Q: Our cat has suddenly started spraying urine on the furniture. We've squirted him, spanked him and yelled at him, but it doesn't help. He's still using the litterbox, just not all the time. My husband says if it doesn't stop, the cat goes out. Can you help?

A: The application of urine to mark territory is different from the release of urine to eliminate waste from the body. The strategies for addressing spraying are different than those you use in getting a cat to use a litterbox.

That said, the first step is exactly the same: Take your cat to see his veterinarian to make sure there isn't a health issue triggering the change in behavior. Your veterinarian's office is the place to start with behavior problems of any kind, especially when they come on suddenly in previously well-mannered pets.

Although both male and female cats may spray, unneutered males are the biggest offenders. Neutering takes care of the problem in the majority of cases if done before sexual maturity is attained. While neutering isn't quite as effective on adult cats, it's helpful in altering the behavior of older spraying cats.

For those cats who don't respond to neutering, environmental stresses — such as a new person or pet in the house or a neighbor's cat in the yard — may be triggering the spraying. Anti-anxiety medication may help (talk to your veterinarian), as will cleaning sprayed areas thoroughly and covering them with foil to discourage fresh marking. Pheromone-based aerosol products may also help calm your cat and reduce the urge to spray.

Don't punish your cat for spraying, even if you catch him in the act. Doing so makes him even more anxious and more likely to mark. Punishment is never a good strategy when trying to solve behavior problems.