Help me Stop my Cat From Spraying Urine

White cat sitting on mat
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Question:  Help me Stop my Cat From Spraying Urine

My husband and I were on a week-long vacation, the first time we've left our cat, Jimmy since we adopted him six months ago. We did have Lisa, a close friend, stay with him while we were gone, because we didn't want to board him in a kennel.

The minute we returned home, it was obvious that something was wrong. There was a very strong scent of urine all over the house.

I am desperate for any information on how to remove urine stains from my rug as well as ways to keep this kind of incident from happening again. Can you help me?

Answer: It appears that what you have is a two-part problem:

  1. Cat urinating on the rug
  2. Cat spraying vertically

I think I know the cause for both, but I'd like you to do one thing before following my advice: Have your veterinarian check Jimmy for a urinary tract disorder, such as an infection or blockage. Once medical issues have been ruled out, we can get down to the business of cleaning up your cat's urine messes, then we'll explore the reasons for Jimmy's sudden problem and ways to prevent him from urinating outside the box and spraying urine in the future.

First, I need to caution you not to scold Jimmy or let him in any way see that you are upset with him. He needs most your love and affection now, more than ever.

Step 1: Clean up Cat's Urine Messes

We'll start with the carpet first since the urine stains will be more obvious there.

If the urine stains are still damp:

  1. Blot:
    Use an old, thick, bath towel and blot up as much liquid as you can with it. Continue with paper towels until no moisture is seen.

  2. Dilute and Blot Again:
    Heavily spray the area with clear water or a mild solution (6:1) of white vinegar and water, then blot again, as above.

  1. Neutralize: If the odor still exists after the carpet is completely dry, it's time to break out the big guns: odor removers, based on chemicals, enzymes or bacteria/enzymes, all designed to neutralize the urine odor by eating the bacteria causing it. See my Top Picks for Cats Urine Odor Removal Products for suggestions.

If the urine stains are already dry, go directly to step 3 above. The urine will have already started breaking down, and the odor-causing bacteria needs to be neutralized. Next, we'll address the urine spraying. The reason I believe your cat is also spraying vertical surfaces is the extremely strong urine odor you mentioned. I'll explain that a bit later.

How To Remove Cats', Urine Spray Odor:

  1. Invest in a Black Light
    Used in a completely dark room, a black light will bring out those hidden cat urine spray stains causing the strong odor. See my Top Picks: Black Lights for suggestions. Do a complete wall-to-wall search in each room where you detect urine odor. Make several small marks with a soft lead pencil to outline areas of cat urine spray stains. On carpet, lay a urine-shaped piece of paper towel on the urine spray area. This would also be a good time to double-check the carpet with the black light to see that the urine stains are removed.
  1. Apply Urine Odor Removal Product
    Using the manufacturer's directions, apply the commercial product. Do not remove the pencil marks, for reasons I'll soon explain.

How to Prevent Cat Urine Spraying in the Future

Obviously, you don't want to ever have to go through this again. I'm sure Jimmy doesn't want to, either. Once you know why Jimmy sprayed and peed on the rug, you can take steps to prevent future incidents. First, you need to understand that Jimmy's sudden behavioral changes were brought about by a combination of factors:

  • Separation Anxiety
    Since Jimmy has only been with you for six months, he feels a sense of abandonment at your sudden lengthy absence. He has possibly been abandoned before by people he loved and had no way of knowing that you would return.

  • Stress
    Cats hate change of any kind. Even if your cat already knew Lisa, she most likely came into his home carrying a number of new scents, sounds, and habits. Perhaps she didn't feed him at the same time of day, or perform all those little "going to bed" activities he's used to engaging in with you. The stress was likely the main contributor to his original peeing outside the litter box.
  • Territorial Reasons
    Okay, here's a relative stranger coming into his home, breaching his territorial boundaries. Cats' primary reason for spraying is innate: to mark their territory with a very unfriendly pheromone to keep strange intruders out. If you've ever observed a feral cat marking his territory, he will sniff the area first to see if his scent is first there, then spray it again, then sniff again, to ensure himself that it is marked to his satisfaction.

Is this all starting to make sense? Okay, here's the plan of action. First, use a commercial cat repellent on or near the areas where Jimmy peed and sprayed to discourage him from visiting those areas again. Feliway spray is also excellent for those sprayed walls and doors. Cats will not spray areas they have marked with "friendly pheromones," and Feliway mimics friendly facial pheromones.

Next, you need a game plan for your next planned absence. The first thing you'll need to do is re-establish his relationship with Lisa. The next time she visits, ask her to bring a cat toy (I recommend da Bird) and treat for Jimmy. She can then visit with him privately for 10-20 minutes, playing with him and giving him treats, with you in just the next room. Jimmy will learn that having her there in your absence does not mean that you are never coming back. She can leave the treats, but have her take the toy with her when she leaves.

Make it a habit that every time you leave the house, you spend some time with Jimmy first. Talk to him as if he were your child: "Mommy's going to be gone for awhile, but I'll be back in an hour (or back for dinner-time)." When you return, be sure to remind him that, true to your word, you did come back. In a month or so, you might want to go away, just for one night. Ask Lisa to bring treats with her, and her special toy for Jimmy.

Start a stress-relief plan a few weeks in advance for your next week-long trip:

Ask Lisa to visit a couple of times during the week before you leave, following the routine with treats and her special toy.

The morning you leave, have a long talk with Jimmy, with your friend by your side. Explain that you will be gone for seven "sleeps," and that Lisa will be there with him so he won't be alone. Promise that you will be back. Give him a hug and a kiss, then has Lisa play with him and his toy, as you slip away quietly. Don't forget you're coming home talk with him, upon your return.

I think that by following this plan, Jimmy's fear of abandonment will disappear, and your bond will be even stronger. Good luck to both of you, and please let me know how it goes.