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If your cat can’t help it, here’s what to do.

By Austin Cannon
December 31, 2020
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Illustration of red cat staring at a urine stain
Credit: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Cat incontinence can be a worrying, messy ordeal for a pet parent, but be sure not to blame your poor suffering kitty who really can’t control what’s going on. 

The symptoms of cat incontinence are straightforward: involuntary urination or leaking (urinary incontinence) and involuntary defecation or loss of bowel control (fecal incontinence). 

Your cat being unable to help it is the key indicator, says Alicen Tracey, DVM and member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board. When your cat is consciously peeing or pooping outside the litter box (you can tell if your cat is making the posture he normally does when going to the bathroom) it means that he’s not incontinent.

However, your cat might still be experiencing some kind of problem by going to the bathroom away from the litter box. Tracey says it could mean your cat is dealing with kidney disease, a UTI, or diabetes. Or it could indicate a behavioral issue—like separation anxiety—as well.

Instead, Tracey advises looking for the telltale signs of cat incontinence, like if your cat is peeing as he sleeps or if poop is coming out of his rear end as he walks. That’s definitely involuntary and needs attention.

Why Is My Cat Incontinent?

In Tracey’s experience, cat incontinence is “very rare,” which is why she worries that sometimes cat owners will think voluntary peeing or pooping in the house is incontinence.

“I haven’t seen or really even heard of it very much,” she says.

But she lists some causes of cat incontinence like feline leukemia and spinal damage or trauma.

Best Friends Animal Society also attributes incontinence to senility, renal disease, Manx syndrome (deformation of the spinal column), and other birth defects as causes of incontinence. So if your cat is incontinent, it’s likely he’s dealing with a major internal injury or illness.

VCA Animal Hospitals writes that bowel incontinence can be caused by the rectum being unable to store the waste properly or the muscles that open your cat’s anus being stuck in the closed position.

Incontinent Cat Care and Treatment

To help a cat who has trouble going to the bathroom by himself, you can learn to express his bladder or colon, Tracey says. You should consult your cat’s veterinarian to learn how, but Best Friends also offers a guide for helping evacuate your cat’s bladder. (At its most basic, it involves finding and applying the least pressure possible to force the urine out. Again, talk to your vet first.)

There’s no medication that cures incontinence, but there are medicines, supplements, and food that can harden or soften stool, Best Friends says. (Ask your vet.) Cats with mild incontinence might not need any help, just a watchful eye.

Treatment for incontinence can only go so far, so it’s up to you to make your cat as comfortable as possible at home.

Creating a More Comfortable Home

You can start by adding more litter boxes to your home, Tracey says, to give your cat more chances to go in the appropriate place. You’ll also have to get used to bathing your cat regularly. It might be gross to think about, but Best Friends offers a step-by-step guide on how to give your cat “butt baths” that remove the bits of pee and poop caught on your cat’s fur. 

Then, the society says, it’s all about making your home easy to clean when your cat involuntarily goes to the bathroom. That means having extra, washable cat beds and blankets. Best Friends recommends placing washable blankets or cat pee pads on your furniture or window sills. Those can only do so much, though. If you really want to ensure a chair or couch’s survival, move it to a room the cat can’t access.

A standard half-vinegar, half-water solution will do fine to clean up a lot of urine accidents, otherwise, make sure to use a cat-safe cleaner when cleaning up after your cat.

Incontinence is a problem, certainly, but in some cases your cat will still be able to move and play like normal, so help him live his life the best he can.