While cats make fantastic pets, every now and again they do something that their owners aren’t crazy about – especially when they get particularly territorial.
All cats, from your common tabby cat to a lion and everything in between, get very territorial. It’s just in their nature, it’s the way they involved, and it’s the way that their instincts tell them to behave.
Most of the time this isn’t an issue. They might hiss or puff up their fur every now and again when they come across another cat “invading” their territory. But that’s usually the extent of things.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes cats take their territorial behavior to the next level and start spraying and marking all over the place.
Sometimes they even end up spraying their owners!
Below we dig a little bit deeper into the how and why behind this behavior. We also jump into what you can do to clean up these issues, calm down the territorial behavior, and (ideally) prevented from happening in the first place from here on out.
Let’s jump right in!
What is Cat Spray, Really?
As we highlighted above, cats are super territorial by nature.
They like to have control over the space that they consider home, the place that they feel safe and secure, and the place where all their friends and family live. This is where they are fed, this is where they sleep, and this is where they live and play.
And they don’t love to share the space with outsiders, either.
This is why cats will spray and mark different “corners” of their space, sending out a signal to cats in the area that they are encroaching on territory that’s already on.
Sometimes cats will mark by rubbing themselves against furniture or pant legs, marking that is pretty subtle. But sometimes they spray behind a much more obvious – and unpleasant – mixture of fluids that’s tough to ignore.
Cat spray is basically small amounts of urine and other hormones that are hosed out across vertical surfaces, with cats using this quick dispersal of bodily fluids to let other cats know that they aren’t welcome.
The trouble with this, though, is that cat urine is very unpleasant. It has nasty ammonia like smell that no one wants filling up their home. Worse, if left unchecked your cat isn’t going to stop marking things up.
Why Do Cats Spray on Their Owners?
The only thing worse than your cat decided to spray on furniture, on walls, and on pretty much anything else they can get themselves up against is having them actually spray you personally!
This happens more often than most people realize, though, and it is particularly common with cats that have a lot of other felines living in the area and want to make 100% certain that the “cat community” knows who this person belongs to.
Cats spraying you is occurring for the exact same reason that they spray everything else – they are putting ownership on you and marking their territory.
It’s not even uncommon for “favorite” cats in a family to mark their specific person, letting other cats and kittens in the family know who they have picked out for themselves.
This is why it’s such a good idea to socialize with all your cats whenever possible (and as equally as you can), especially those that have tendencies towards being particularly dominant or territorial.
What Cats Are Most Likely to Mark?
While all cats are prone to mark when they are feeling territorial, the overwhelming majority of spraying and marking situations – especially when it comes to spring and marking people – are going to come from male cats that have yet to be neutered.
This usually happens with cats that are still pretty young (between a year or two old), especially “tomcats” that are spraying small amounts of urine mixed with very potent, very pungent, and very powerful sex hormones.
These hormones are cooked up in the testicles of these cats, usually used to let female cats know they are in the neighborhood and looking to party, so to speak. This kind of spray maintains a lot of that ammonia smell, but it also has other aromas that are even less pleasant to the human nose.
Choosing to neuter your cats can go a long way towards eliminating spraying altogether, but at the very least it’s going to help control these pungent aromas from getting sprayed all over the place, too.
At the same time, veterinarians report that anywhere between 10% and 15% of neutered male cats continue to spray (as well as 5% of spayed female cats). You’ll tip the odds in your favor by making the decision to spay or neuter your cat, but even that might not eliminate your spraying and marking problem altogether.
Why Am I Finding Cat Marks in Multiple Places?
Just as a fence in the human world as multiple “corners” to position off on territory, cats decide to spray and mark different locations to create a “bubble” of territory that lets the rest of the animals in the area know that the turf is already controlled.
The overwhelming majority of these locations are going to be regularly traveled spots that are popular with cats, dogs, and other animals. The idea here is to “quarantine” all these regularly travel paths, alerting everyone to the fact that the territory is owned by a specific cat already.
Unfortunately, sometimes cats decide to mark owners, their clothing, or furniture for the same reason. This is likely to happen if you have a lot of animals that you pick and play with and the cat already prone to marking can smell those animals on you.
They are going to try and establish the dominance and reclaim their territory with a bit of spray and marking, and they’re going to keep trying to do exactly that every time they pick up the smell of other animals on you, your couch, or even your bed!
How Can I Get a Handle on Cat Marking Issues?
Right out of the gate, it’s important to take a step back and kind of analyze what is getting sprayed and marked, how often it’s happening, and to try and find out why it’s occurring, to begin with.
This is especially important if you’re dealing with a cat that usually doesn’t mark, to begin with or hasn’t ever marked or sprayed in the past.
Environmental changes, behavioral changes, dietary changes, additions or subtractions of members of the family living in a space, etc. can all throw your cat for a loop. All of this change is going to cause stress, that stress is going to motivate control, and your cat is going to lean into their instinct to spray and mark to give themselves some peace of mind.
Of course, you also want to consider neutering your animal if they aren’t already. There are a bunch of different reasons to consider spaying or neutering your cat, but controlling marking problems is certainly one of the most common reasons that owners go down this road.
You also want to make sure that you get your hands on cleaning supplies specifically designed to address animal spray and animal marking.
These kinds of products are chemically treated to address the issue at hand, to remove the unpleasant smells completely, but also to sort of “protect” space from being marked and sprayed going forward as well.
Some products work better than others, though, and a little bit of research and testing might be necessary to find the perfect option for your needs.
Feline researchers have also discovered that improvements in overall litter box hygiene can significantly reduce the amount of spraying and marking that happens, especially when there is more than one cat living in a home.
As a general rule, the number of litter boxes you have around the house should equal the number of cats you have living there as well – with one extra, kind of as a “free-agent” or any cat use as they see fit into a sort of establishing a neutral territory for cats to share.
You want to keep those litter boxes clean (daily maintenance and weekly swap out of all litter), too. This will prevent potential territorial smells from building up which causes cats to want to spray and mark even more than they already do.
It may even be a good idea to get your animals to eat all in the same space (or generally the same space), helping to build “pack mentalities” between your cats as well as any other animals you have in the home.
If all of your animals feel that they are on the same side, living and sharing the same territory, the need to mark and spray diminishes significantly. This isn’t always possible, especially if you have particularly dominant personalities across a bunch of your animals already, but maybe something worth trying all the same.
At the end of the day, the reason that your cat is spraying you – or marking anything else – comes down to their instinctual behavior towards territorial ownership. It’s not a pleasant smell (and it’s definitely not a pleasant experience), but at the very least it means that your cat loves you enough to let the world know that you are theirs.