Cat Spraying vs Peeing | Did My Cat Spray or Pee Indoors?


Jul 22, 2023
Cat Spraying vs Peeing | Did My Cat Spray or Pee Indoors?
Although this article has been written by a veterinarian and is based on scientific research and expert knowledge, it is intended for informational purposes only. It does not replace consulting your own veterinarian and establishing a patient-doctor relationship. To support our efforts, this site contains affiliate links to products we recommend and find helpful, which may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read more.
Table of Contents


This article shares signs and hints to help you know if your cat is spraying or peeing indoors, even if you didn't witness the act but only found the urine. Differentiating between cat spraying vs peeing is essential if your cat's house-soiling (depositing urine in unacceptable places in the home) because they are different problem behaviors requiring different approaches to solve.

Topics that will be covered include: 

  • Why spraying and peeing are not the same and are two distinct feline behaviors
  • Why it's not just intact male cats that spray and females and fixed cats also spray urine
  • If cat spray looks and smells the same as cat pee
  • 12 key differences between cat spraying and peeing so you can tell them apart
  • A quick reference summary table to help you know if your cat sprayed or peed
  • Video examples of cats spraying vs peeing
  • A case study that highlights why sometimes it's not easy to tell the difference between spraying and peeing
  • How to stop your cat urinating and spraying indoors

In this article, 'neutered' refers to a cat who has been castrated (male-specific term) or spayed (female-specific term), also known as 'fixed'. 'Intact' refers to a cat who has not been castrated or spayed, also known as 'entire'.

Cat Spraying Is Not the Same as Peeing

Spraying and peeing are two distinct feline behaviors with different purposes.

Peeing is when your cat squats (although some cats stand) to empty their bladder, also referred to as eliminating or toileting, which allows excess water and waste products to be removed from the body as urine.

Spraying is when your cat stands (or less commonly squats) and squirts urine backward, also referred to as urine marking or scent marking. When a cat sprays, the purpose is to leave chemical messages for other cats as a form of communication, such as to indicate their territory or attract a mate. Then, when another cat passes by, they can gain information by sniffing the mark or using the Flehmen response (holding their mouth slightly open to inhale a scent that's processed by the vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouth).

Do female and fixed cats spray urine?

Most intact male cats spray urine and many intact females will also spray, especially when they are in heat to signal receptivity to mating. However, 10% of neutered males and 5% of neutered females still spray urine,1 often due to stress and a perceived threat to their territory.

Cat Flehmen Response
Flehmen response - the mouth is slightly open to inhale a scent that's processed via their vomeronasal organ (Jacobson's organ), located in the roof of their mouth. Information can be gathered, such as investigating a scent from a female to know if she's in heat.

Does Cat Spray Smell and Look the Same as Pee?

Whether a cat is spraying or peeing, they are expelling urine from their bladder, which is yellow in color with an ammonia-like odor.

Sometimes owners report that the urine cats spray is more pungent, darker, or thicker than pee. However, this may be due to the urine being more concentrated if a cat's bladder was not full at the time of urine marking. It has also been speculated but not proven that urine mixes with anal gland contents prior to being expelled.

Tomcats (intact males) have particularly pungent urine, whether sprayed or peed, in part due to high levels of an amino acid called felinine. The higher a cat's testosterone levels, the higher the amount of felinine in their urine.2

A‍lso Read: The Best Cleaning Technique to Get Rid of Cat Spray Smell and How To Eliminate Cat Urine Odor

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Peeing or Spraying

In this section, we will explore how to tell the difference between peeing and spraying urine, particularly when it occurs indoors and in inappropriate places.

1. What's Your Cat's Posture?


When urine marking, a cat will often be standing. The typical signs include backing up toward the surface they want to spray, an upright and quivering tail, an arched back, and they may tread with their rear feet as they eject urine. However, some cats will also mark squatting, either leaving a puddle or line of urine on the floor. 


When toileting, a cat will typically squat low to the ground with their back legs bent and tail slightly raised. However, some cats pee standing due to the litter tray being too small, pain (hip, knee, or spinal), or because it's their preference.

If you only found urine, set up a motion-activated pet camera, such as the affordable Wansview Wireless Pet Camera with Night Vision, in the area to gather more information.

Peeing vs spraying urine in a cat
Cats usually squat to pee and stand to spray, however, some cats may pee standing or spray squatting.

2. What Triggered the Behavior?

Cats do not soil the home to hurt or punish you. Instead, there is always an underlying behavioral or medical reason. Understanding the different causes and triggers may help you determine if your cat is spraying or peeing everywhere, as well as the best way to solve the problem. 


The primary triggers for urine spraying in intact cats are reproductive behavior and territory marking. Intact cats use urine marking to attract a mate, and although intact male cats spray the most, intact females, especially when in heat, will also spray to attract a mate and signal receptivity to mating.

Spraying also allows cats to mark their territory and avoid confrontation. By leaving a urine mark in various prominent locations throughout their territory, cats can indicate their presence to other cats without coming into close contact, reducing the likelihood of an unwanted conflict. Both male and female cats can mark with urine to define their territory.

The primary trigger for a neutered cat to spray in the house is that they feel stressed due to a perceived threat to their core territory (where they eat and sleep), and it is a way to relieve their anxiety by making the home smell like them. The main triggers for spraying are having a conflict with another cat (who they live with or an outdoor cat that comes onto your property), having to share resources or space with other cats in the same household, a new person or pet, or a change to their routine or environment. For further information, visit Why Do Cats Spray?


The most common triggers for a cat peeing around the home are that they don't like their litter box or due to an underlying medical condition.

A cat may not like their litter box if it's not clean enough, they have to share with another cat, they prefer to poo and pee in separate locations but there is only one box, they don't like the litter, it is too small, it's difficult to access, your cat doesn't feel comfortable with the location, or they have a negative association.

Medical conditions that can trigger peeing outside their litter box include arthritis, cystitis, dementia, or a condition that causes them to urinate more, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. If you want to know more, check out Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

Cat outside staring at a cat inside
A common reason for neutered cats to spray indoors is because of conflict and tension between cats in the home or with an outdoor cat.

3. Do They Leave Urine on a Horizontal or Vertical Surface?


Urine spraying tends to be on a vertical (upright) surface, such as the side of the litter tray or a wall, door, or curtain. Since marking is for communication purposes, having the urine at head height (around 20-25 cm above the ground) allows it to be more easily noticed by another cat.

Sometimes it may appear as though it's on a horizontal (flat) surface because, for example, if your cat sprayed a wall, it may run down and be noticed as a puddle on the floor, but when you take a closer look, you will also see it is on the wall as well. You can check exactly where the urine is by using an ultraviolet black light, such as Simple Solutions Urine Detector. However, some cats will also spray horizontal surfaces, such as the bed or clothes on the floor.


Cats typically pee on horizontal (flat) surfaces, such as the bottom of the litter tray, rug, carpet, or couch seat cushions. However, some cats also pee standing up, so their urine may land on a vertical surface.

Cat urine shown with UV blacklight
Urine stains that were previously unseen glow under the UV light.

Simple Solution Urine Detector

Simple Solution Urine Detector

  • Urine glows in the dark under the UV light
  • Helps you find all the odorous urine so it can be properly cleaned
  • Observe if urine is on horizontal (a sign of peeing) or vertical (a sign of spraying) surfaces

4. Do They Cover Their Urine or Leave It Uncovered?


Since cats spray to leave their scent as a noticeable message for other cats, once they've finished, they won't attempt to dig and cover their urine mark.


After a cat pees, they will usually dig and cover their urine. However, if the substrate your cat has chosen makes it impossible, for example, if they have urinated in the bathtub or on a carpet, they may still go through the digging motions and scratch the floor or in the air around where they urinated.

Cat digging after urinating
After peeing, a cat will dig to cover the urine, whereas sprayed urine is left uncovered as a message for other cats.

5. Do They Sniff the Urine Mark Afterwards?


After a cat's sprayed, they usually walk away without sniffing.


Once a cat has peed, they typically sniff their urine, dig to cover it up, and then they often sniff it again.

6. What Type of Material Is Targeted?


Cat spraying typically occurs throughout the house, and cats usually won't care what substrate they mark. Instead, cats will likely target different surfaces, such as wood, walls, plastic, fabric, and appliances.


When cats pee around the house, they may always pick the same or similar substrate, which is often absorbent, such as consistently targeting a rug, the laundry, or a bed.

Cat urine on the bed
When peeing, cats often repeatedly target a horizontal (flat surface), which is absorbent, such as the bed, couch, or carpet.

7. Where Is the Urine Typically Located?


Since cats spray to leave messages for other cats in order to attract a mate or mark their territory, they usually leave urine in prominent places that are out in the open, such as the middle of a hallway. Also, cats usually spray in various locations around the home, although some cats limit spraying to one place.

If an indoor cat feels a threat from outside, such as roaming cats, they may mark the outskirts of a room near windows, cat flaps, and doors. Sometimes cats will also mark areas or items if the scent has changed, or items brought into the home with a different scent, such as shopping bags, boxes, or new furniture.


When a cat pees around the home, they tend to choose hidden, quiet areas, such as the bottom of a closet or behind furniture. Often cats will avoid toileting in their main living area, where they sleep, rest and play, but still select somewhere they feel comfortable. Cats may also continue to relieve themselves close to their litter box. Unlike spraying, where they tend to leave urine in various places, cats may develop a preference for only one or two areas.

Grocery shopping bag kitchen
Cats may spray items brought into the home with a different smell, such as shopping, gym, or guest bags.

8. Is It a Large or Small Volume of Urine?


A small volume is often deposited when urine marking. However, this isn't always the case, as sometimes cats release large volumes of urine.


When peeing, cats fully empty their bladder, producing a large puddle. However, some medical conditions, such as cystitis or a urinary tract infection, may cause a cat to eliminate small, frequent volumes.

9. Is Your Cat Male or Female?


Both male and female cats can spray urine, however, it is more commonly seen in male cats.


Peeing outside the litter box is equally represented in both male and female cats.

10. Is Your Cat Neutered?


Marking is normal behavior for intact male and female cats. It serves as a form of communication, indicating their territory and whereabouts to avoid confrontations with other cats, and also to attract a mate. Most intact male cats eventually start spraying, and intact females may also spray, especially when in estrus (heat). Other signs a female is in heat include excessive meowing, raising her tail, rolling around on the floor, and attention-seeking.

Neutering considerably reduces the incidence of cat spraying by 90% in males (10% of castrated males will still spray) and 95% in females (5% of spayed females will still spray).1 Neutered cats may still spray outside to mark their territory or inside the home due to a territorial issue, such as seeing neighborhood cats in the garden (even if your cat is indoor-only and just sees another cat at the window), a new pet, or having to share resources, such as litter trays, bowls, and resting areas, in a multi-cat home.


Peeing outside litter boxes is most likely equally seen in neutered and intact cats, although it also depends on the underlying cause.

Cat sniffing
Most intact cats will spray urine in the environment, which other cats investigate to gather information about their whereabouts and sexual status.

11. What's the Age of Your Cat?


Cat spraying may occur once an animal is sexually mature, from around 6 months of age. Some cats may also start marking around 1-1.5 years old, once they become behaviourally mature and less willing to share their territory with other cats.


Peeing outside the litter box can occur in cats of any age.

12. Does Your Cat Still Use the Litter Box?


Cats that spray often continue to use the litter box for regular toileting (squatting and emptying their bladder).


Cats that pee outside their litter boxes may partially or completely stop using their litter tray since they eliminate around the house instead.

Some cats only spray inside their litter box. If this is the case, a good solution to contain the urine can be to use a high-sided litter box, such as the Richell High Wall Litter Box, an indoor litter box designed for puppies, such as the Doggy Bathroom, or a large plastic storage box, such as the IRIS 132 Quart Plastic Storage Container, with a low entrance cut on one side using a dremel and smoothed with sandpaper. Alternatively, Pee Shields can be attached to your existing litter box.

cat using litter tray

Comparison Table: Spraying vs Peeing in Cats

Spraying Peeing
Posture Usually stand but may squat Usually squat but may stand
Causes Mating, territorial, stress (especially due to conflict with other cats or if their territory feels threatened) Physiological, they dislike the litter tray, medical
Surface Vertical Horizontal
Digging No digging and leave uncovered Dig before and after to prepare the area and then cover
Sniffing May sniff before but usually not after Usually sniff before and after
Material Variety (wood, fabric, appliances, plastic, walls) Usually absorbent and the same material each time
Location Near doors and windows, a variety of prominent locations Hidden and quiet, may go near their box, usually same location
Volume Usually small Usually large
Sex Most common in intact males, then intact females, then neutered males, and the least common in neutered females Equally in males and females
Age May start once reach sexual maturity (around 6 months) Any
Litter Box Use May still use for regular urination Partially or completely stop using

Videos Showing Urine Spraying vs Peeing in Cats

The video below shows a spraying cat. The cat is standing with his tail upright and quivering. He is also treading with his back feet and his back is arched as he sprays urine. Afterward, he walks away and does not sniff or cover his urine.

The video below shows a peeing cat. The cat is squatting with his back legs bent and his rear end close to the ground. His tail is slightly raised to avoid getting wet. Afterward, he sniffs the urine and then covers it.

How to Stop Cats Peeing or Spraying in the Home

Although there is overlap, the causes and approach to stopping your cat from either peeing or marking everywhere differ, so it's important to be able to distinguish between the two behavioral issues. It's also possible you are dealing with more than one problem, and your cat is both urine-marking and peeing around the house. 

If you determine your cat is peeing, refer to How to Stop Your Cat Peeing in the House. If you determine your cat is marking, refer to How to Stop Your Cat Spraying in the House.

A vet should always be consulted to ensure your cat is healthy and to rule out medical issues. If no underlying health issues are found, and the problem is likely to be behavioral, for example, due to anxiety or a dislike for their litter box setup, they may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who has undergone extensive training in helping pets with behavioral problems.

Case Study

Timmy a 3-year-old, male neutered, Domestic Shorthair

Timmmy the Cat

Timmy is an indoor-only cat who presented for inappropriate urination (peeing outside the litter box).

One month ago, he started squatting and leaving urine around the house every few days. He didn't seem to be in any discomfort while urinating, and he also continued using the litter box. His physical examination, urinalysis, bloodwork, and imaging (X-rays and ultrasound) of his urinary tract were all normal. It was believed there was something about his litter box that Timmy didn't like, so the owner followed the advice on providing him with the perfect litter box setup, however, the behavior continued.

After further questioning, it was discovered that when he urinated outside the litter box, a small amount of urine was always deposited next to a door or window. In addition, after urinating, he would walk away without sniffing the urine or scratching at the surrounding area in an attempt to cover it. It also became apparent that a new outdoor cat had started coming into their garden one month ago and would sometimes sit by the window and stare at Timmy.

It was determined that Timmy was likely urine marking, so the owner followed the advice on how to stop spraying. The main goal was to prevent the stranger cat from entering the garden, so the owner installed a Motion-Activated Sprinkler and covered the window where the cat would stare at him with Frosted Window Film. His urine marking gradually decreased and within two weeks had stopped.

This case shows the importance of attention to detail, especially as some cats mark with urine while squatting. Some cats will also pee standing up, either because that is their preference, they have pain (back, knees, or hips), or the litter tray is too small.

Key Points: Urine Marking or Toileting

  • Peeing (toileting) is when a cat squats to empty their bladder, eliminating excess water and waste products from the body.
  • Spraying (marking) is when a cat stands and squirts urine onto a horizontal surface, such as a wall, for the purpose of leaving chemical messages for other cats as a form of communication, such as attracting a mate or marking their territory and whereabouts.
  • Cats may pee around the house if they don't like their litter box or due to a medical condition (find out more).
  • Spraying is normal behavior for intact male and female cats to attract a mate and mark their territory. Neutered cats may start spraying indoors if they perceive a threat to their territory (find out more).
  • Urine from both spraying and peeing is yellow in color with an ammonia-like smell, but the urine from spraying may be more pungent.
  • Uncastrated males have particularly strong-smelling urine, whether sprayed or peed.
  • When peeing, a cat will typically dig a hole and squat low to the ground with their tail slightly raised. Afterward, they will likely sniff the urine and then dig to cover it up. Cats often target absorbent material and discrete areas.
  • When cats mark, they usually stand, back up towards the surface they want to spray, with an upright quivering tail and an arched back, and tread with their rear feet as they eject urine backward. Afterward, a cat will walk away without sniffing or covering their mark.
  • Causes and approaches to stopping your cat from peeing everywhere or stopping your cats from spraying everywhere are not the same, so it's important to be able to tell the difference. 
  • We always recommend you consult a vet to ensure your cat is healthy. If no health issues are found, they may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who has undergone extensive training in pet behavior.  


  1. Hart BL, Cooper L. Factors relating to urine spraying and fighting in prepubertally gonadectomized cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1984 May 15;184(10):1255-8.
  2. Tarttelin MF, Hendriks WH, Moughan PJ. Relationship between plasma testosterone and urinary felinine in the growing kitten. Physiol Behav. 1998 Aug;65(1):83-7.

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