How to Solve Cat Behavior Problems

By: Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley

Dealing With Cats That Spray

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Spraying is more common in younger, male cats.

A lot of the practical correction of this problem is covered in the section on litter box accidents in this article. However, since urine spraying is a specific -- and not uncommon -- cat behavior, it also warrants its own detailed entry here.

This type of behavior most often appears in unneutered young adult male cats, although any cat can display it. Spraying behavior is exhibited when the cat backs up to a vertical surface with his tail erect and squirts urine. He may tread with his hind feet, and there's a telltale jiggling of the tail. Cats will sometimes exhibit this behavior without spraying any urine. The main purpose of urine spraying seems to be marking territory.


Alter early. Typically, male cats who are neutered before they reach full maturity (usually by the age of six or seven months) are much less likely to begin spraying. Once an intact male cat starts spraying, the habit will be hard to break -- even after he's neutered. Do not count on successfully correcting urine spraying if the cat is not neutered.

Lessen the stress. Spraying is sometimes a cat's way of saying there's too much going on. A common cause of stress-induced spraying is multiple-cat households. It's not necessarily that the cat doesn't like living with other cats, it may just be that he feels the territory isn't big enough to accommodate everybody's "personal space."

If you suspect spraying may be stress related, eliminate or reduce the sources of stress, if possible. Help him cope by making sure he gets enough attention and exercise. And be certain he has places to retreat to in your home where he can get away from it all, such as a high shelf with a comfortable blanket, a cat tree, or other piece of cat furniture.

Check it out. Except in the case of an unneutered young adult cat, if your cat suddenly begins spraying, it could be a sign of a urinary tract disease or other health problem. Spraying that starts with a physical problem can't be corrected until the physical problem is put right.

When to Call the Vet

If your cat sprays even once, contact your vet. This isn't a behavior you want to continue, and if there's a physical reason -- or it's time for a male kitten to be neutered -- you want to get it taken care of before the behavior becomes a permanent habit.

Our final behavior problem is cats that suck wool. While this is not the most typical behavior, anyone who has had a sweater ruined will want to know how to break this habit. We will show you how in the next section.