You might see spraying as a sign of aggression toward you and/or other cats, but most of the time it's actually just a form of communication. According to the ASPCA, cats are territorial, just like most other animals in the wild, but they don't go about laying claim to their "land" by being aggressive. Rather than lock horns with an intruder, they play a more manipulative game — they leave messages in the form of urine.
Cats will do anything to avoid conflict, so they developed a pretty fool-proof system by which they can work out disputes without having to be in the same room together. Think of it like a frenemy sending you passive aggressive texts to alert you to a transgression you made. While not the most effective, it at least clues you into the fact that you've crossed a line.
It's common to confuse a litter box problem with a spraying problem because both involve inappropriate peeing. If your cat is using its litter box regularly, that doesn't necessarily mean it won't also spray from time to time because the purpose of each act is different. The way that you can tell if it's purposefully spraying, or not clear on how to use the litter box, is in the specifics of its actions.
If your cat is spraying, it'll usually pick a vertical surface like a wall, plant or furniture on which to urinate. It also won't completely eliminate all the urine in its bladder. According to the Cornell University Veterinary College, a cat that's about to spray will lift its tail and quiver, then urinate in short bursts, leaving little puddles of urine. If left undisturbed, it'll usually continue doing this in the same place or few places. Spray urine also smells more intense than regular urine because it's mixed with chemicals that the cat is dispelling to announce itself to the threat it perceives.
Here are some of the most common things cats often see as threats and thus may in turn cause them to spray. Cats not only spray to claim territory, they do it to make themselves feel safer when there's a new stressor around. The smell makes things feel familiar when something is out of the ordinary.
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