- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
My cat Margot has always had an inconsistent relationship with the litter box. From the first few weeks when I had her as a “foster” kitten to just a few days ago as a 15-year-old housecat, she’s been occasionally peeing on my stuff.
Sound like a nightmare? It’s not so bad, I swear. Yeah, it’s frustrating to come home from an overnight trip and find a puddle of cat pee on the bed. But over time, I’ve learned to work around Margot’s habits and protect my belongings. I love her too much to give up on her, and at this point, we’re set in our ways: Margot’s gonna pee on stuff, and I’m gonna let her.
I first met Margot 15 years ago when I agreed to take in two semi-feral barn kittens who needed to be socialized in a temporary home. I was living in Chicago with my dog, Ralph the Girl, and thought I could handle foster kittens until they were adopted. Well, you can probably guess how the story goes: the kittens were cute, they got along with the dog, and I couldn’t bear to let them go. It wasn’t long before I decided to adopt them.
So when did the pee problem start?
For the first few days in my apartment, Margot and her brother Richie were understandably freaked out. Here they were in a big city apartment, surrounded by strange sounds and smells, and constantly having their space invaded by a gentle but curious young dog. They spent a lot of time hiding at the back of my closet, nestled in among my sweaters.
Over the course of a week or two, the kittens gained confidence and started hanging out in the rest of the apartment. One day, I went to grab a sweater out of the closet only to find that the whole stack of them was wet and stinky. It seemed the kittens had found a place to pee far away from the nosy dog. And even after the dog became her best friend, Margot had developed a preference for peeing in hidden spots.
In general, Margot prefers to pee on soft surfaces like blankets and clothes. But she can be creative. Here are some highlights from the past 15 years:
- Several suitcases
- An old roommate’s chair (to be fair, neither one of us liked the roommate)
- My homework
- My students’ homework
- On top of a plastic toolbox
- Inside a drawer
These are extreme cases. Most of the time, Margot pees in predictable spots that I can easily protect, like the dog bed or clean laundry left out for too long.
It’s pretty clear that Margot’s litter box issues are related to stress. The proof is in the peeing: every time she goes outside of the box, it’s tied to a recent change in her environment.
Some things that have triggered Margot to pee outside of the box:
- When I’ve been sick or upset
- After a big move
- After the vacuum has been used
- After I’ve changed laundry detergents
- When the litter box isn’t clean
- When I dare to take her to the vet
Although I can’t always identify the stressor that causes Margot to pee, I know she’s never doing it on purpose, or to “get back at me” for something. She’s reacting to changes in her environment, so my job is to keep her environment as stable as possible.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research into why cats pee outside of the litter box and tried all sorts of solutions.
Of course, I take Margot to the vet if it seems like her peeing is unusual or inexplicable. She’s never tested positive for a urinary tract infection or crystals, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.
I follow good litter box hygiene, scooping the boxes twice per day and following the “one litterbox per cat, plus one” rule.
Mostly, I try to minimize stress. Feliway diffusers and calming collars can be helpful. I make sure Margot always has a quiet place to hang out by herself when new people or animals come to visit. And because I don’t always know what the stressors are, even after all this time, I also try to “pee-proof” my house.
When I go out of town, I cover the bed and couch with plastic sheeting and put extra potty pads down in the bathtub. I leave an old towel in a box so she has a soft surface target that can go straight into the trash. I make sure she has a comfortable place to go potty and limit her access to other tempting spots.
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These days, Margot is a senior kitty with advanced kidney disease. She eats a prescription diet with extra water, and I administer subcutaneous fluids weekly. All that hydration means that she’s peeing more than ever—but she’s peeing inappropriately less and less. I suspect it’s because life is pretty calm: we’ve been in the same apartment for four years, and she seems to like the current litter box set-up.
My little pee demon has caused me a lot of stress and embarrassment over the years, but the good far outweighs the bad. Margot is a world-class sweetie. She flops over for belly rubs and makes the cutest little chirping sounds.
When Ralph got sick last year, Margot spent days curled up at her side, looking after the big dog who scared her so much when they first met. Of course, she peed on the bed several times after Ralph died, but who can blame her? I was upset, too.
The sad truth is, Margot might not be with me much longer. And although I won’t miss finding pee on my favorite sweatshirt after I leave the house wearing it (true story), I’m grateful for every part of our 15+ years together. Even the wet parts.