : the cat will squirt a small amount of urine against a vertical surface. Typically, the cat's tail will quiver and it may tread up and down on its back legs. 

Middening : a cat will deposit faeces in an extremely prominent place.

Spraying is a deliberate action to deposit urine in a particular place as a mark, and both male and females can display this behaviour.

So why does it occur? Marking helps the cat to define its territorial boundaries and to make it feel secure in its core territory – the home. If a cat feels threatened or anxious, then its normal bunting or stropping behaviour may escalate to spray marking. Typically, spraying occurs when local cats enter the resident cat’s territory entering through the cat flap or peering in through windows or patio doors. Other disruptions such as decorating, building or new furniture may also cause a cat to spray to try and re-establish its territory.

If you do catch your cat spraying, then it’s vital that it is not told off. Your cat is already anxious and punishment may make it more likely to spray. So closing off the cat flap or using a microchip activated cat flap could help prevent spraying if other cats are getting into your house. Similarly, if children or a dog are the cause of your cats stress, making sure that your cat has lots of high up, safe hiding places. Feliway, which reproduces the facial bunting pheromones can be sprayed around the house and often is highly effective at limiting this behaviour.

For further advice, please contact your veterinary surgeon.

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