Why Does My Cat Appear To Spray Indoors But No Urine Comes Out?

by Elizabeth

My question is about Saffron, our two year old female moggie. We notice her backing up to furniture etc. and perform what appears to be spraying but urine never comes out. I just wondered why she does this and do you think it will ever turn into real spraying?

We acquired Saffron from a rescue centre almost a year ago. Although extremely friendly and inquisitive, in the early days the majority of times when we tried to stroke her she would roll onto her back with claws out and attack your hand. By walking away from her whenever this happened she has now turned into an extremely affectionate cat (although not a lap cat) and wants to be around me and my husband a lot of the time. Stroking her now is rarely a problem.

She will only go outdoors in the evening, preferably when it is dark and she stays out until the early hours of the morning.

Reply from Liz (Editor):
This type of cat behavior is known as phantom spraying. Some neutered cats still do it because spraying is a natural behavior. In un-neutered males, the main motive for cat spraying is territory marking. Un-spayed females are most likely to do it when they're in heat, to leave their scent and let the boys know they're "available!"

I believe phantom spraying is a throwback to the cat's natural behavior before he / she was neutered / spayed. You mentioned you got your cat from a rescue centre when she was a year old - do you know if she was spayed late - i.e. if she'd had heat cycles before she was spayed? Cats that have been allowed to reach sexual maturity before they're spayed / neutered are more likely to continue to spray - or to show this phantom spraying behavior - afterwards.

The good news is that, in most cases, phantom spraying stays just as it is, and rarely develops into real spraying. A friend of mine had 2 male cats, both neutered as adults, who did this pretend spraying for the whole of their lives - and they never once actually sprayed. I've read similar stories about other cats too.

Phantom spraying can occasionally turn into the real thing if the cat becomes stresed - e.g. if a new cat comes into the house, or if something happens to upset the cat. But if she's happy and settled (which it definitely sounds like she is - and you've done really well to stop her aggressive cat behavior) - I think the chances of this happening are very unlikely.

Many thanks for your question.

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Phantom spraying
by: Elizabeth (England)

Saffron was found abandoned with a litter of 3 kittens and the vet put her age at just less than a year old. She was spayed before being put up for adoption. Your comments tie in exactly with her circumstances. Many thanks for the understanding and insight you have given me on this subject.

Phantom spraying
by: Liz (Editor)

Elizabeth, you're very welcome. Glad I could be of help.

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