5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Spray Your Cat with Water

Author: K. Marie Altoby K Marie Alto Updated 8 min read

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Spray Your Cat with Water

Alright, we all know it. Our precious little fur babies are definitely not golden children. These fuzzy feline troublemakers get into no end of shenanigans, whether it's stealing food, jumping on counters they shouldn't, scratching at the furniture, or misbehaving in some other way.

There are ways to train your fur baby to not do those things, but it's just that: training. For example, I wrote a whole post on how you can get them to stop scratching your good furniture, which you can read here.

One of the most common pieces of advice for dissuading a cat from some behavior or another is to reach for a spray bottle and give them a quick spritz. The idea is that it's unpleasant enough that your cat will learn after it happens a few times that they shouldn't be doing that behavior.

The trouble is, this is a pretty terrible way to train a cat. Here are five reasons why you absolutely should ditch the spray bottle and try a different form of training.

#5: It's Stressful

One of the biggest reasons why you should ditch the spray bottle is that it's a very stressful experience. Most cats aren't exactly fond of being wet, especially unexpectedly.

Outdoor cats caught in the rain often find trees, bushes, or porches to camp out on or under until the rain lets up, and cats inside are going to avoid the shower or bath whenever they can. Some may like the faucet, but only on their own terms and as a source of water to drink, not just to dip their face in.

Remember, too, that a sudden spray from a spray bottle isn't silent. Often, there's a sort of hissing noise attached to it. It's not just about the noise, though; it's about the noise coming from you. Do you like being hissed at? Neither do they.

A Stressed Cat Image by Toe Beans

Often, the spray bottle is just a nasty surprise and a stressful event. Your cat is likely to stop their behavior, sure, but they'll also probably flee, hide, and might not come back out for hours at a time.

Stress is also terrible for other reasons. A stressed cat is more likely to have anxiety issues. They might lash out more or generally be less sociable. They may start to have litter box issues. Increased aggression isn't unusual either.

There are also long-term health impacts to chronic stress, as well, like the increased risk of urinary tract infections and other issues.

#4: It Might Not Be Appropriate

Another reason why the spray bottle isn't a good idea is that you might be misusing it.

Now, far be it from me to tell you how to train your cat or what behaviors you should and shouldn't tolerate. Your living situation, your cat's personality, and the unique issues you face are all specific to you, and you have to make the best decisions for you, your fur baby, and your family.

A Cat and a Spray Bottle Image by Toe Beans

But, there are a lot of people who try to use some kind of discipline (technically called "positive punishment") like a spray bottle to dissuade a cat from things you can never train them to stop doing. Behaviors such as:

  • Hissing. Cats hiss when they're afraid or stressed, and spraying them with a spray bottle is just going to make it worse and further associate you with a source of stress.
  • Scratching. There is no way to get a cat to not scratch. It's such a deeply ingrained instinctive behavior that even declawed cats will try it. You have to redirect scratching, not stop it entirely.
  • Exploring. Yes, sometimes your cat gets up on furniture or in places they shouldn't be, and you want to dissuade that, but there are better ways to do it than trying to spray them down.

Often, this means you're punishing your cat for something they simply cannot help, a natural behavior and a reaction that you're only making worse.

If your cat is anxious, spraying them just makes them more anxious. If your cat is exploring, spraying them isn't going to get them to stop exploring, it's just going to mean they're damp while they do it.

#3: It Hurts Your Relationship

Perhaps the worst outcome of spraying your cat with a spray bottle is that they draw the wrong association.

They aren't necessarily recognizing that their behavior triggers the spray, especially if they can do the behavior and not get sprayed (for example, when you aren't home.)

No, what they're doing is associating an annoying and stressful behavior with you. They're only sprayed when you're around, right? What else could it be?

An Annoyed Cat Image by Toe Beans

At first, you might not notice anything wrong. But then, maybe you notice that instead of curling up on your lap, they start to prefer to lay on the other side of the couch.

Maybe when you try to pet them, they're a little more standoffish. Maybe they're more defensive, and when you make a sudden noise or movement, it scares them more than it used to.

Over time, you eventually realize that they're avoiding you. They aren't enjoying your presence and comfort like they used to.

All you've done is added stress and strain to your bond with your fur baby, and taught them that you're not always safe and comfortable.

#2: It Creates an Aversion to Water

Most cats – though not all cats – dislike water as it is. They prefer to keep themselves clean and don't take kindly to puddles, baths, or other immersion in water.

If they slip and fall when you're in the bath, and they're trying to explore, you have a wet and panicking cat struggling to get out, and that can be dangerous for both of you.

A Cat Averse to Water Image by Toe Beans

When you make water a source of unpleasantness, though, you may be developing longer-term fears and aversions in your kitty. Maybe they will start avoiding the bathroom entirely.

Maybe they hate it when you water the houseplants, especially if you use a spray bottle to mist them. Maybe they start to run and hide when you do the dishes or take a shower. In the most extreme cases, they may even start to avoid their water dish.

#1: It Doesn't Work

So here's the kicker: even if all of these other drawbacks don't dissuade you, this one should. It just doesn't work!

For one thing, one of the biggest and most important factors in training is consistency. To successfully train a behavior, cat, dog, or any other animal, you need to be consistent with enforcement.

That means any time your cat does the behavior, you need to be there to redirect it or stop them and reward them for not performing that behavior.

So what happens if they do it at night when they're prowling in their little nocturnal lives, and you're asleep? What happens if they do it when you're at work, out grocery shopping, or just in another room watching TV? Nothing. That's why they tend to associate it more with you than with the behavior.

A Cat Looking at a Spray Bottle Image by Toe Beans

It's also possible that your cat won't care. Many people tell stories of trying to use a spray bottle to stop their cat from doing something destructive, and while it works the first few times, eventually, your kitty just realizes it's a little bit of water and nothing else.

At that point? It's no longer a punishment. Some cats even learn to enjoy it or make a game of it. They find being sprayed to be pleasant, actually, and so they start to intentionally seek out ways to get you to spray.

Honestly, this is the better outcome. You'd rather have your cat think of it as a fun game rather than associating you with something unpleasant and stressful. Either way, though, it's an association with you, not the behavior, so it's not really an effective way to train a cat.

What to Do Instead

Using a spray bottle was, for a long time, recommended as a way to dissuade a cat from a behavior, because it was a safer alternative than something worse, like swatting at your cat, scruffing them, or otherwise doing something that is even closer to abuse.

But, the more time passes, the more standards change, and these days even spraying a cat is viewed as abuse by some people.

The question is, what can you do instead? Obviously, your cat has some behaviors you want to dissuade, but if a spray bottle isn't the answer, what is?

First, figure out what is causing the behavior you want to stop. Some behaviors are natural, like exploration, jumping up onto high places, and scratching. There's no trigger for these, and because of that, they aren't behaviors you can stop.

Other behaviors, like hissing, swatting, intentional destruction, and similar actions, tend to have more specific triggers. Maybe an item they try to destroy is making a noise that bothers them, or maybe they're hissing because they're stressed and startled.

If the behavior is triggered by a specific stressor, your job is to remove that stressor. For example, maybe you have a plug-in air freshener that sprays the air every hour, and the noise it makes sounds like a hiss and stresses out your fur baby. Once you remove it, the behavior will stop.

If the behavior is one without a removable trigger, you can proceed with the next step. That step is to watch for signs the behavior is going to happen.

For example, if your cat loves to jump up onto the kitchen counters and you want to train them not to, watch for when they're perched and poised to jump.

This is where consistency comes into play. You need to be available to watch for any instance of the behavior happening, or make sure someone else is around to monitor for it, so that the right redirection can take place.

At this point, you redirect the behavior with a reward. If your cat is poised to jump up onto the counter, toss a treat behind them. They'll very likely be distracted and turn for the treat and will forget about jumping up.

Toys may also work, though we all know our fur babies often ignore toys if they aren't in the mood. That's why a small, high-value treat can be the better choice.

Rewarding a Cat With a Treat Image by Toe Beans

Now, this isn't easy, and you're going to need to keep at it for a good long while. Remember, too, that some behaviors will never go away.

You can't stop a cat from scratching any more than you can stop them from meowing, purring, or being fuzzy and adorable.

Remember, as with all animal training, you need to use positive reinforcement to redirect the behavior into something preferable. Punishment doesn't work and is often stressful, cruel, and even dangerous, depending on the kind of punishment.

You're distracting them and rewarding them for choosing not to do something they were about to do.

  • Don't forget to provide alternatives to some behaviors. Your cat is going to scratch, so make sure they have a dedicated scratching surface to use instead of the furniture.
  • Make sure to track down specific triggers causing stress and negative behaviors and remove them whenever possible.

It takes time, patience, and consistency, but it's the only real way to go about it. Plus, it maintains and even builds your bond with your beloved fur baby, and who doesn't want that?

Finally, if nothing you do seems to work and you can't get your cat to redirect their behaviors, can't identify triggers, and can't seem to figure out what's wrong, talk to a vet or cat behaviorist.

There may be something else going on, like a trigger they can hear, but you can't, a scent that bothers them, or even a medical issue. This is especially true if this is a behavior they didn't use to exhibit but started suddenly.

Have you ever dealt with a misbehaving feline and needed to get into redirection training? Tell me your story! I love hearing about your pets and their adventures in the comments.

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 50K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-). Read more

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