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We have two cats who are litter trained, but one of them occasionally pees on rugs or linens instead. According to my fiancée, the cat was accidentally toilet trained on a towel as a kitten, and now she likes to pee on towels and similar things like rugs and blankets. While she did manage to re-train the cat to use litter, the cat will revert to peeing on linens occasionally, especially in times of stress. How can we reinforce the cat’s litter training and discourage peeing on rugs and linens?

Note that we have already removed most of the rugs from the house, so the cat doesn’t have many opportunities to pee on them. However, the bathroom is becoming a problem, as we need towels or rugs on the floor while bathing, and the cat has peed on them twice this week. Strangely, the cat seems to leave the kitchen floor mats alone – I don’t know what’s different about those.

Likewise, we keep the bedroom door shut when we’re not in it, so that the cat can’t pee on the bed. Unfortunately, that’s getting to be a problem too, as the cats will sometimes hide in the bedroom so that we can’t shut them out of it. This all would be much easier if we could just trust the cats not to pee on fabric – especially because the whole house has hard floors, and it’s more comfortable with rugs.

I don’t know whether this is relevant, but the cat has done this right in front of me several times. Unfortunately, I know just enough to recognize when the cat is about to pee but now how to stop it. I grew up with dogs and know how to shoo them before they pee, but it doesn’t seem to faze this cat.

Related: “How can stop my adult cat from urinating in inappropriate places?” but in this case, the behavior is not new, and the cat was accidentally trained to pee in the inappropriate place.

  • I suspect the answer will be about not triggering the regression to earlier training (peeing on towels) as well as making sure you pick up after yourselves (no opportunities). Is the inappropriate elimination always in times of stress, or just mostly? – Zaralynda May 8 '14 at 23:51
  • @Zaralynda Unfortunately, the cat will also pee on towel-like things, like rugs on the floor or (very rarely) blankets on furniture, so the zero-opportunity approach isn't really practical. I'm not sure how strong the stress connection is, but the cats are definitely under stress right now, as my fiancée is in the process of moving into my home. The cats moved in a couple of months ago and generally adjusted well, but there's still a lot of chaos at home. – Bradd Szonye May 8 '14 at 23:56
  • @Zaralynda Thanks for the feedback; I expanded the question to address some of it. And according to my fiancée, the towel peeing is mostly but not entirely in times of stress. – Bradd Szonye May 9 '14 at 0:12
  • Moving is VERY stressful for cats, so I'd start with addressing that. I wrote some on how to reduce stress on this answer to give you a place to start until we get a proper answer written. – Zaralynda May 9 '14 at 0:28
  • @Zaralynda Thank you! I also passed on some of the advice from the linked question to my fiancee, like leaving the litter boxes uncovered and making sure there are enough of them for pee and poop. But we also have the problem of the cat being trained on the wrong thing. (As a kitten, there was a lost towel on the floor near the litter box, and my fiancée didn’t know about it until the cat was already well trained on the towel.) – Bradd Szonye May 9 '14 at 0:51
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Even though you have good reason to suspect that the problem here is behavioral, the first step should always be a through checkup with your vet. Inappropriate elimination can have several medical causes. Feline interstitial cystitis, in particular, is an inflammation of the bladder walls that is thought to be caused by stress (which can be caused by moving).

In addition, if you believe that the inappropriate elimination is caused by stress (especially a big stress like moving), your vet may be able to give you some medications that will help. Many of these medications can be made into a dermal gel that will get rubbed into their ears, so there's no additional stress to medicate the cat.

The next step is realizing that your cat is behaving this way for some purpose. Towels and linens are more acceptable than the litter box for some reason. The goal is to make the litter box the most appealing option. Look at the difference between each elimination site and the litter box and see if you can make the litter box more like the elimination site. The series of questions I would consider:

  • Location of the litter boxes versus frequent elimination problem. Does it seem like your cat wants to go in a particular room or rooms? Perhaps you should put a litter box there.
  • Cleanliness. If there's waste in the litter box, that's a deterrant to some cats (one of ours refused to use the box if anyone else had used it until we totally washed the box and put in fresh litter).
  • Comfort of the litter substrate. Linens/towels are much softer than most clay based litters, and may be uncomfortable on the paws (especially if the cat was declawed). Switching to pine or newsprint may help. (As a note, if you are using a litter liner, stop, they are disruptive to the digging process)
  • Safety. If the litter boxes are tucked away in some corner with no sight lines where it's easy to get cornered, your cat may feel unsafe going there. Try adding more boxes in an open area.
  • Odor.
    • Litter Box - This can be related to cleanliness, but can also be affected by perfumed litters or cleaners. In short - don't use any scents around your cat's litter box.
    • Towels - Many cats find citrus repellant, so you could try a citrus detergent or fabric softener for your towels to see if that helps. I wouldn't suggest it on your rugs or bed because you don't want to make them uncomfortable in your house totally.
    • Previous accident sites - make sure that you throughly clean any previous accident site with an enzyme cleaner and check with a blacklight afterwards to make sure that any trace of the scent is gone. If your cat smells urine there, it will just encourage him to urinate there again.
  • Shape of litter box. This is related to safety/odor. A closed litter box is easier to get trapped in, and holds the odor, so generally open litter boxes are better.

Since you believe stress is a factor, I would suggest working to reduce stress in your household. Moving is a VERY stressful time, and cats need consistency! Here are some suggestions:

  • Try providing different sleeping places. A cat's ideal sleeping place is warm (sunbeam, covered house, thick bedding), with a good view (think elevated - a wall shelf, a cat tree, or a wide window ledge perch), and often partially secluded (again, a covered bag/house, or thick bedding)
  • Make sure your cat has pathways through the house so that he can travel through the house without confronting anyone (human, cat, or any other pets you may have). Usually these paths are elevated to promote a sense of safety in the cat. A good resource is Jackson Galaxy's Catification pages, but the main idea is to make sure there are pathways and no deadends).
  • Reduce the competition for resources among your cats. Start feeding your cats separately to reduce the feeling of competition among them for food. Also add more water bowls/fountains to different locations in your house. Make sure you have at least one more litter box than you have cats (so, 2 cats = 3 litter boxes).
  • Make sure you spend enough time in interactive play (with each cat). This utilizes their hunting skills and helps keep their minds sharp. If one cat is bored and attacking the other cat, this will help reduce the number of attacks/harassment.
  • Have a consistent schedule as much as possible. Try to feed them at the same time each day, play at the same time each day, and snuggle on the couch at the same time each day. If they can count on these interactions, their stress level should decrease.

In addition, some folks have seen good results with pheromone treatments like feliway, or herbal treatments like rescue remedy.

Finally, you'll have to remove opportunities for inappropriate elimination as much as possible. Make sure you pick up after yourselves. If getting the cats out of the bedroom is a problem, train them (to voice or clicker) to leave the room (it takes us about a year to train a cat to respond to a vocal "out", but we don't use special training sessions, just tell them "out" and pick them up when they don't walk out themselves).

One of our girls will urinate on towels/bath mats if left in the bathroom near her litter box, so we used Ikea Runnen to make a bathmat (ran out of tiles on the right and haven't gotten back to the store). As an added benefit, the litter falls through the gaps so it's neater than a traditional mat, too.

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  • Thank you for all of the suggestions! I know that my fiancée has already tried some of these things, like cat pheromones, but we will talk this weekend about what else we can do to help the cat, and this answer will be a big help! – Bradd Szonye May 10 '14 at 0:01
  • Very good answer, especially the point that changes in litterbox habits call for a trip to the vet. Urinary problems are very common in cats, and can be lethal or require ongoing treatment (daily infusions) if not caught quickly. – keshlam Jan 4 '15 at 20:38
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It can be a huge problem and I suspect you can only diminish the frequency of the occurrences.

1) eliminate the smell on the items that have been peed on, on carpet you might be out of luck but on towels, linens, things you can throw in the washer... detergent and "percarbonbate" might remove the odor. Remember that cats have a much keener sense of smell than we do and they will be attracted to pee on a surface they've done that before.

2) give a loud warning if you see "precursor" behavior, stopping to sniff an area especially if you see the "flehmen" (where the mouth is slightly open, they look like they are sneering and they are actually drawing scent into their nose and the VO organ at the top of the mouth

3) reduce opportunities. Closing doors (which you indicate you try to do) is a good way to cut them off at the pass. With the bathmat can you hang it up on the shower rod between uses? If you can't close the bedroom door you could put a sheet of impermeable plastic over the bed (they probably won't want to pee on such a surface but if they do it won't get on the sheets)

4) reduce the stress... moving is very difficult for cats, probably giving them more attention (provided they aren't telling you guys to go away), more food and drink, a bunch of cardboard boxes, extra play time, extra treats.... anything to reduce their stress level

The kitchen mats probably aren't as interesting if they aren't as soft or absorbent. If a cat feels the need to puke or pee out of the litter box they don't want the stuff splashing up at them, so they like a good soft surface that will take it right in.


I've had issues with cats peeing out of place for several reasons:

1) territory squabbles / marking

2) UI infections

3) senility / old age ...

In general I'd suggest checking for a UI tract infection, but if this is a moving it is most likely stress from the moving.

Good luck

  • Thanks, especially for #2, as I can tell when the cat is about to pee but don’t know how to stop her from it. We do hang up the bathmat already, but of course the cats like to follow us into the bathroom! I guess we will have to start locking them out until we finish moving, at least. – Bradd Szonye May 9 '14 at 1:21
  • @BraddSzonye - if you catch the cat about to pee where she shouldn't, pick her up and take her to the litter box, then pet her and tell her what a good kitty she is for going where she's supposed to. It will take time and patience, especially with the stress of moving making things very different for her, but she should get the message that everything is happier when she goes in the box. – Kate Paulk May 9 '14 at 11:02
  • @KatePaulk Thanks for the tip! I actually posted another question for the specific issue of what to do when the cat pees in front of me, if you'd like to answer there. – Bradd Szonye May 10 '14 at 0:14

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