Discovering you're lying on sheets soaked in cat pee may be the only time you've been awake in bed and wished you were having a nightmare. But, alas, cat urination on your mattress is one of those dilemmas that some pet parents deal with.
As you might expect, a cat micturating on your bed is sometimes due to a medical problem.
"If a cat is urinating out of the litter box, problems like bladder stones and a bladder infection, both of which cause severe inflammation and an urge to urinate, should be ruled out," says Adam Eatroff, DVM, DACVIM, staff internist and nephrologist and the director of the hemodialysis unit at ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals, based in Los Angeles.
But while it might be a biological problem, says Dr. Eatroff, cats usually pee on a bed due to an issue that is rooted in anxiety and stress, which can affect several hormonal and chemical balances in the body. This is commonly referred to as idiopathic cystitis; that is, inflammation of the bladder with an unknown cause.
"Idiopathic cystitis is likely caused by hormonal imbalances and is best prevented by reducing stress in the environment," said Dr. Eatroff.
First, see your vet to make sure your cat is not suffering from an infection of the bladder or urinary tract. If your cat gets a clean bill of health and is still peeing on the bed, here are five possible reasons why your cat is using your bed as a litter box.
Think about how you do your own bathroom business. You have a door you can shut. You've probably got the room decorated with knickknacks. Doesn't your cat deserve some privacy and pleasantry, too?
"Perhaps your litter box is in a busy area, or it’s next to a noisy appliance like a clothes dryer, or one that turns on at random times like a furnace," says Paula Garber, a certified feline training and behavior specialist based out of Briarcliff Manor, New York, and who runs Lifeline Cat Behavior Solutions.
Or maybe the cat box was in an ideal spot but as the years have gone on, it's not so convenient any more.
"Maybe the litter box is in the basement, but the cat spends most of his time on the second floor of the house. Cats can see well in low lighting but they do need some light to see. If the litter box is in a dark place with no light, a cat might be less inclined to use it, especially in a multi-cat household," Garber says.
There could be other location issues as well, Garber says. Maybe your cat has to pass the dog's favorite resting spot on the way to the litter box and is frequently chased. Or perhaps, Garber says, "Maybe the litter box is tucked into a closet with no escape routes to avoid another cat that enters."
Even if you have a couple of litter boxes, it still may not be enough.
Some cats prefer to urinate and defecate in separate litter boxes, and some cats will not share a litter box with another cat," Garber says. "A good general rule is to have a litter box for each cat in the home, plus one more, and to provide at least one litter box on every level of the home."
Probably not what you want to hear. Yay, more cat litter to clean. But that’s better than constantly cleaning your bed sheets, right?
Multiple litter boxes is especially a good idea for kittens, Garber adds. "Like children, kittens’ control over their elimination is not fully developed, so they need multiple, easily accessible litter boxes to help prevent accidents," she says.
Time to give the feline facilities another look.
"Maybe it’s got a cover that traps odors or constricts her movement so she can’t get into a comfortable position to eliminate without pressing part of her body against the inside of the cover, something many cats dislike," Garber says.
Or it could be a medical issue combined with an ill-fitted cat litter box. Garber says that if your cat has arthritis, perhaps the box's sides are too high, making it difficult to get in and out of.
You're probably a fan of one type or brand of cat litter and turn up your nose at other brands. Some cats are the same way, particularly if your little guy thinks the litter isn't soft enough, Garber says.
"If the cat has been declawed, stepping into and digging in cat litter might be painful, so she will seek out a softer substrate."
Garber suggests setting up a cat litter test: Put two cat litter boxes next to each other, one filled with a soft type, Brand A, and the other with a rougher type, Brand B. Whichever litter your cat clearly ends up preferring is your new cat litter. And if you have multiple cats who each prefer different types? Then you can make sure they are each happy with their own boxes and their own litter.
Just make sure the cat litter is truly absorbent. Garber says that the practice of a cat burying his or her urine or feces is because they're hard-wired to hide the scent so that a predator can’t track them.
"This instinct is very strong, as the cat's survival depends on it," Garber says.
Do you have a new baby? Maybe a new dog or a new cat? Maybe you have a new job that's keeping you away from the house far more than normal or for different hours than your cat has been accustomed to.
"Cats thrive in an environment that is predictable and controllable," Garber says. "Changes in a cat's household, even those that seem minor and insignificant to us, can trigger house soiling behavior."
Ultimately, your cat needs to feel safe in your home. A cat that is fearful will behave in fearful ways. Garber explained that you should "never scold or punish a kitten or cat, especially when she’s in or near her litter box. This will create a negative association with the box and she will avoid it. For the same reason, never use the litter box as a place to trap a cat to administer medication, trim nails, or get her into a carrier."
The good news is that you can help your cat to feel more at ease, Dr. Eatroff says.
"The psychological stress of competing for resources like food, water, empty litter boxes, and the cat owner's attention is something we can easily modify by making sure that there are ample resources, like food and water bowls, toys, and litter boxes available for all of our feline friends," he says. "And don't forget that quality time with your cat is a relaxing stress reducer for both of you."
Getting a cat to stop urinating on a bed, furniture, or anywhere else does take patience, cautions Garber. She recommends a five pronged approach to solving your cat urination problem, assuming that you have already been to your vet and know there is no underlying medical problem.
1. Make the litter box the most attractive place for the cat to do his or her business. Garber recommends fine grained, unscented, clumping litter, and to avoid plastic litter box liners.
"Cats’ claws get caught in the plastic, preventing effective digging and burying of urine and feces. Also, urine can splash off the liner back onto the cat—an unpleasant experience that can make the cat avoid the litter box," she says.
2. Thoroughly clean the previously soiled areas. Probably nobody needs to tell you this twice. Cats, she says, will return to pee if the area smells like pee.
3. Make the previously soiled area unattractive to the pet. It doesn't have to be forever, but when you aren't sleeping in the bed, Garber says you could cover it with something like a shower curtain to make it a non-absorbent place the cat isn't going to be interested in.
4. Change the meaning of the place your cat has turned into a "bathroom." So your cat urinates on your bed or sofa? Start playing with your cat on the bed or sofa and give out treats there.
"She will eventually learn to associate the bed or piece of furniture with food instead of a toilet," Garber says.
5. Be patient. Tough to do if you've just opened your eyes and discovered you're unfortunately awake and not dreaming that you're lying in a swimming pool of urine.
Remember that punishing your cat won't get you anywhere and will only make your cat fearful and anxious, Garber says.
She suggests spending at least a month trying to retrain your cat, and if the problems persist, well, you could always hire a certified cat behavior specialist.