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Male cats spray urine for a variety of reasons, but by and large, they usually merely are trying to communicate with their owners and other cats. The message they want to convey might be about their sexual availability, territory and dominance status or a fight they won. It sometimes occurs because cats would rather send a chemical note than face other felines face to face, and stress is another big cause. The desire for something familiar can also be the problem. Different methods are available to stop the behavior, depending on what the issue is.
The Big Picture: Communication
Although very perceptive pet owners can figure out what their cats want and need, the simple fact that people don't understand their "language" is often problematic. The animals cannot, for example, walk up and tell their owners that they're scared of the giant new TV in the living room. In addition, they aren't always in the same place at the same time, and they need a method of getting and giving messages even when paths don't cross. They try to find ways to communicate as best they can, and one of the few means they have is to spray.
Urine contains pheromones, or chemicals that send signals through the air, and which are picked up through the sense of scent. These substances let cats "talk" to each other about a wide variety of things, and cats are not thought to understand that people can't translate the pheromone message. When cats spray, therefore, they're trying to say something to another cat or their owner. What that something is depends on both personality and circumstances.
Sexual Maturity and Availability
It is very common for cats to spray urine to let others know they are ready to mate. In essence, the pheromones in the urine act like an attractive, arousing perfume. Usually, this starts happening when they are around six months old, and males who haven't been neutered are the most likely to do it.
Territory and Dominance
Cats can be territorial, so they sometimes spray urine in order to mark boundaries and make a claim on specific things. This is especially true in households with more than one feline, because the more animals that are in the home, the more limited space becomes. In this case, the behavior often connects closely to the desire to be dominant to some degree, with more aggressive pets usually being the worst offenders.
It is not unusual for cats to have confrontations, and sometimes this happens even among cats from the same house. If one wins a fight — this can be as simple as chasing the other animal away, or it can involve severe biting and scratching — it might spray urine as a way to announce the victory. By doing this, it declares that it isn't a cat to mess with, preserving territory boundaries and, in many cases, future clashes.
Sometimes, a cat that is more shy wants to avoid face-to-face confrontations with other felines. They occasionally spray urine because, in doing so, they can communicate a message without having to be around anyone else. Many owners mistake this response to shyness with stress.
Spraying also can be a response to stress, and each cat has their own different levels of tolerance in this area. Some animals, for example, only get upset and anxious with big problems, such as having a dog in the house that constantly wants to chase. Others seem to be practically afraid of their own tails and don't respond well even to simple changes, such as a different kind of kitty litter.
Owners often misinterpret stress-related spraying as a malicious, intentional act of revenge — "He urinated on my favorite chair because I didn't give him his food on time," for example. Veterinarians and other cat experts usually point out that this interpretation of the behavior relies entirely on the assumptions that the animals understand the relationships that people have with their belongings, and that they share the human view that putting urine on something is "bad." Neither of these assumptions really can be proven.
Desire for Familiarity
A typical house contains many different odors, with scents in everything from furniture to laundry detergent. This can make some cats feel a little uncomfortable, so they spray to mix all the other smells with one they know. To them, it's the equivalent of lighting a candle to make the room smell better. Self-soothing and making things familiar in this way is often why new items become targets.
Ways to Stop the Behavior
The techniques available to stop male cats from spraying depend on why they are doing it in the first place. Neutering often shows improvement when the problem is connected to aggression and sexuality, both of which have some hormonal influences, but it is not always successful. Reducing the number of animals in the home, making gradual transitions to new items or schedules and spending more time providing attention and comfort typically help. When cats are severely anxious, they sometimes benefit from medication, but this should be considered a last resort, as any drug can have side effects.