Cats will be cats. They do things that simply don’t seem to make any sense – unless you happen to be a cat.
Take peeing on plastic bags, for example. What could possibly be the reason for such a strange habit?
Since we are not cats, we are left to speculate, observe, propose theories, and do our best to decode the truth.
In this article, we look at the most popular theories about why cats urinate on plastic bags and other items that are not their litter box.
Why Do Cats Urinate On Plastic Bags?
As this cat owner Reddit thread highlights, finding your cat peeing on plastic bags is a fairly common cat owner problem. There are a variety of theories about why cats do this. It could be that the plastic material of the bag smells like the plastic of the litter box.
Another theory is that the bag has a scent that the cat is trying to cover up by “marking” the bag with urine. Still another theory is that the cat is not pleased with the litter box situation and is deliberately urinating somewhere else.
The truth is, there isn’t just one single reason why cats urinate on plastic bags. The key is to look at the whole situation through your cat’s eyes and this will help you figure out why it is happening and how to stop it.
Cats and Plastic Bags: It’s Complicated
As this YouTube compilation video highlights, when it comes to cats and plastic bags, it is clearly a complicated situation.
On the one hand, plastic bags seem reliably fascinating to cats. A cat has no frame of reference for a plastic bag itself, but with their keen hearing, the crinkly sound may mimic the sound of insects or small prey moving about.
It is also important to be aware that plastic bags can be dangerous to cats. Many cats have gotten trapped inside plastic bags or have gotten tangled up in them while trying to investigate what that strange material might be.
Of course, this still doesn’t answer the question of why your cat might seem to favor peeing on plastic bags. So let’s take a closer look at that next.
Why Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box
As Preventative Vet points out, any time a cat starts peeing anywhere other than inside the litter box, the litter box is also the place to start decoding the problem.
There are a number of potential medical or behavioral reasons that could trigger a cat to start eliminating somewhere other than the designated litter box.
It is important for cat owners to know these reasons. This makes it much easier to take steps to prevent inappropriate elimination.
Cats, like their people, can have any number of health problems throughout life that might cause urinary incontinence.
Diabetes, urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney failure, cystitis, urinary obstruction, and other medical problems can lead to your cat peeing anywhere and everywhere but the litter box.
Unfortunately, once a cat has experienced pain or trauma while trying to use the litter box, this may mean your cat thinks the litter box is part of the problem.
This can then lead your cat to deliberately avoid the litter box because they are afraid to go back there again.
Other issues such as separation anxiety, a poor litter box location, a litter box that doesn’t feel safe or secure, a litter box with litter your cat hates and similar issues can also cause your cat to pee on plastic bags or elsewhere outside the box.
Dirty litter box
As Texas Coalition for Animal Protection points out, most cats really hate a dirty litter box.
If you stop to think about it, this makes so much sense. After all, people don’t like dirty toilets. So if the litter box maintenance isn’t up to par, your cat may well choose to urinate somewhere else, like on a plastic bag.
Crowded litter box
As VCA Animal Hospital explains, cats often like to have their own dedicated litter box.
This may mean that a single cat needs at least two litter boxes, especially if your home is multi-story.
For multiple cat households, you may need up to two litter boxes for each cat. This still may not completely solve the problem, but it is certainly worth a try to see if over-crowding is causing one or more cats to pee somewhere else outside the box.
Litter box not to your cat’s liking
There are all kinds of reasons why your cat may simply not like the litter box itself or the type of litter inside it.
Some types of litter may hurt your cat’s paws. Some litter boxes may feel too small, too large, too drafty, too stinky, too cramped….the list goes on and on.
Over time, a litter box can also take on residual odors and this may cause your cat to refuse to use it anymore.
It is always worth changing out the type of litter you are using and, if that doesn’t help, changing out the litter box to see if that entices your cat to use it again.
Is Your Cat Urinating Or Is It Something Else?
The position your cat is in when urinating can also help to decode the mystery of why your cat is peeing outside the litter box.
If your kitty seems to be spraying on vertical surfaces rather than down towards the floor, you could be seeing marking behavior rather than urinating (eliminating).
Feline marking is a way that cats identify their territory or turf. One common myth is that only intact male cats (non-neutered) will exhibit marking. But altered (fixed) cats do this as well.
It is more common in multi-cat households or in areas where outdoor cats may come into the yard and your cat responds to that turf invasion with marking/spraying.
What Is It About Plastic Bags That Causes Cats to Pee On Them?
As Atlantic Veterinary Hospital explains, some cats will choose to urinate on plastic bags because they simply prefer it.
Here, the preference may be because the plastic bag is softer than the litter inside the litter box. Or it could be that the plastic bag smells interesting or good to your cat.
Your cat may also just be fascinated with the plastic bag and pee on it as a way of telling other cats in the household (or you) that the bag is theirs.
If your cat is primarily peeing on reusable plastic bags or bags that you have used to bring home groceries, it could be that your cat is peeing on things that smell familiar, smell good, or smell like you.
And if the scent of the plastic bag is unfamiliar to your cat, then peeing on it masks the odor and eases feline anxiety.
Cat owners on the QVC forums mention how their cats (and their dogs) seem to head straight for anything plastic and pee on it.
Some cat owners mention that their cats’ fascination with plastic extends far beyond plastic bags to purses, suitcases, laundry bags, dry cleaning bags, and other plastic items.
Is There a Way to Keep Your Cat From Urinating on Plastic Bags?
Ultimately, the goal of most cat owners is to find a way to keep their felines from using plastic bags when they need to urinate.
Schedule a “well cat” exam
The first thing you always want to do is make an appointment with your feline veterinarian to have your cat examined. Kidney and bladder problems are sufficiently common that your cat may not be able to help to pee outside the litter box.
But what if your vet says your cat is perfectly healthy?
Offer a plain plastic litter box
Cats Anonymous Rescue & Adoption charity has an unusual suggestion – remove the kitty litter from a plastic litter box and just offer the plain plastic box for your cat to use.
The smell of the plastic and the smooth surface might just entice your cat to pee there instead of on other plastic items inside your home.
See the litter box situation through your cat’s eyes
If you think it is a litter box issue, start by spending some time observing your cat going into and out of the litter box. See if there is anything obvious you can notice that might be the reason your cat doesn’t like urinating in the box.
From there, you can try changing the cat litter or changing out the litter box to a different size or shape. If you have multiple cats, try adding more clean litter boxes to reduce odor and crowding.
Hide the plastic bags
If all else fails, hide the plastic bags so your cat can’t pee on them!