Why Does My Male Cat Spray and What Does it Smell Like?

Why Does My Male Cat Spray and What Does it Smell Like?

Is your male cat leaving smelly marks around the house? You're not alone! Many cat owners deal with spraying issues. Let's dive into why male cats spray and what that funky smell is all about.

Key takeaways:
• Male cats spray to mark territory and communicate
• Cat spray has a strong, pungent ammonia-like odor
• Neutering can help reduce spraying behavior
• Stress and anxiety may trigger spraying
• Clean sprayed areas thoroughly with enzyme cleaners
• See a vet to rule out medical issues if spraying starts suddenly

What is Cat Spraying?

an orange cat standing next to a blue hose
Photo by ifer endahl / Unsplash

Before we dive into the reasons behind spraying, let's understand what exactly cat spraying is.

Cat spraying is when a cat backs up to a vertical surface, raises its tail, and releases a small amount of urine. It's different from normal peeing in the litter box. When cats spray, their tails often quiver and they may do a little dance with their back feet.

Spraying is a way for cats to leave their scent and mark territory. Think of it as a kitty graffiti tag - "Fluffy was here!" Both male and female cats can spray, but it's most common in unneutered male cats.

Why Do Male Cats Spray?

There are a few reasons why your male cat might be leaving his smelly calling card around the house:

Marking Territory

The number one reason male cats spray is to mark their turf. In the wild, this tells other cats "hey, this area is taken!" Even indoor cats have this instinct. Your cat may spray to claim your home as his domain.


Cats use scent to chat with each other. Spraying leaves messages for other cats about who's around. It's like kitty social media - letting the neighborhood cats know who's in the area.

Mating Behavior

Unneutered male cats often spray to attract females. The smell lets lady cats know there's an eligible bachelor in town. This is why neutering can help reduce spraying.

Stress and Anxiety

Changes in routine, new pets or people, or conflicts with other cats can stress out your kitty. Some cats respond to stress by spraying. It's their way of self-soothing and making their environment feel more familiar.

What Does Cat Spray Smell Like?

If you've ever caught a whiff of cat spray, you know it's not pleasant! Cat spray has a strong, pungent odor that's hard to miss. Here's what makes it so stinky:

Ammonia Smell

The main scent in cat spray is a strong ammonia smell. It's much more intense than regular cat pee. The ammonia odor comes from the breakdown of urea in the urine.

Musky Scent

Along with the ammonia smell, there's often a musky, almost fishy scent. This comes from oils in the cat's anal glands that get mixed into the spray.

Long-Lasting Odor

Cat spray is designed to linger. The smell can stick around for days or even weeks if not cleaned properly. This helps the scent message last longer for other cats to detect.

How to Stop a Cat from Spraying

orange tabby cat on brown parquet floor
Photo by Michael Sum / Unsplash

Dealing with a spraying cat can be frustrating. Here are some tips to help curb the behavior:

Neuter Your Cat

Getting your male cat fixed is the best way to reduce spraying. Neutering lowers testosterone levels and reduces territorial instincts. It's most effective when done before 6 months of age.

Reduce Stress

Look for things that might be stressing your cat out. New pets, changes in routine, or conflicts with other cats can all trigger spraying. Try to create a calm, stable environment for your kitty.

Clean Thoroughly

Use an enzymatic cleaner made for pet odors to clean sprayed areas. Regular cleaners won't fully remove the scent. Cats may keep spraying in the same spot if they can still smell it.

Provide Resources

Make sure your cat has enough litter boxes, food bowls, and comfy spots. In multi-cat homes, have one litter box per cat plus an extra one.

Block the View

If your cat is spraying because of outdoor cats, try covering windows where he can see them. You can also use motion-activated sprinklers to deter neighborhood cats from coming near.

See the Vet

If spraying starts suddenly or is accompanied by other symptoms, see your vet. Sometimes medical issues like urinary tract infections can cause spraying behavior.

Use Pheromone Diffusers

Synthetic pheromone products like Feliway can help calm cats and reduce spraying behavior. These diffusers release calming scents that mimic natural cat pheromones.


Can female cats spray too?

Yes, female cats can spray, but it's less common than in males. Unspayed females may spray when in heat to attract mates.

Will neutering always stop spraying?

Neutering greatly reduces spraying in most cats, but it's not 100% guaranteed. About 10% of neutered males and 5% of spayed females may still spray.

How can I tell if my cat is spraying or just peeing?

Spraying usually happens on vertical surfaces like walls. The cat will back up, raise its tail, and release a small amount of urine. Normal urination involves squatting and produces more urine.

Is cat spray harmful to humans?

While unpleasant, cat spray isn't usually harmful to humans. However, it can stain surfaces and leave lingering odors if not cleaned properly.

Can I use regular cleaner to remove cat spray?

Regular household cleaners won't fully remove cat spray odors. Use an enzyme-based cleaner specifically made for pet odors to break down the smell completely.

At what age do cats start spraying?

Cats typically start spraying when they reach sexual maturity, usually around 6 months of age. However, some cats may start earlier or later depending on various factors.


Understanding why male cats spray and what it smells like can help you tackle the issue. Remember, spraying is a normal cat behavior, not your kitty being naughty. With patience and the right approach, you can reduce spraying and keep your home smelling fresh. If you're struggling with a spraying cat, don't hesitate to ask your vet for advice. They can help rule out medical issues and provide more tips for managing the behavior.