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Why Would a Cat Pee in the Bathtub, Sink or Shower?

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The practice of keeping pet cats indoors has increased over the last few decades. We’ve gotten so used to the concept that sometimes we forget that cats are animals with their own set of social behaviors. We expect them to do as we ask by only peeing and pooping in one designated area–a litter box. We shouldn’t be too surprised that an animal would not always follow our rules.

Why would a cat pee in the bathtub, sink or shower? As a vet the first thing I want to know is whether the cat has signs of bladder inflammation. It’s not unusual to find blood in the urine with diagnostic urinalysis even if you can’t see it with the naked eye. 

You may hear the term “inappropriate urination,” but it’s really only inappropriate in a human’s opinion. The cat probably thinks it’s perfectly appropriate to pee in the tub!

Why Would a Cat Pee in the Bathtub?

Let’s talk about how veterinarians approach this problem… 

Urinary Tract Disease 

I can’t tell you the number of clients who have brought their cat in for a “UTI” when they started peeing outside the litterbox. UTI stands for urinary tract infection but most cats with bladder inflammation do not have an infection. 

Bacterial bladder infection is found in only about 2% of cats with urinary tract symptoms who are under 10 years old. (3)

While a senior cat is more likely to have a bacterial infection, the most common cause of bladder inflammation in cats under 10 years old is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). This syndrome is characterized by inflammation of the bladder, increased urgency and frequency of urination and blood in the urine. It has been the subject of lots of research but the bottom line is that we still don’t know what causes FLUTD.

We’re not sure why cats with FLUTD often urinate outside their litter tray. It’s possible they come to associate the litter box with pain. Some people theorize that cats with bladder pain like to urinate in the bathtub, sink or shower because the cool surface is soothing. In my experience, it is a fairly common thing for cats with FLUTD to pee in the bathtub. 

long haired tabby cat in a bathtub (why would a cat pee in the bathtub?)
Don’t ask… I have my reasons!

Normal Marking Behavior

Urine marking is a normal part of cat behavior. We humans would prefer they never engage in this sort of marking and spaying and neutering significantly decreases the behavior. 

Both male and female cats are known to urine mark. It usually involves spraying pee on a vertical surface. Many people describe a little “pee-pee dance” the cat does in which they back up to the vertical surface and shake their tail before spraying urine. 

Cats who pee on horizontal surfaces outside the litterbox are probably not marking. They could be just urinating to empty their bladder if it’s a large amount of urine and they scratch the area before and/or after peeing. 

But if a cat is urinating small amounts on horizontal surfaces without scratching or covering behavior, that’s cause to suspect bladder inflammation. 

Litter Box Problems

When they live outside, cats don’t pee and poop in a plastic box filled with smelly gravel. Your cat might be peeing in the sink, tub or shower because it seems nicer than her litter box. 

The fact that house cats are willing to use a litter tray indoors is kind of amazing when you think about it. It’s not surprising to me that some cats have strong preferences for litter box size, location, litter type and cleanliness. 

Studies have shown us that cats prefer litter boxes that are larger than the size humans think is appropriate (2). Maybe cats see a bathtub as a large litter box? 

One group of researchers found cats with a history of eliminating outside a litter box didn’t scratch and paw as long as cats who always used the box for elimination. (4) One interpretation of this data is that cats who pee or poop outside the litter box didn’t like using the box for some reason. 

Other factors that might turn your cat off to using a litter box:

  • Too much competition for litter box-provide one more litter box than the number of cats living in your home.
  • Doesn’t like litter type in box-try making a kitty litter cafeteria by placing different types of litter in several clean boxes to see which your cat uses most often. Try different textures of litter including a fine, sand type. Also, try Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract litter–this stuff works!
  • Doesn’t like litter box location-experiment with placing a box where your cat spends a lot of time, in a quiet area and in a social area. Try placing litter boxes on all levels of your house. 
  • Doesn’t like open or covered box–try different types of boxes. Some cats like a covered box while others like an open box. 
  • Doesn’t like the cleanliness of box-scoop cat poop and pee out of the box daily. Completely empty the box and clean it with soap and water weekly. 

How Do I Stop My Cat from Peeing in the Bathtub?

If you’re looking for a solution to stop your cat from using your bathing area as a toilet, read on!

Diagnose and Treat Disease

The first step to stopping your cat peeing in the bathtub is to test for the presence of medical issue like urinary tract disease and treat it appropriately. For this, you have to take your cat to see the vet. Tests will likely include a urinalysis but may also include abdominal x-rays, urine culture and blood tests. 

If all the tests are normal, your vet will make recommendations to treat the issue as a behavioral problem. It might be worthwhile to consult a veterinary behaviorist-especially if you’ve already tried your vet’s recommendations without improvement. 

I’ll outline a few more ideas for you to consider in addition to the litter box changes I mentioned earlier. 

Reduce Stress

Believe it or not, it can be stressful for a cat to live their entire lives confined to a house or apartment. And when you add multiple cats to the mix, some level of stress is almost guaranteed.

You can make your cat’s life happier and less stressful by providing environmental enrichment. That’s a fancy term for saying make your home into a Disneyland for cats. Just kidding! But seriously, a few well-placed climbing structures, hidey holes and interactive food toys can make a huge difference to a cat’s psyche. 

I recommend you read through the recommendations provided by OSU’s veterinary school on the Indoor Pet Initiative website. 

Avoid Punishment

It’s understandable for a cat owner to get frustrated by cats who don’t want to use their litter pan. But it’s very important not to punish cats for peeing when you don’t want them to pee. 

Don’t use a spray bottle. Don’t spank them. And don’t even shout at them. They don’t understand exactly what you’re trying to tell them. All these punishments can actually make the problem worse by adding to their stress level. 

Use Repellants & Restrict Access

Some temporary solutions to prevent cats from peeing in the tub, shower or sink include:

  • Keep the door to the bathroom closed
  • Keep a few inches of water in tub/shower/sink
  • Place citrus air fresheners or soap with a strong perfume scent in the area
  • Place aluminum foil or plastic drop cloths on surface
  • Place cat deterrent mats in the tub or shower (Amazon sponsored link)
  • Place SSScat compressed air with motion sensor in the area (Amazon sponsored link)
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How to Remove Cat Urine Odor from Bathtub

You need to remove the cat pee odor from the tub/shower/sink not only for your own sanity but also avoid attracting the cat to urinate in the same area again. Cat pee has a very distinctive odor that might not wash away with soap and water. (1) I recommend using an enzymatic cleaner such as:

  • Feline Odor Neutralizer
  • Outright Pet Odor Eliminator
  • Anti-Icky Poo
  • Nature’s Miracle

Make sure you don’t use any cleaners with ammonia as it may smell like urine and attract the cat to keep peeing there. 

Finally, keep the rest of the bathroom very clean, especially the toilet. While there is no scientific evidence to support this, I sometimes wonder if cats like to pee in the bathroom because they smell human pee there!

Summary

Why would a cat pee in the tub, shower or sink? The first thing that springs to a vet’s mind is bladder inflammation. But the behavior can also be a result of surface preference or social cues. 

References

  1. Beaver, B. V., Terry, M. L., & LaSagna, C. L. (1989). Effectiveness of products in eliminating cat urine odors from carpet. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 194(11), 1589-1591.
  2. Guy, N. C., Hopson, M., & Vanderstichel, R. (2014). Litterbox size preference in domestic cats (Felis catus). Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 9(2), 78-82.
  3. Lekcharoensuk, C., Osborne, C. A., & Lulich, J. P. (2001). Epidemiologic study of risk factors for lower urinary tract diseases in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 218(9), 1429-1435.
  4. Sung, W., & Crowell-Davis, S. L. (2006). Elimination behavior patterns of domestic cats (Felis catus) with and without elimination behavior problems. American journal of veterinary research, 67(9), 1500-1504.

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