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My Cat's Not Using the Litterbox! Is It Peeing, Spraying, or Marking?

Updated on October 26, 2019
aricelia profile image

Aricelia has 15 years of experience working in a veterinary office.

Peeing or Spraying? What’s the Difference?

Cats that are peeing on a horizontal surface, like the floor, are demonstrating inappropriate elimination, or simply peeing outside the litterbox! Cats that are leaving urine on a vertical surface are spraying. Spraying can occur on walls, drapes, and the sides of furniture, among other things. Spraying is most common in cats that are intact. Intact cats are those that have not been “fixed” or neutered. While spraying is most common in male cats, female cats can also spray. Even though it is an undesirable behavior in a pet, spraying is a normal form of communication in cats!

Kitty trying to communicate!
Kitty trying to communicate!

What is Marking?

Marking refers to your cat's motivation in depositing the urine. Although it’s less common, cats can also mark by depositing their feces. In addition, cats use scent glands around their head, feet, and tail to rub on objects and mark their territory. The cat is marking if she is using the urine as a form of communication. Spraying is almost always a marking behavior. Inappropriate elimination, whether peeing or pooping out of the box, may or may not be a marking behavior. If your cat is peeing or pooping on a horizontal surface but it is consistently near doors or windows, on a large piece of furniture such as a bed, or on the owner's dirty clothes, it may be a marking behavior.

Medical problems can also be common causes of inappropriate elimination. In these cases, marking is not the cat’s motivation in peeing outside of the box. Urinary tract infections are one of the most common causes. Bladder stones and interstitial cystitis can also cause discomfort and result in the cat urinating away from the box. Any disease that increases the volume of urine, such as diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, or hyperthyroidism, can result in the cat not making it to the litter box in time.

Signs of Medical Problems

(Or, Do I Really Have to Take My Cat to the Vet?)

Some indications that a cat has a medical problem are: urinating small quantities, urinating large quantities, urinating frequently, blood in the urine, vocalizing while urinating, drinking large quantities, poor appetite, and weight loss. As an owner, you may notice filling the water bowl more often, or filling the food bowl less frequently. You may notice scooping a lot more clumps out of the litterbox. You may notice that your cat is getting thinner. If your overweight cat has lost weight and is not on a diet, this can be a warning sign of health problems even if she still has a normal body weight and is not skinny. If you see any of these signs, it is highly likely that your cat has a medical problem and your first step should definitely be making an appointment with your veterinarian. In the absence of these signs, it is still possible that there is a medical problem.

Now What?

If your cat is peeing outside the box on horizontal surfaces, please take her to a veterinarian to be examined. Your veterinarian will likely recommend testing the cat’s urine for signs of infection. In some cases, further tests like bloodwork or x-rays are appropriate. Bloodwork can check if the cat’s organs are functioning properly and can look for signs of infection in the body, among other things. X-rays can be used to diagnose kidney or bladder stones. After visiting your veterinarian, follow the advice in How to Stop a Cat From Peeing in the House. These recommendations are beneficial whether or not there is an underlying medical problem.

If she doesn't improve, and no medical condition was found, consider if it is a marking behavior.

Spraying on vertical surfaces is more likely to be a behavioral issue than a medical problem. It’s still always a good idea to rule out medical problems with a trip to the vet. If you don’t see any of the indications of medical problems listed above, you can try behavioral modification. If so, follow the advice in How to Stop a Cat From Spraying in the House.

Please remember that marking behaviors, like spraying, are normal cat behaviors and try to be patient with your kitty!


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