By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 27 December 2012)
There is a common misconception that cats urinate on their owners’ beds out of revenge or spite. In reality, urinating or defecating outside the litter box is usually caused by illness, anxiety, or problems with the litter box or litter.
The bed is often chosen by an anxious or ill cat because it’s a safe place, easy on the paws, and has the comforting scent of a beloved owner. Also, the cat may be trying to alert his owner to a serious psychological or physical problem, as the urine is sure to be noticed.
Reasons Why Cats Urinate on Beds
If a cat has started peeing on the bed, take him for a veterinary check-up to rule out urinary tract infections, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and other common medical problems that can cause litter box avoidance. If he’s given a clean bill of health, the problem is likely one of the following:
- Dirty litter box: Boxes should be scooped daily and washed weekly.
- Chemical smells: Use a mild detergent to clean the box and don’t use perfumed litter.
- Dislike of covered box: Remove the lid.
- Too much or not enough litter: Try different depths – most cats prefer a couple of inches.
- Sensitive paws/preference for a softer surface: Try a finer-grained litter.
- Recently changed box location or litter: Put things back the way they were and make changes gradually (move the box a few inches per day; mix the new litter in a little at a time with the old).
- Bad litter box location: Move the box to a quieter, low-traffic area of the home, away from food and water dishes.
- Territorial competition: In multi-cat households, each cat should have his own box, and cats should be neutered or spayed to prevent territorial marking.
- Other pets bother the cat while he uses the box: Place the box somewhere where the cat has a 360-degree view so that he won’t worry about being ambushed.
- Mobility issues: For elderly, very young, or mobility-challenged cats, switch to a box with lower sides and make sure it’s easily accessible (i.e., not up a flight of stairs).
- Litter box is too small: If the cat spends a lot of time scratching outside the box (floor, wall, etc.), he probably needs a bigger box; the box should be at least 1.5 times the length of the cat, not counting his tail.
- Cat is scared by animals seen through a window: If a bedroom window is at or near ground level, close the curtains to prevent the cat seeing other animals that trigger territorial marking or fear-induced urination.
- Cat has been declawed: Digging in kitty litter is excruciatingly painful for newly declawed cats, so only soft-paper-based litters should be used; anxiety over the surgery may also cause the cat to seek a comforting place to eliminate (some declawed cats have lifelong litter box problems).
- Stressful changes such as moving house, new baby or pet, restricted diet, less attention from a favourite person, or death of a loved person or animal: Provide extra attention and play therapy
- Anxiety due to inter-cat aggression: See How to Deal with Cat Conflicts for tips on stopping cat fights in multi-cat households
Don’t hit the cat, yell at him, or rub his nose in the urine. He won’t associate the punishment with the act, so it will just increase his anxiety and make the problem worse in the long run.
How to Stop a Cat Urinating on the Bed
Fixing the initial problem usually isn’t enough to stop bed soiling on its own. The targeted spot must be cleaned thoroughly, not just with regular washing products, but also with an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle or The Equalizer that removes all traces. Otherwise the scent will keep luring the cat back to do it again
.If it’s too inconvenient to keep the bedroom door closed, it may be necessary to use a deterrent until the habit is broken. Safe cat deterrents that can be placed on the targeted spot include:
- Plastic carpet runner, pointy side up
- Sticky Paws tape
- Motion-sensing devices that emit a burst of startling air when the cat comes near, such as the SSSCat
- Calming cat pheromone products, such as Feliway (not all cats respond to these products, but many do)
Because cats won’t normally urinate or defecate where they eat, feeding the cat on the bed (a plastic tray can be used to protect the bedspread) can also help to break the habit. Food dishes can be gradually moved back to their original spot after a few weeks, once the association between the bed and urination is broken. There are also special litters with herbal scents that are appealing to cats (such as Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract) that can help to lure cats back to the litter box.
In extreme situations, it may be necessary to confine the cat to a single room with food and water dishes at one end and the litter box at the other until the bad habit is broken. The cat can gradually be given access to more and more rooms when he is using his box regularly. The owner should spend plenty of quality time with the cat during this reconditioning period.
For more articles on the way cats think and the reasons why they do the things they do, visit the main Cat Psychology, Communication, and Behaviour page. For a full list of cat articles, see the main Cats page.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (2006). “Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling.”
- Cats International. (2007). “The Unabridged Guide to Litterbox Problems.”
- Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. (2009). “Feline House Soiling.”
- Nash, H., DVM, Drs. Foster & Smith. (2010). “Inappropriate Elimination (Urination, Defecation, Spraying) in Cats.”