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Cat Spraying vs Peeing: Main Differences (With Infographic)

norwegian forest cat peeing in the garden
Image Credit: Elisa Putti, Shutterstock
Last Updated on December 8, 2023 by Catster Editorial Team

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Dealing with your cat peeing inappropriately in your home can be exceedingly frustrating. Many cat owners don’t realize there’s a difference between your cat peeing and spraying. While it may not seem like it, the distinction is important because several factors can cause your cat to spray or inappropriately pee in your home. There are also different approaches to remedying both issues.

Your vet can help you determine which issue you’re dealing with, but there is information your vet will likely need from you. It’s essential to keep track of the behaviors your cat is exhibiting, along with tracking your cat’s litter box usage and any changes your cat may have recently experienced. Here are some of the differences between cat spraying and peeing.

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At a Glance:

cat peeing vs cat spraying
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Overview of Spraying

Spraying is an instinctive behavior exhibited primarily by male cats, especially those that are intact, but it is also sometimes exhibited by female cats in heat. Even then, it’s an undesirable behavior that most people work to prevent.

black male cat spraying at the garden
Image Credit: anlomaja, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats Spray?

Spraying primarily marks territory and lets other cats know they’re there. It leaves behind information about the cat via pheromones and odor.

While most cats spray to mark territory and show sexual receptivity, they will also do it if they feel threatened or stressed. Spraying isn’t specific to intact cats, but it occurs at a much higher rate in cats that are intact.

Characteristics of Spraying Behavior

When a cat is spraying, they typically do so on a vertical surface, like a wall or fence. Generally, they will hold the tail high, sometimes vibrating or shaking it, especially toward the base. Male cats, especially tomcats, may have more pungent-smelling urine when spraying than females.

Neutering can decrease the unpleasantness of the odor, and in most cases, it will also reduce the likelihood of spraying. Spraying usually consists of small amounts of urine instead of emptying a full bladder.

Cats spray the same spot or area repeatedly but may also seek new spaces to spray and mark. Either way, you’ll need a reliable cleaner to help eliminate the smell.

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Overview of Peeing

Peeing is a normal bodily function, but cats are pretty particular about where they urinate. When your cat starts peeing in odd places or skipping the litter box, you should take notice and start looking for causes. The causes of inappropriate urination in cats can range from behavioral to serious medical issues.

gray cat peeing on cement floor on the edge of side walk
Image Credit: SOMRERK WITTHAYANANT, Shutterstock

Why Do Cats Pee Inappropriately?

There are multiple reasons your cat may be peeing inappropriately. Some cats will begin avoiding the litter box due to stress or environmental changes, but it can be different from spraying. If your cat has a UTI or other medical issue causing discomfort in the litter box, they may begin peeing elsewhere.

In their mind, the litter box is the cause of their discomfort, and peeing outside the litter box doesn’t carry the same stress. Other issues can lead to this behavior, like stress related to other illnesses and changes in the home. Bringing home a new pet or a baby, moving, and rearranging a room can cause your cat to pee outside the litter box.

Characteristics of Inappropriate Peeing

Technically, spraying would fall under the “inappropriate peeing” umbrella. However, if your cat is peeing due to illness or stress but isn’t attempting to spray or mark, they will likely squat and urinate instead of peeing on a vertical surface. You may see blood in the urine if your cat has a UTI, bladder stones, or other issues affecting their urinary tract.

Your cat’s urine may not have a strong odor if they are peeing inappropriately unless they have a UTI or overly concentrated urine. It’s not uncommon for cats that are peeing inappropriately to seek out unusual places to pee, like in bathtubs and sinks.

Common in intact catsCan occur in any cats
Marks territory or indicates stressIndicates stress or illness
Occurs on a vertical surfaceCan occur on any surface
Often accompanied by strong-smelling urineUsually normal-smelling urine

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Spraying is a behavior that is often associated with intact male cats but can occur in any cat. Inappropriate peeing can occur with any cat and indicates that your cat is likely exhibiting stress or reacting to an illness. Both spraying and inappropriate peeing are issues that may require veterinary intervention to correct.

Monitoring your cat’s litter box usage can help you identify when an issue is developing. It can also help you and your vet determine what is causing your cat to start spraying or peeing inappropriately. Make sure to keep a stable, calm environment with plenty of comfy hiding places to keep your cat free of stress and decrease the chances of either issue developing.

Related Read: 

Featured Image: Elisa Putti, Shutterstock

About the Author

Brooke Billingsley
Brooke Billingsley
Brooke spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. Brooke loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet-famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia.  Brooke stays active with yoga and obtained her 200-hour yoga teacher certification in 2020, she also loves spending her free time researching and writing.

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