Cats use little spritzes of their urine, known as spraying or marking, to spread their scent around and basically make themselves feel important. Each squirt lets other animals know that a Very Important Cat lives here, ruling the roost and lording over everything and everyone within its boundaries.
One of the most common uses of spraying is to help the cat claim the item or area as his. These smelly squirts mark his territory, and tell other cats that they'd better watch out. Your indoor cat could start marking if he suddenly spies a new cat outside his domain, or if you bring a new playmate home for him. Inanimate objects can also spur this urge to defend the claims to his kingdom, such as your new 50-inch flat-screen television. Spraying helps him assert his dominance, and makes him feel like a big cat on campus.
A cat's urine contains a high concentration of his scent, which helps calm him when he feels stressed. If he smells himself across an area, he feels calmer knowing that he is in comfortable and familiar surroundings. It's similar to you feeling more comfortable in your own home than you do at your mother-in-law's house, but with less pee. Your cat marks to claim his home turf, which helps him feel comfortable and safe. He may start spraying in times of stress, such as the introduction of a new pet or a change in household routine. It's his way of saying to himself “Hey, things are weird, but this is mine, so I'm okay.”
Hey Big Boy
Female cats can also spray for many of the same reason that males do, but have a more specific goal in mind if they are not spayed. When a female cat is in heat, she sprays to advertise this fact and lure nearby willing males to her to breed. Cats aren't picky—a female will raise her tail to any male who comes by and can get pregnant by more than one. If your female cat spends her life indoors, you may be subject to noisy howling as she goes into heat, as well as unwelcome spritzes on your walls and furniture.
What to Do
If you start finding that your normally mellow and easy-going cat is now raising his or her tail, take a trip to your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical causes. Use an enzyme-based cleaner to thoroughly clean the sprayed area to remove the scent, or else your cat will simply keep returning to the spot to refresh the mark. Determine what, if anything triggered this sudden urge to spread “ode de fluffy” around, and remove it or limit your cat's exposure, if possible. Synthetic cat pheromone sprays such as Feliway or Comfort Zone help encourage a natural calm in your cat and help them chill in times of anxiety and stress.
- cat image by tnk333 from Fotolia.com