No one likes it when a cat starts eliminating outside of the litter box but the one place that really is difficult for cat parents to deal with is when kitty starts peeing on the bed. It seems to be the one location most cat parents take as a personal insult. As hard as it may seem to understand why your loving cat would suddenly view your bed as a litter box, it has nothing to do with spite or revenge.
Is Your Cat’s Behavior Anxiety Related?
Many times when the bed is the chosen area, there’s a good chance the behavior is due to anxiety. That anxiety can be due to many factors in the environment but before you start running through the list of what might be stressing your cat to the point where he feels he needs to pee on your bed, you first have to check other things off the list.
Time for Your Cat to Visit the Veterinarian
No matter where your cat has begun eliminating, if the location is not in the litter box itself, then the first step is have him checked by the veterinarian. A physical exam, including a urinalysis and any other appropriate diagnostic tests need to be performed to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause for the behavior. Even if you’re convinced it’s behavioral, don’t skip the important first step of ruling out medical issues because you certainly wouldn’t want your cat suffering. Additionally, it’s very common for a cat with a medical issue such as lower urinary tract disease, to avoid the box.
Make Sure the Litter Box Itself isn’t the Problem
It’s time to do a thorough evaluation of the litter box conditions. Let’s start with cleanliness. How often is the box getting scooped? It should be checked and scooped at least twice daily. It can be very stressful for a cat to have to deal with a dirty litter box. When I do consultations I come across many clients who are shocked to learn that scooping every other day isn’t adequate. Imagine if your toilet only got flushed every other day. It wouldn’t be pleasant, would it? For cats, the need for a clean toileting area is also rooted in survival. They eliminate away from their nesting area and then cover their waste so it doesn’t attract predators. Indoor cats retain this same instinct. A dirty, smelly litter box becomes a neon sign advertising to predators. The box should be scooped twice daily and then the litter should be completely dumped and the box scrubbed on a monthly basis. If you’re not using scoopable litter then the scrubbing schedule will have to be more frequent.
Look at the size of the box itself. Make sure you’ve matched the size of the box with the size of your cat. I know having a litter box in the house isn’t high on the list of attractive décor, but don’t skimp by getting a small box just so you can hide it in a corner. Your cat needs to be able to get into it comfortably. Ideally, the box should be 1 ½ times the length of your cat.
Another important thing to consider is whether you have provided an adequate number of litter boxes. You should more litter boxes than you have cats. At the very least, make sure the amount of boxes outnumber the cats by at least one.
Check the location of the box (or boxes). Maybe your cat tolerated it in an unappealing area for as long as he could and then decided he couldn’t take it anymore. Is the box in a noisy, insecure area? Or, is it hidden away so remotely that it would take GPS to find it? Did you move the box suddenly? Cats don’t like sudden changes. The box should be located in a quiet but easy to access area. In multicat homes, boxes should be scattered throughout the house so one cat doesn’t have to cross another cat’s path.
What type of box is it? If the box has a cover, that might be what’s bothering the cat. Some cats feel too cramped in a covered box. Covered boxes also hold more odor inside which can be offensive to a cat’s sensitive nose. In a multicat household, a covered box can become an ambush location because the cat inside the box has no escape route.
What’s Appealing to Your Cat About the Bed?
There are a number of reasons a cat may choose a cat parent’s bed for elimination, such as:
Elevation advantage. This is of particular appeal in a multicat household or one where the cat may feel threatened. It can also be a household where the cat is bothered by the dog. The elevation of the bed provides more of a visual advantage so the cat can more easily see the approach of an opponent. Since most beds are placed with the headboards up against the wall, the cat has the advantage of not having to worry about being ambushed from behind. He can eliminate on the bed and keep watch for any danger. From the cat’s point of view, the bed meets the requirements of litter because it’s soft and absorbent so when you add the safety element of elevation, it becomes an ideal spot for staying out of harm’s way when nature calls.
Pet Parent Absence. Because the bed is an object of concentrated scents of the cat parent, a cat may eliminate in that location if the human family member’s schedule has changed or there’s a longer-than-normal absence. It’s not a way of getting back at the cat parent, but rather, a self-soothing behavior that relieves some the separation anxiety. It may be comforting for the cat to mix his scent with the cat parent’s scent.
Conflict. If there’s a new significant other now sharing the bed or if the cat has been having trouble bonding with one of the cat parents, he may eliminate on that person’s side of the bed. This mixing of scents may be self-soothing to the cat and may also be a way of trying to communicate information about himself.
Appealing Substrate. Sometimes it just comes down to the fact that the particular comforter or blanket material texture is very appealing, especially if the current litter box conditions aren’t. The type of bedding may be the perfect softness or texture for elimination. From a cat’s point of view, it meets the requirements of litter – soft, absorbent and clean.
Unexpected Change. In the case of a move to a new home, the cat may be having trouble with the new litter box location. The cat parent’s bed is a source of familiar and comforting scents. Even renovation or just household upheaval could result in the cat choosing to eliminate on the bed. If the cat doesn’t feel safe in the house (maybe due to the addition of another cat), he may choose to camp out in the cat parent’s bedroom for safety. When it comes time to eliminate, the soft bed meets all requirements and has that elevation benefit for added safety.
Reclaiming Your Bed
After you’ve had the cat to the veterinarian and have also carefully re-examined the cat’s litter box set-up, it’s time to look at what environmental factors could be contributing to the problem. If it’s a textural issue, try switching to a different type of comforter. Look for one that has a completely different feel than the current one. You may even have to keep your bedroom door closed during the day to limit access to the temptation of being on the bed. To limit the risk of more damage done to the bed should the door be open, you can keep a shower curtain liner on top of it.
Normally, I advise cat parents not to conduct play sessions on the bed because it may send a mixed message to the cat about pouncing and soliciting play during the night. In the case of a cat eliminating on the bed though, it may help to do a little playtime there so he starts to view the location as somewhere fun and positive. You can also offer treats in that location.
Address multicat issues. The cat may not feel safe enough venturing out of the bedroom in order to get to the litter box. Make sure you have an adequate number of boxes scattered around and work to improve the relationship between the cats. This can involve providing more resources, increasing hiding/perching options, and in some cases, you may need to do a reintroduction of the cats.
Address conflicts the cat may have with other family members. If the cat is having trouble bonding with a new significant other, then it’s time to set up a program where that person starts doing the feeding, treat-giving and some of the playtime. This will help change the cat’s association with the new person.
If the problem is due to long absences by you, it’s time to up the fun factor in the house so the cat has opportunities for playtime and exploration when he’s alone. This is where environmental enrichment is important. Set up a cat tree near a window, make use of puzzle feeders and toys, calming pheromone therapy, use cat entertainment videos and music. Be creative to provide a more interesting environment. Additionally, improve the quality of the time you do spend with the cat when you’re home. Make sure you get in a couple of great interactive play therapy sessions every day.
If the cat is lonely, it may be time to think about adopting another cat so he’ll have a companion. If you do this, make sure you have the time to dedicate to doing a proper introduction though.
Need More Information?
Here are helpful links:
If you need more specific information on dealing with a litter box issue, refer to books by Pam Johnson-Bennett, including the latest release, CatWise. For help with multicat issues, read Cat vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett. Remember to have your cat checked by veterinarian whenever he stops using the litter box or there’s a change in behavior. This article is not meant as a substitute for veterinary care. Litter box problems can also be very confusing for cat parents to deal with so if you don’t feel you can handle the problem on your own, ask your veterinarian for the referral to a qualified behavior expert.
Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.