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Why is my cat peeing on my bed?

Why is my cat peeing on my bed?

 

siamese kitten on the bed

The title of this blog post almost sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? But if you’re the one Googling this topic, then you can assure all the other readers that any cat litter-box fail is no laughing matter.

 

If your cat could weigh in, she’d tell you just how serious a problem she is having, and, how badly she needs you to help her resolve it. Whatever is going on with your cat, untidy elimination is not in her nature. A cat that is peeing outside of her litter box is not a happy cat.

 

Litter box issues are one of the top 5 reasons that cats are given up for adoption.[1] People who take this final step are at the end of their tethers and don’t know how to solve their cats’ litter-box problems. The most disheartening thing is that 71% of cats who end up in shelters are euthanized.[2] This is a devastating solution to a fixable problem.

 

siamese cat using the litter box

Litter box issues are frustrating, but they are not unsolvable. It may take time and little bit of sleuthing to get down to the bottom of it, but you will. And your cat will thank you for it. (Well, he’ll probably keep the appreciation to himself, but you can pretend he’s thanking you.)

 

Cats are programmed to use the litter box

 

cheetah urine marking a tree

Cats actually are not programmed to use the litter box at all, and yet they do. It’s a kitty miracle that we all take for granted.

 

In the wild, cats are not looking for nice soft kitty litter to neatly bury their pee and poop. Dominant wild cats want their scent out in the open, preferably up high on some hill where everyone for miles around can smell it. Unique scent markers, called pheromones, in cat waste shout to everyone within smelling distance, “this is MY territory.”

 

(Why don’t some house cats bury their pee or poop? Read about it here: “Why doesn’t my cat cover or bury her poop?”)

 

sphynx cat using a purple litter box

But less dominant, smaller, or weaker cats, or cats who don’t want to call attention to themselves, like a mother cat with a nest of kittens, actually do bury their pee and poop. We humans, who choose to live with cats in our homes, have directly or indirectly selected for this submissive trait because we prefer less smelly cats.

 

Unlike their ancestors, domesticated indoor cats aren’t consciously afraid there might be lions lurking inside the pantry or jaguars in the linen closet. Burying pee and poop is just an instinct. So, without really thinking why, cats go looking for fluffy, diggable material when it’s time to do their business.

 

This is why it’s so easy to “train” a kitten to use the litter box. We’re not really training a kitten so much as taking advantage of his natural instinct to cover their own waste.

 

(Want to learn more about litter box training your kitten? Read: “How to train a kitten to use the litter box”)

 

I think my cat is peeing on my bed because he is mad at me

 

Before we get to why cats pee on the bed (or your clothes, or the carpeting), let’s dispel a myth: your cat is not peeing on your things out of spite.

 

fluffy cat on a bed

Gosh, it sure feel likes spite, though doesn’t it? It feels like you cat is picking your personal sanctuary, your temple of bliss, your shrine to peace: your bed and making a statement of displeasure. I assure you, she is not.

 

Cats are not as cognitively and emotionally sophisticated as their human owners. A pre-meditated retaliation is probably not within their abilities. Also, although people are repulsed by urine and feces, cats don’t feel the same way about their waste, and so they are unlikely to use them as ammunition in some revenge plot.[3]

 

Then why does my cat use my bed instead of the litter box?

 

Let’s look at things through your cat’s eyes: where does your cat really want to toilet?

 

A house cat, as we’ve already established, is submissive by nature. When a submissive cat eliminates, she is momentarily vulnerable. Because she is vulnerable, she doesn’t want to call attention to herself: she wants to pee or poop in an out-of-the-way spot with little traffic. She wants her toileting area to be quiet, so she can hear if someone is sneaking up behind her. And she wants 360 degrees of visibility for the same reason. And finally, she wants a soft spot that will absorb any moisture, and some kind of material that she can drag over her waste when she’s done to hide the evidence.

 

bed near a big window
Well, that must be why you put that bed right there for her! It’s soft and wide and in a quiet room. There are fluffy blankets and sheets that soak up all the mess, and they’re handy for covering, too! How thoughtful of you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

What causes litter-box fails?

 

When cats feel stress, are in pain, or are ill, they seek comfort in ways that can make their owners absolutely nuts.

 

It might not make you feel better at the moment you find cat pee on your pillow, but when you have calmed down and can step away for a moment, think of this: one of the reasons your cat has chosen your pillow as a toilet is that it smells like you. When she is hurt or scared, she may be seeking your scent for comfort. Does that make you feel any better?

 

There are two categories of problems that will cause a cat to pee or poop outside of his litter box: medical problems and behavioral problems. Let’s discuss each in turn.

 

If your cat is not peeing in the litter box, he may have a medical problem

 

cat litter box with poop on the floor beside it

If you have even the smallest inkling that your cat may be peeing outside of the litter box due to a medical problem, please, please, please seek veterinary care immediately. Your cat may be in extreme discomfort and may need the help of a veterinarian to get relief – and possibly lifesaving treatment. These are some of medical problems that will cause a cat to pee outside of her box:

 

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

UTIs are fairly uncommon in cats, but the signs are clear: a cat may strain to urinate, may cry out while attempting to urinate, and may pass only small amounts of urine. You might see blood in the urine, and you may notice your cat licking his back end.[4]
 

Feline interstitial cystitis, also called feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)

FIC is a complex disease that is not well understood. It’s an inflammation of the bladder that causes some lower urinary tract symptoms, including many of the symptoms associated with UTIs. Control of this disease often involves a combination of pain relief and dietary modifications, but also a change in management of the litter box (more on that below).[5] FIC makes a cat feel an extreme urgency to pee, and for that reason she might just not be making it to the litter box in time.
 

Bladder stones or blockage

If your cat has any kind of obstruction he might not be able to pee. You may notice him entering the litter box frequently, and his belly may be tender when you touch it.[6] A cat with a blocked urinary tract can die within hours, or suffer permanent organ damage if he doesn’t get help immediately. This is not a problem that will ever clear up by itself.[7] Rush your cat to the vet.
 

Kidney disease, diabetes, and thyroid disease

All of these problems can cause a cat to drink more frequently, and thus need to use the litter box more frequently. A cat may pee outside of the litter box because he may be soaking through the litter faster than you can keep it clean.[8]
 

Arthritis

An older cat with arthritis in the spine, pelvis, leg, or paw joints may have a painful time getting in and out of a box with high sides, and consequently may choose to pee somewhere that is easier for him to access.
 

Paw pain

cat pawsDeclawed cats often suffer from sore or sensitive paws that make digging in the litter very painful. Paw infections and arthritis in the joints of the paw can cause similar symptoms. A cat who has painful paws may show it by shifting weight from side to side, shifting weight backward to relieve the toes, and walking very gingerly.[9]
 

Cognitive dysfunction

As cats age, their cognitive function can suffer. Older cats suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction, also known as FCD, can have memory and awareness problems that may affect their ability to toilet appropriately. A cat with FCD may get lost in previously familiar surroundings, or forget the location of the litter box.[10]

 

If your cat is not peeing in the litter box, there may be something wrong with the box

 

cat litter box filled with poop

Look, it’s a pretty good arrangement: give the cat what she wants in a litter box, and she won’t pee or poop anywhere else. Come up short in the litter-box department, and you’ll pay the price.

 

Some cats can be a little bit “Princess and the Pea” when it comes to everything about their toilet areas. It has to be just right, or they’ll be dissatisfied. What is wrong the litter box you gave Mr. Whiskers? You might have to play scientist and experiment to figure out exactly what your cat wants. Here are the things that could be wrong with your litter box:

 

Your litter box is not clean enough

Cats are fastidious. They require a clean toilet area (don’t you?). Scoop, scoop, scoop: at least twice a day. Wash the pan, too, at least once a week. For more details about exactly how to properly maintain the cleanliness of your litter box, read “How to keep litter box odor under control.”
 

You are using the “wrong” kind of box

If you have a large cat, your box might be too small. If you have a tiny cat or kitten, or an elderly cat, the sides of your box might be too high. Does your litter box have a cover? Covers hold odors inside (good for you, bad for your cat), and some cats don’t like feeling “trapped” when they’re eliminating. Conversely, some cats actually prefer a cover. Go figure.
 

You are using the “wrong” kind of litter

cat litterYou may be dealing with a little Goldilocks: the litter is too hard, or too soft. It’s clumping, or it’s not clumping. It’s scented or it’s unscented, or it’s the wrong kind of scent. (Most cats prefer unscented.) Are you using pellets or litter with large granules like those made from corncobs or newspapers? These might not feel “right” under your cat’s paws. Conversely, some cats refuse litter that is too fine and dusty or sticks to the paws.
 
And heaven forbid you change brands! (What were you thinking?) If you need to switch kinds, switch slowly, adding only a bit of the new kind into the old kind at a time. If your cat is suddenly peeing outside the box after you changed brands, you have your answer: switch back.
 

You are using too much litter (or a liner)

litter box filled with too much litterMost cats prefer litter that is a little shallower than you might think they’d like: no more than about 2 inches deep. Some long-haired cats like even less, preferring to feel the slippery bottom of the box.[11] Are you using a litter-box liner? Your cat might be offended by a litter-box liner: remove it.
 

There aren’t enough litter boxes in the house

Give your cat a fighting chance to make it to the litter box: put one on every floor of your house. Don’t keep the only litter box in a place that is not easily accessible, like a far corner of the basement. If you have a multi-cat household, make sure there are enough litter boxes for each cat plus an extra. Some cats like to pee in one box and poop in a different box.[12] There is no explaining this preference: just put out another box.
 

You put the litter box in the “wrong” place

Yes, you’d like the litter box in the garage or the mudroom. Yes, you’d prefer the box in a corner, where it is out of the way. Your cat has other ideas.
 
washing machineMost cats prefer that their box is in a quiet location, but not one where they could get “trapped” by other household cats or the family dog. So, don’t put the litter box near a noisy washing machine, or an appliance like a furnace that turns on and off randomly. Don’t make the cat walk past the dog bed every time she needs to use box, especially if the dog likes to terrorize her. Don’t put the litter box in a closet or at the end of a long hallway where she could get ambushed by the other felines in the house.
 
You may also prefer to have all the “cat things” in one place, but most cats need some distance between their litter box and food and water bowls or they won’t use the box.
 
Your cat may have already stated her “place” preference. If she is peeing where you don’t want her to pee, put a litter box right there in that spot. Once she is reliably using the box in this location, you can move it – one inch per day – to a different area of the house. If she stops using the box again, move it back to the last spot that was working for her.

 

Other reasons for litter-box fails

 

baby on a shag rug

Cats are easily stressed by changes in their environment and often express stress by improper elimination. Some stressors are probably obvious to you already: a household move, a new baby, a new pet.

 

Stressful household changes

You might not realize that things that seem to only affect you, like a new job, or things that seem very minor to you, like moving a piece of furniture, can also affect your cat. Subtle changes in your lifestyle and household can be as stressful for sensitive cats as major changes. If your cat is suddenly peeing or pooping outside the litter box, evaluate your recent home life from your cat’s point of view.
 

Negative litter box associations

It is possible something happened in and around the litter box that you may be unaware of. Perhaps the dog was digging around for a kitty-poop snack when your cat was planning to use the box, and now he wants nothing to do with it. Maybe your cat remembers that his paw hurt the last time he stepped inside, and now he thinks it will just be safer to pee on the floor.
 

Multi-cat household cat drama

several catsIf you have more than one cat in your household, it’s possible that there is some Mean Girl or Boy action going on behind the scenes that you may be unaware of. Territorial disputes often result from what is viewed by the cats as a scarcity of resources: whether that is space, food and water bowls, toys, litter boxes, or even human affection. First, make sure that there is enough of everything (and then some) to go around.
 
If two cats are just not getting along, even if they got along previously, you may have reintroduce them all over again. Read “How to introduce a new cat to your cat” and pretend your two cats have never met. You will learn exactly how to properly rebuild the relationship.

 

How to stop your cat from peeing on the bed

Schedule a visit to your vet

cat and veterinarianBefore you do anything else, make sure your cat’s litter-box problems are not being caused by a medical problem. If your cat is peeing on your bed due to an illness, it needs to be addressed. Nothing else you do will affect change until your cat is feeling better.
 
   

Clean up the soiled areas of your home

(Note: as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.)

 

Scent is meaningful to cats. If an area of your home smells like pee to your cat (even if you can’t smell it), it’s a signal to your cat that that spot is a toilet. It will forever be a toilet until you properly clean and neutralize. Use a product like Rocco & Roxie Professional Strength Stain & Odor Eliminator or Nature’s Miracle Advanced Stain and Odor Eliminator, both of which use enzymes to break down the proteins in the cat waste, or the powerful Angry Orange Odor Eliminator, which is citrus-based and also acts as a cat deterrent.

 

A black light, like this one by DARKBEAM, can help you identify urine deposits that you can’t see or smell. (Be sure to choose a flashlight with the right wavelength of between 365 and 385 nanometers to make finding urine easier.)

 

Read this post, "How to get cat pee out of carpet" for more details.

 

Make his “favorite” spots less appealing

Place sheets of plastic, newspaper, or tinfoil over his favorite toileting areas. If that doesn’t work, try a plastic carpet runner, turned upside down so that nubby side is facing up (like this one by Resilia), over the spot. And if all else fails, consider trying a harmless but uncomfortable electronic mat, like the PetSafe ScatMat.

  

Try to reduce your cat's stress

You can’t give back the baby, or ask for your old job with your old hours back. But you can keep the rest of her routine intact. Keep her food dishes in the same place, and feed her at the same time each day.
 
Close the blinds on the windows if she’s being taunted by the neighborhood cats. Provide a “sanctuary room” in your house, just for the cat, if she’s disturbed by house guests.
 

Evaluate your litter and boxes

cat and litter boxReread the section above and evaluate the toilet options you’ve provided for your cat. Consider the number, placement, size and type of litter boxes, as well as the type and depth of litter. It doesn’t hurt to provide a few different kinds and see which box and litter your cat gravitates to. Try to make the litter box and its location as appealing as possible – thinking of things from your cat’s point of view rather than your own.

 

If all else fails, seek the advice of a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. You can find one in your area by consulting the Animal Behavior Society’s Directory. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists is another good resource for trained behaviorists.

 

What not to do when your cat is peeing on the bed

 

hand caressing cat

Do not yell at your cat, hit your cat, or punish your cat in any way for improper elimination. Do not drag your cat to the litter box to show him the spot he should be using. Do not confine your cat, alone, to a small room with the litter box for days. These treatments are not only cruel and ineffective from a cat psychology point of view, but they may actually backfire. The anxiety caused by punishment can actually worsen the problem.[13]

Nobody, not you, and not your cat, needs that. 

 

Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!

Why is my cat peeing on my bed?

 

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Becker, Dr. Marty. “5 Reasons Cats Are Given Up for Adoption and How to Avoid Problems.” Vetstreet, 10 June 2013, www.vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/5-reasons-cats-are-given-up-for-adoption-and-how-to-avoid-these-problems.

 

[2] “Animal Shelter Euthanasia.” American Humane, 17 Oct. 2016, americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/animal-shelter-euthanasia.

 

[3] “Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.” College of Veterinary Medicine, 2015, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-house-soiling.

 

[4] Weir, Malcom, and Robin Downing. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Cats, vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/urinary-tract-infections-utis-in-cats.

 

[5] Bladder Inflammation in Cats, PetMD, 11 Oct. 2012, www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/urinary/c_ct_bladder_inflammation_feline_interstitial_cystitis.

 

[6] Edgar, Julie. “Cat Litter Box Problems: Prevention & Treatment.” WebMD, WebMD, 2 Mar. 2011, pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/solving-cat-litter-box-problems.

 

[7] “Solving Litter Box Problems.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/solving-litter-box-problems.

 

[8] “Why Is Your Cat Urinating Outside of the Litter Box?” Veterinary Hospital, 29 Dec. 2017, www.centralveterinary.com/why-is-your-cat-urinating-outside-of-the-litter-box.

 

[9] Ibid

 

 

[10] “Older Cats with Behavior Problems.” ASPCA, www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/older-cats-behavior-problems.

 

[11] “Preventing Litter Box Problems.” The Humane Society of the United States, www.humanesociety.org/resources/preventing-litter-box-problems.

 

[12] “Cat Not Using Litter Box: Causes and Solutions.” Best Friends Animal Society, resources.bestfriends.org/article/cat-not-using-litter-box-causes-and-solutions.

 

[13] “Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.” College of Veterinary Medicine, 2015, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-house-soiling.

 

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