Cat Behavior

AAAAH! Why Does My Cat Keep Peeing on My Couch?

cat peeing on couch

Why do they do this? Your wonderful fur-child with the sweet boopable nose must totally hate you.

Why else would they keep peeing on what is literally the most expensive piece of furniture you own?

We love our fuzzbabies, but we need the peeing to stop. Here’s a quick guide to all you need to know about your cat peeing on your couch: why they do it, why it’s so hard to deal with, and what you can do about it.

The Why: Look For a Medical Reason First 

Putting aside the suspicion that cats are peeing on expensive furniture just because they can, one definite cause of cats peeing outside of their litter box might simply be a medical reason.

According to Dr. Adam Eatroff, director of the hemodialysis unit at the Los Angeles-based ACCESS Specialty Animal Hospitals, cats who suddenly start to pee outside of their litter box might suffer from bladder stones or an infection.

Both bladder stones and infections cause an intense feeling of needing to pee.

On the other hand, Dr. Eatroff suggests, your cat peeing on your couch could be an issue of anxiety and stress causing idiopathic cystitis, a bladder inflammation whose cause is not known.

Liver and kidney disease can cause your kitty to want to drink more, which inevitably means urinating more.

As veterinarians Debra Horwitz and Gary Landsberg point out, it might be time to take your cat in to see a vet, especially if your favorite buddy is on the older side.

That way, the vet can run a physical, a urinalysis, and do other tests to rule out medical issues.

Could There Be Some Practical Reasons? 

If you’ve ruled out kidney problems, age, or other medical reasons for your cat peeing on the couch, it’s always worth considering that there could be some completely practical reasons for it that are relatively easy to solve.

Just to be obvious, does your cat have access to a litter box? If you keep the litter box in the bathroom, can your cat get to an alternative place if the door is closed?

How about the box itself? The sides might be too high for a very young cat with teeny legs or an older cat with limited mobility to get over.

Also, have you considered that your cat may really dislike the litter box’s location?

For instance, if you put the litter box next to a dryer or washer whose thumping or slooshing sounds scare your cat, it’s understandable if they don’t want to do their business there.

One suggestion is to try moving the litter box to a different location, especially if your kitty has never regularly liked using the box in the place you have it now. Think about changing up the litter or getting another box with easier access.

Another Reason Why: Changes Make Your Cat Freak Out 

Another major reason cats pee on the couch (or anywhere but their box) is that they’re freaked out by changes.

Stress, anxiety, and a reaction to life events may be the cause of your cat’s bathroom deviations here.

If you’ve recently moved or acquired a new family member such as a new baby, new dog, or another cat, it’s stressful enough for you, but it’s also stressful for your kitty.

Your cat may not have to worry about making rent, but they also don’t have a lot of control over what happens to them.

Bottom line, if you have had some changes, your cat probably feels pretty unsettled.

Some veterinarians may recommend anti-anxiety medication to help treat your pet, but this is a solution you’ll need to discuss with a professional.

Easy Solution: Make the Litter Box Appealing 

You should definitely take a good long look at the litter box situation. Consider your cat’s access to the box, the ability to use it at will, the location, and even such important factors as general cleanliness. It may be time to ditch the smelly box and get a fresh one.

I’ve Changed the Litter Box. What Else Can I Do? 

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, here’s how to take cat elimination solutions one step further.

Let’s say you want to discourage your cat from using a particular area as a kitty outhouse.

Putting down sheets of crinkly newspaper, sandpaper, plastic, or even a nubby carpet runner placed nubs-up can discourage your cat from stepping there.

Another solution is that cats are great believers in the wise idea of not wanting to poop where they eat.

Placing food bowls in those zones sends the message to your cat, “Hey, this isn’t a bathroom.”

Finally, there’s a spray called Feliway that reproduces the smell of cat cheek secretions.

Sprayed on the surfaces you want the cat to avoid, it sends the chemical message that this place isn’t for soiling.

What If It’s More Than Just Pee — Its Spray? 

You know you’re in for an unpleasant cleaning situation when your cat (almost always a dude cat) backs himself up to the wall and let’s fly a stream of feline foulness.

Experts from the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine address this problematic issue.

Most of the time, cats spray to mark territory (like your couch, for example) in a house where there are multiple cats, usually unneutered.

One solution is to neuter and spay cats, which is a responsible choice anyway.

The presence of hormones trigger cats to spray, but neutering largely eliminates that as a problem.

Why Is Cat Pee So Difficult to Clean? 

If you’ve never had a cat, you probably think, “Oh, cat pee? No biggie! I’ll just wipe it off!” You can think about that. Then you find out the reality.

Cat pee is in a class by itself: a class that lingers long, long after the original event. Why is it so difficult to clean?

According to Vet Depot, the big culprit here is urea, a chemical in your cat’s urine.

Unless you deal with cat pee immediately, the area stays there until it gets broken down by bacteria, a process which releases ammonia, one of the major factors in cat pee smell.

The longer you leave the cat pee, the worse the odor gets. More bacteria grow, and as that decomposition process goes on, the cat pee breaks down into mercaptans, a chemical substance that also causes skunk stink.

Also, because of hormones, male cat pee usually smells worse than female cat pee.

Finally, cats just have more concentrated urine than other animals do.

What we have here is a recipe for chemical trouble. Unless you immediately address the cat-pee-on-the-couch problem, the processes of bacterial decomposition can make the scent situation pretty terrible.

How Do I Clean My Couch, Though? 

One of the best weapons in the scent war that you can use on carpets, cushions, mattresses, and yes, your couch, is an enzymatic cleaner.

These can be found at pet stores everywhere. The enzymes in the cleanser essentially wage a chemical counteroffensive against the components in cat pee.

The big offender is uric acid, which bonds to fabric and has a half-life of six years. The only thing that gets rid of it is enzymatic cleaner.

The enzymes essentially “unzip” the molecules, breaking them down into carbon dioxide and ammonia gas.

Directions on the individual enzymatic product will definitely vary, but most of them direct you to spray the cleanser right on the stain and — this is crucial — let it air dry.

Air drying is essential because the enzymes are turning the uric acid into harmless gases and letting them evaporate.

It’s also not enough just to spritz a little cleaner on the stain and hope it will work. Cat pee is pretty pervasive.

No, for your poor couch to smell like new again, you need to follow some pretty easy steps. 

  1. Blot up as much of the urine as you can before applying anything.
  2. Soak the area with lots of the enzyme cleanser.
  3. Let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes.
  4. Blot up the cleanser and leave it to air dry.

Bear in mind that if you’re dealing with an old stain, you may have to repeat this process.

A thick cushion like the ones on your couch may require more than one treatment as well.

If possible, take the couch cushion outside and soak it thoroughly with the enzymatic cleaner. Remember, the cleaner has to go everywhere the cat pee went.

So, I Can’t Just Use Soap and Water? 

If soap and water are literally the only things you have, it’s better than nothing, but the problem with cat urine is that it lasts and lasts. Again, it has to do with cat pee chemistry.

In cat pee, chemicals like urea and urobilin and pheromones aren’t a big deal to clean.

Your basic household cleansers like soap and water will clean them effectively, as will other homemade solutions like hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, and baking soda.

In fact, you’ll probably hear how these homemade solutions work to clean cat pee. Bottom line, though, they don’t.

It doesn’t matter. Ammonia, soap, hydrogen peroxide, chlorine, or baking soda just cannot break down the uric acid.

These cleaners temporarily make your couch smell better, but the minute your couch is exposed to water, like on a humid day, the uric acid salts re-form.

That’s why the cat pee smell comes back: it was never gone in the first place.

What Should I Definitely Not Do? 

First, you should definitely not clean your cat pee couch stain with ammonia. As Kitty Pee Chemistry 101 informs us, ammonia is a major component of cat pee smell.

By trying to clean with ammonia, you’re literally just making the problem worse.

Sometimes we can fight fire with fire, but we can’t fight ammonia with ammonia.

The other problem with ammonia is that when cats smell it, they’re actually more likely to go to that area in the future and re-use it as a DIY litter box. Whatever you do, put the ammonia away.

Next, don’t wait. Cat pee odor becomes stronger the longer you leave it. It’s not always easy to figure out that there’s a cat pee problem until you smell it, but if you know your cat has peed on your couch, acting fast is crucial.

It’s a great idea to buy enzymatic cleanser in advance so that you have it ready to go the moment you need it.

Is There a Helpful Video? 

Absolutely, there’s a helpful video. Going to YouTube or Vimeo for advice is helpful, but focus on videos that suggest using enzymatic cleaners.

Just as you want to get enzymatic cleaner beforehand to address a urine emergency immediately, it’s also a good idea to see a cleaning video in advance to know what steps to take.

This video gives specific suggestions for using an enzymatic cleaner to deal with cat pee on a couch.

The video makes some unique suggestions for getting the enzymatic cleaner deep into a cushion and for spraying the cleanser into the back of a couch or a wall.

So What’s the Bottom Line?

The bottom line for dealing with cat pee is that we have to understand why our cat decides to go somewhere besides the perfectly good litter box we’ve set up for them and how we can deal with the issue most effectively.

Understanding the causes of our cat’s behavior is the first step, especially if there’s a medical reason.

Then we need to look at practical solutions like keeping the litter box fresh, clean, and accessible.

Finally, dealing with stained carpets, pillows, cushions, or couches isn’t easy, but with a little bit of chemistry knowledge and some patience, you can have your couch be presentable to anyone.

Despite their occasional accidents (and their cat-titude) cat ownership is all about loving our fur babies!

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