Cat Spraying vs Peeing | Did My Cat Spray or Pee Indoors?
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
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).
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
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?
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.
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.
3. Do They Leave Urine on a Horizontal or Vertical Surface?
4. Do They Cover Their Urine or Leave It Uncovered?
5. Do They Sniff the Urine Mark Afterwards?
6. What Type of Material Is Targeted?
7. Where Is the Urine Typically Located?
8. Is It a Large or Small Volume of Urine?
9. Is Your Cat Male or Female?
10. Is Your Cat Neutered?
11. What's the Age of Your Cat?
12. Does Your Cat Still Use the Litter Box?
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.
Comparison Table: Spraying vs Peeing in Cats
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.