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Do Cats Pee To Mark Territory? Deciphering Your Cat’s Behavior

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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Cats are amazing, but sometimes their behavior isn’t. Whether it’s your cat scratching up the sofa or getting into something they shouldn’t, every once in a while, you have to question why they’re doing what they’re doing.

One of the more common questions pet owners have about their cats is why there’s suddenly pee in odd places outside the litter box. Is your cat marking their territory? Or are they just annoyed you got the chicken-flavored food and not the fish?

Depending on where you’re finding urine outside the litter box, there’s a good chance your cat is marking their territory. There’s also a chance that they could be dealing with something else that’s causing them to eliminate inappropriately. Here’s how to tell the difference between territory marking and inappropriate elimination, plus how to minimize the occurrences of them.

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Urine Marking Vs Inappropriate Elimination

Domesticated cats may not live in the wild, but they certainly haven’t forgotten those wild instincts. Cats aren’t social animals—they don’t form packs—whether they’re wild or domesticated. When in the wild, cats mark their territory to let other cats know they are there to reduce running into the risk of actually meeting other cats. And one of the ways they mark their territory is via urine marking, which is believed to be one of the forms of communication cats use to avoid conflict with other cats. The same applies to domesticated cats. If you have a cat who is urine marking, they are letting other cats know that this is their territory (or to signal that they are open to mating). The other reason for urine marking is that a cat is feeling stressed or threatened by changes in the home (for example, if a new pet was brought in).

However, if you’re finding urine outside the litter box, there’s a chance your cat isn’t urine marking, but is instead engaging in inappropriate elimination. This behavior occurs when your cat is either displeased with their litter box in some way, experiencing stress, or has something wrong with their health (i.e. urinary tract infections or kidney problems).

That leads to the question of how you can tell the difference between the two behaviors.

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How To Tell The Difference Between Urine Marking & Inappropriate Elimination

Cat peed in shoes
Image Credit: AJSTUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY, Shutterstock

How to tell the difference between urine marking and inappropriate elimination comes down to a handful of things, including where you’re finding urine in the house and the kind of cat or household you have.

When it comes to urine marking, you’ll typically find the urine on vertical surfaces. Marking territory with pee involves spraying, which is when your cat backs up to a vertical surface, continues standing, raises its tail, then urinates. And with marking territory, there will normally be only a few drops of urine versus how much urine there would be if your cat was just going to the bathroom. The other sign of marking territory with pee? It will smell extremely strong, more so than it usually does since your cat is leaving a message.

Urine marking is also more likely to occur when you have one or more of the following:

  • An unneutered cat, as they spray territory to advertise their availability (though neutered and female cats can also spray)
  • A household of 10 or more cats, as the more cats there are, the more likely urine marking will occur
  • A cat conflict, as this is one of the biggest reasons marking territory happens
  • A recent change in your home, as change stresses cats out

In contrast, you’ll find with inappropriate elimination that your cat is not only urinating in places it shouldn’t, but defecating as well. Inappropriate elimination will be done on a horizontal surface, instead of vertical, as your cat will be going to the bathroom in the same way they always do. Plus, the amount of waste you find will be the same as what it would be if it was in the litter box, instead of simply a few drops. This behavior can occur when your cat dislikes their litter box, is stressed, or because there’s an underlying medical issue.

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How To Minimize Urine Marking

neutering cat
Image Credit: Simon Kadula, Shutterstock

If you discover that your cat is urine marking, your next question will likely be, “How do I get it to stop?” There are several things you can do to minimize—and even stop—your cat from marking territory with pee.

  • Getting your cat fixed is the easiest way to reduce spraying.
  • If your cat is marking territory to ward off neighborhood cats, try using a deterrent for strays in your yard (such as a sprinkler system).
  • If you think your cat is stressed, try to ease their anxiety. If it’s due to change, you can try to get things back on track with your previously normal routine. You can also try calming supplements or possibly anxiety medication (though talk with your vet first!).
  • If you have a multi-cat household, make sure you have enough litter boxes for your cats (one per cat, plus an extra one ideally).
  • Also, in a household with multiple cats, ensure there are plenty of resources and space to go around to avoid cat conflicts.

It may take a bit of time for your cat to stop marking their territory with urine but adopting any of these steps should help. One thing to note is to never rub your cat’s nose in their mess or clean it up with a cleaner containing ammonia (as this may entice your kitty to mark the same spot again).

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Related Read: Where Do Cats Pee From? Exploring Your Cat’s Anatomy

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Conclusion

Cats absolutely do mark their territory with pee, and unfortunately, it can be quite annoying for you. There are several reasons your cat could feel inclined to mark its territory, such as to ward off other cats or because something has changed, and it’s stressed. Luckily, there are a few ways you can reduce the instance of urine marking. Before doing anything, though, you’ll need to figure out if what your pet is doing is indeed marking territory or is instead inappropriate elimination, as simply not using the litter box is something else entirely.


Featured Image Credit: Helen Liam, Shutterstock

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