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‘Stress made my cat pee on my bed’ – 10 ways to keep kitty calm and improve toilet habits

“My cat Betty has a urinary problem a few times a year and honestly I swear it's when I am stressed or unwell. It's like she has a sixth sense.”

A recent survey by Hill’s Pet Nutrition identified that 60% of cat owners had experienced their cats weeing outside the litter tray. If that statistic includes you, know that you are not alone.

Although there are many reasons to explain why cats might spray or urinate around the home, a lot of the time stress is the major trigger but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to forgive and forget.

In previous articles we have described how to stage litter tray interventions. Here, we’ll get to the root of the problem with tips to reduce stress and keep kitty cool, calm and collected.

  • 1.

    Don’t go changing….

    “When we go on holiday we have a cat sitter. Cat Two sprays when we get back to show his displeasure perhaps but settles back down when the suitcases are put away.”
    In cats, stress is caused by external factors that reduce the cat’s sense of security rather than some kind of existentialist angst. Keeping to regular routines and habits is a good idea and when change is inevitable (for instance when moving house, or bringing home a new baby), then put feline stress reduction strategies up there on your ‘to-do’ list.
  • 2.

    Open house

    “I tried to get my Kizzie to go outside - did the whole biz of moving the tray nearer and nearer the door. Once I put it outside he used the bath. What can I say!!!”
    While cat-flaps can be really handy in terms of fitting in with your lifestyle and allowing your cat free access outdoors, sometimes they can be a source of problems. For some cats, a cat-flap makes the indoors continuous with the outdoors. That means that all the threatening things going on outside, like new cats, or aggressive dogs, are perceived to present an equal risk indoors. Blocking up the cat-flap might not be enough for some cats to accept that the risk has passed and a new door without a cat-flap might be the only solution.
  • 3.

    Peace, love and pheromone diffusers…

    “I used a Feliway® plug in and spray and rubbed her favourite blanket against door frames in the new house to help her settle in and the problem resolved in a few days”
    Sometimes the place that a cat will wee on when stressed is the place it associates with your familiar and reassuring scent – so beds are often chosen. How else can we create that same feeling of reassurance and calming influence? One way is to use a plug-in, or spray pheromone diffuser that releases chemical messengers that tell the cat that all is right with the world.
  • 4.

    Create a secret chill out space

    When it all gets too much, being able to hide away is essential. Many cats like their safe haven to be up high on top of a piece of furniture, while others simply want a corner of a quiet room. Cat igloos, or a normal cat bed within a tent, or inside an upturned cardboard box with an entry hole, can all make brilliant hideaways. This will often turn into an area where your cat will go to when feeling especially stressed, or hankering for concealment (and is often the first place to look when searching for your cat to take it to the vets).
  • 5.

    Go back to basics

    In the face of a litter tray problem sometimes going back to basics is the best solution. Choose a calm, quiet room – preferably without external doors, or windows facing the busiest areas. Behaviourists sometimes call this an ‘unchallenging room’ as it shouldn’t contain anything that is likely to provoke a stress response.
    In this room your cat can learn to use the litter tray again without any distractions or fearful events. This is about re-training not punishment, so do still give your cat attention and company during the re-training period. Once things have settled down, allow access to the rest of the house a room at a time.
  • 6.

    Know that it starts in the womb

    A pregnant cat that is stressed can pass that on to her kittens, making for some stressy little personalities that need sensitive handling. The early experiences of kittens and the extent of their socialisation can also influence their response to stress in later life.

    When selecting a kitten or cat, be aware that they all have different quirks and know that if your cat is flaky, cooky, loopy or ‘temperamental’ they were possibly born that way, or made that way. All you can do is to try and accommodate them by being stress-aware.
  • 7.

    Always make sure you have a +1

    Make sure you have enough of everything – whether that’s litter trays, food bowls, water bowls, or toys. The general rule is one per cat plus a spare. It’s the best way to avoid cat-wars over prized resources.
  • 8.

    Don’t fuss!

    Giving too much or too little attention can be a stressor for your cat. Generally the more confident the cat, the more they will want to seek you out and fussing over a shy cat when it isn’t wanted, can push them away. Stand back and wait for your cat to come to you so that attention is only given when it is wanted.
    Cat mums and dads be aware: being too quick to offer comfort, or too effusive in the face of events your cat finds fearful, can also reinforce your cat’s belief that the event is indeed something that they need to be scared of. Ignoring the event or providing calm reassurance is a much smarter strategy for pet parents.
  • 9.

    Outdoors can be a scary place

    “New cats moved in near our house and our cat is an old boy, so he got stressed.”
    Don’t try to keep your cat to a time table for outdoor access because it suits your schedule. Especially in urban environments, cats may decide to clock-in at set times to avoid confrontations with local cats on different shifts.
    If you release your cat when the local cat-mafia are lurking then that’s going to be a major cause of stress. Allow your cat to timetable her own sessions outdoors and determine for herself whether she’s going to opt for splendid isolation, or meet up with the gang.
  • 10.

    Make life interesting

    “My cat started urinating a lot and litter tray used to be swimming, my cat was also eating more but losing weight. It turns out she had a problem with diabetes.”
    Going for calm routines doesn’t have to be dull. For indoor cats in particular, boredom and lack of stimulation can, in itself, be stressful. Put yourself in your cat’s paws and think about how your home can be made more cat-friendly. Timed feeding stations at various points around your home, toys, climbing platforms and bird feeders hung outside the window are all fantastic ways to make life exciting again. But do think twice before assuming that two’s company as cats in multi-cat households are most likely to experience stress-related problems.

Remember that stress is just one factor in the development of urinary problems in cats, so if in doubt, always check with your veterinary surgeon and seek urgent attention if your cat is having difficulty urinating.

If you’ve missed our previous posts and videos on feline urinary health, you can catch read, or watch them to catch up:

13 things you never knew about cat owners and cat pee

The golden rules of litter tray hygiene – how to have a happy cat and a cleaner house

Cat urine health - 12 ways to help keep your cat’s kidneys and bladder healthy

Video: 10 tips to relieve cat stress

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