Incontinence is the involuntary leakage of waste from your cat. Incontinence can involve the bladder, the bowels, or both. Incontinence is a physical problem, not a behavioral problem.
- Urinary Tract Infections are particularly common in senior cats and cats with conditions like chronic kidney disease and leukemia.
- Diabetes can strike at any age, but is more common in middle age and senior cats. Diabetic cats typically drink large amounts of water and can’t always make it to the litter box when the urge to urinate strikes.
- Bladder or Kidney Stones occur when the minerals in your cat’s body combine and crystallize into small, painful stones.
- Senility or Feline Cognitive Dysfunction can make it difficult for cats to remember how to perform common tasks and basic bodily functions. Cats with senility may become easily confused and forget where their litter box is located, or they may forget what to do when they get there.
- Cancer can cause incontinence if tumors develop on your cat’s bladder or the nerves/muscles that control elimination.
- Feline leukemia is highly contagious among cats, and has dribbling incontinence as a symptom.
- Injury or Trauma can cause incontinence, particularly if your cat has injured their lower back. Incontinence from an injury to that area could be the result of nerve damage or pain. Depending on the type of injury surgery may be an option.
- Deafness is a possible cause of incontinence that isn’t always considered. Deaf cats tend to sleep very soundly and may not wake up when they have the urge to urinate. A deaf cat with no other health issues may only be incontinent when they are sleeping. If hearing loss was gradual you may not have noticed the subtle changes in your cat’s behaviors as they adapted so you may not even know your cat is deaf.
- Medications or Surgical Procedures can both have side effects of urinary incontinence or diarrhea. Be sure to discuss the side effects of any medications or supplements your cat is taking with your vet. There may be more than one medication option and your vet can help you to find a more suitable treatment. Some surgical procedures can cause temporary or permanent incontinence. If your cat has had surgery and is now incontinent be sure to discuss this with your vet.
What Incontinence Looks Like
Incontinence isn’t always as obvious as giant puddles of urine around the house. Sometimes the symptoms of incontinence can be much more subtle. If your cat is incontinent you may notice:
- wet spots or pools of urine around the home
- wet spots on your cat’s bed
- your cat often has wet fur around their legs and lower abdomen
- your cat typically has moist genitals
- your cat has redness, heat, or other signs of inflammation around their genitals
- your cat has symptoms of a urinary tract infection, such as frequent urination in small amounts or repeat trips to the litter box without urinating at all
- a strong smell of urine on your cat’s fur
- your cat often has feces on the anus or the back legs
Help Your Cat First
Any time your cat has an accident there are a few steps that you should follow.
- Stay calm. This is probably the most important thing you can do for your cat. They might already be feeling uncomfortable or afraid of their accident. Remaining calm will reassure them that they are not in trouble and everything will be okay.
- Check your cat to see if they need to be cleaned up. If they have urine or feces stuck to their fur it will be uncomfortable and distressing for them. If they need grooming assistance you can help them out.
- Clean up the area. Remove all soiled materials and clean up any stains or smells that may have been left behind. You can use either commercially available cleaning products designed to remove urine and feces odors, or a solution of vinegar, baking soda, and water.
- Wash your hands.
- Reassure your cat that everything is okay and they are not in trouble. A stressed cat is more likely to have another accident than a calm cat.
Your cat will try to hide the evidence of their accident. Be sure to closely monitor your cat and keep them as clean as possible. If your cat is having accidents and then grooming the evidence away they can be ingesting quite a lot of urine or feces. If this happens frequently they can become very ill.
Your cat may also become stressed or afraid in relation to using the litter box because of their accidents. Maintaining a calm, stress-free environment will be helpful in reducing the risk of stress-induced incontinence events.
Seeking appropriate medical treatment for your kitty is the first step in dealing with incontinence of any kind. The cause of your cat’s incontinence will determine what treatment options are open to you.
If your cat is diabetic your vet may prescribe a diet change and an exercise routine in addition to insulin therapy.
Medications appropriate to your cat’s condition may be prescribed. In the case of a urinary tract infection the medication will be an antibiotic. Topical ointments may also be prescribed if your cat has inflamed genitals.
Depending on your cat’s medical condition surgery may also be an option, or may even be required in some cases.
Whatever treatment plans your vet may recommend, follow their advice. Both you and your cat will be grateful if you can get their incontinence under control.
Around The House
If your cat is unable to make it to the litter box when they have the urge to pee then you may need to make adjustments to the number, size, and/or location of your litter boxes.
Having one litter box in every room will increase your cat’s chances of making it to the box before an accident occurs. Keeping the box closest to the area in the room where they spend the most time will increase those chances even more.
Evaluate the placement of the boxes in each room and make sure there are no obstacles that would slow your cat down in their attempt to reach the box.
If your cat can make it to the box but not inside the box before an accident then you may need to modify your boxes so they’re easier to access. Cats with mobility issues may need boxes with very low edges. You can either purchase these types of boxes, or cut down the edges on your existing boxes.
This tutorial video shows how to make a box from a storage tub, but you could easily use these same steps for cutting down the edges on your existing boxes.
In some instances it may also be a good idea to change the kind of litter you use. If your cat often has wet legs or genitals, or if your cat has trouble standing/squatting properly in the litter box you may want to change from using a clumping litter to using a non-clumping litter. Pellet-style litters, from newspaper, pine, or other materials may work better for your cat.
Protecting your furniture from the results of your kitty’s incontinence will be very important, unless you want your entire home to feel and smell like an unkempt litter box. Here are some things you can add that will protect your furniture and make cleanup of any accidents a bit easier:
- Waterproof covers for couch, beds (yours and theirs), any other upholstered furniture
- Puppy pads, either disposable or washable varieties
- These can be placed on furniture, near litter boxes, and anywhere kitty likes to sleep
- If using the disposable kind you may want to put a towel, sheet, blanket, or something similar over the top. This will help keep the lightweight pad in place when your kitty moves around on top of it.
- Small throws / lap blankets on all furniture for easy cleaning
- Use 2-3 separate layers for even easier cleaning. If one layer is dirtied just remove it and you have more layers underneath
- When purchasing new cat furniture like trees, baskets, or beds, make sure every spot where kitty would sleep has removable, washable cushions
Be sure to keep a constant supply of any furniture protective materials available. You can typically purchase blankets, throws, and possibly even washable absorbent pads (look for baby diaper changing pads) from local thrift stores.
If you’re crafty you can make your own washable pee pads.
Expressing The Bladder
Some cats may need assistance with expressing their bladder, or even their bowels. This video has a pretty good explanation of how to express both. Manually expressing your cat’s bladder or bowels can reduce the risk of an accident.
Diapers may be a good option for keeping your cat and your home clean if your cat has frequent accidents.