Elderly cat incontinence

With the help of Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner, we explore why your older cat might be peeing in inappropriate places – and what you can do to help tackle the problem.

If your elderly cat suddenly starts peeing inside your home, it’s a sign that something is amiss. But is it an intentional spray-marking behaviour, or a sign of an underlying health problem? Here, we explore the possible causes of inappropriate toileting, when to get help, and how to encourage your cat into better habits.

Spraying or urinating?

Cats of all ages and both sexes will spray urine to mark their territory – it’s a natural behaviour, and your pet’s way of leaving a scent message for themselves and for other felines. They will typically spray-mark in a standing position, backing up to a vertical surface and squirting a spray of urine, often while paddling their back legs and quivering their tail.

If, however, they’re simply urinating to relieve their bladder, cats usually squat and produce a sizable puddle in one spot. So if you’ve ever caught your cat peeing indoors, it may provide clues about whether the problem is behavioural (such as anxiety) or physical.

Why is my cat peeing everywhere all of a sudden?

If your cat has started leaving puddles around the house, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet in the first instance, to rule out a medical issue.

A common cause of inappropriate urination in younger cats is urinary crystals, which can cause cystitis. Urinary crystals may also be associated with a urinary tract infection, with both making your cat need to urinate more frequently. Cats can also develop cystitis due to anxiety and stress.

Older cats are more prone to problems such as endocrine disorders, feline dementia or sensory loss, all of which can cause heightened anxiety and therefore increase the urge to urinate or spray. Other diseases, such as kidney disease or diabetes, can cause an older cat to create more urine than normal, which might exacerbate the problem.

Genuine urinary incontinence (ie uncontrolled passing of urine) is rare in cats. It most commonly occurs if the spinal cord has been damaged due to injury or disease. This damage can result in neurological problems that inhibit the bladder’s ability to contract and empty itself properly. Your vet will be able to diagnose the problem and set up a treatment plan.

Cats are creatures of habit, and any change in your cat’s home environment can lead to stress, which can manifest itself in spraying or urinating inside. There might be a significant upheaval, such as the arrival of a baby or another pet, or it might be something less obvious, like a house redecoration. Sometimes it could be something outside, such as a new cat in the neighbourhood that has come into your own pet’s territory.

If your cat is unneutered, spraying could also be hormonally motivated. Older pets, in particular, can be more set in their ways and reliant upon a routine. If this is disturbed, it may increase their anxiety and therefore their urge to urine mark.

Don’t tell your cat off for this behaviour, as it might make them feel more anxious and make the problem worse. Your pet is likely spraying to try to feel secure by surrounding itself with its own scent, rather than because it is ‘misbehaving’. Here’s how to tackle stress-related spraying:

  • First of all, ask your vet to eliminate medical causes of inappropriate urination, such as urinary crystals or a bladder infection.
  • If these causes are eliminated, try to find out what is making your cat feel threatened and take steps to remove the threat. Try watching them for a while – note down when they spray and what the possible cause might be. If there is something outside causing the anxiety, try moving furniture so your cat can’t see out of the window.
  • If the spraying is occurring within the house, think about what may have recently changed. Could there have been dog or cat-owning visitors who might have brought in new scents?
  • If the spraying is sexually motivated, then neutering can help (and has a range of other health benefits, too).
  • Thoroughly clean away the urine your cat has sprayed with a solution made up of one-part biological washing powder or liquid to ten parts warm water. Don’t use ammonia-based products, as these smell a little like urine to your cat, and could encourage them to mark in the same spot again.
  • You can also place tall, solid scratching posts near previously sprayed areas to encourage your cat to mark by stropping – scratching the post – rather than spraying.

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