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  • Writer's pictureVetMed Team

Cat Incontinence: Cat Peeing Out of the Litter Box?

Incontinence in cats often comes as a surprise to pet owners, especially given a cat's usually fastidious grooming and litter-box habits. When your feline companion starts showing signs of involuntary urination or even defecation, concern is natural. Incontinence not only disrupts the daily routine of your pet but can also be a red flag for underlying health issues. This article aims to shed light on cat incontinence, discussing its various aspects from symptoms to causes and treatment options. The objective is to provide you with essential knowledge to manage this condition effectively, including when to seek professional veterinary help for your feline friend.

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What is Urinary Incontinence in Cats?

Incontinence refers to the involuntary loss of control over urine or feces, which can happen to cats at any age but is more common among seniors. Contrary to purposeful accidents or behavioral issues, incontinence is often a symptom of underlying medical problems that require immediate attention.

Symptoms can range from small dribbles of urine to complete emptying of the bladder or involuntary defecation. These incidents often occur when the cat is relaxed, lying down, or even asleep, and it may be as surprising to the cat as it is to you. You might notice wet spots where your cat has been sitting or lying, or that its rear end is wet or soiled.

Recognizing incontinence as a medical issue rather than a behavioral one is the first step towards appropriate treatment and improved quality of life for your cat.

What Causes Incontinence in Cats?

Understanding the root causes of incontinence in cats is crucial for effective treatment and management. Incontinence is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom of an underlying issue. Multiple factors can contribute to this condition, and in some cases, it may be caused by a combination of issues. Below are some of the most common causes:

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Infections in the urinary tract can irritate the bladder, leading to involuntary urination. UTIs are often treatable with antibiotics, but they can cause significant discomfort for your cat.

Neurological Issues

Diseases or injuries affecting the spinal cord or brain may interfere with the neural pathways controlling urination. In such cases, incontinence can be a symptom of a larger, more concerning health issue.

Bladder Stones

Mineral formations in the bladder can cause blockages or irritations, leading to frequent urination or incontinence. These stones may require surgical removal or can sometimes be managed with dietary changes.

Anatomical Abnormalities

Deformities or malformations in the urinary tract can also lead to incontinence. This could be a congenital issue present from birth or the result of an injury.

Hormonal Imbalance

Especially in older or spayed female cats, low levels of estrogen can lead to a weakening of the bladder muscles, resulting in incontinence.

Age-Related Factors

As cats age, they may lose muscle tone or suffer from degenerative diseases that can lead to incontinence. Older cats are often more prone to this condition.

Medication Side Effects

Certain medications, particularly diuretics or corticosteroids, can lead to increased urination and potential incontinence. Always consult your vet about the side effects of any medication your cat is taking.

Understanding the underlying causes of your cat’s incontinence is the first step in treating this distressing symptom. Proper diagnosis is essential for effective treatment, and at VetMed, we offer comprehensive diagnostic services to get to the root of the problem.

What Are the Symptoms of Incontinence in Cats?

Identifying the symptoms of incontinence in cats is the first step toward getting them the proper care they need. Symptoms can range from subtle to more overt signs, but any deviation from your cat's usual toileting behavior should warrant attention. Here are the different symptoms, broken down into subsections for easier comprehension.

Urinary Incontinence Symptoms

  • Wet Spots: One of the most common signs is the presence of wet spots where the cat has been sitting or lying down. These spots are usually smaller in volume compared to a regular urination episode.

  • Urine Odor: A lingering smell of urine in areas where the cat frequently sits or sleeps is another symptom. This smell can become quite strong if the issue is not addressed promptly.

  • Wet or Soiled Rear: Your cat's rear end or the base of its tail might be wet or even soiled due to dribbling urine. Some cats will attempt to groom excessively to clean themselves, which can lead to skin irritation.

Fecal Incontinence Symptoms

  • Involuntary Defecation: Small or large amounts of feces may appear in places outside the litter box where the cat sits or sleeps.

  • Straining or Discomfort: The cat may show signs of straining or discomfort while attempting to defecate, indicating a possible underlying issue.

Behavioral Changes

  • Increased Litter Box Visits: Cats may make frequent trips to the litter box but be unable to urinate or defecate effectively.

  • Excessive Grooming: Over-grooming in the genital area could indicate that your cat is trying to clean itself to alleviate discomfort or irritation caused by incontinence.

  • Restlessness or Vocalization: Some cats become restless or vocal when experiencing incontinence. They may seem more anxious or disturbed than usual, pacing around or meowing more frequently.

Secondary Symptoms

  • Skin Irritation: Continual exposure to urine can cause skin irritation, leading to redness, inflammation, and possibly secondary infections if not treated.

  • Changes in Litter Box Behavior: Your cat may start avoiding the litter box, associating it with uncomfortable experiences. This aversion can exacerbate the problem as your cat may find less appropriate places for elimination.

Recognizing these symptoms early can pave the way for timely intervention, making it easier to manage the condition and improve your cat's quality of life. Some symptoms may overlap with other medical conditions, making a veterinary diagnosis essential. When you notice these symptoms, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan tailored to your cat's specific needs.

Can You Prevent Incontinence in Cats?

While some forms of incontinence may be unavoidable due to age or genetic predispositions, there are certain measures cat owners can take to minimize the risk or severity of this condition. Here are some prevention strategies:

Regular Veterinary Check-ups: Routine vet visits can help detect any underlying issues early on, thereby potentially preventing incontinence or minimizing its impact.

Dietary Management: Feeding your cat a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients can improve overall bladder and digestive health. Consult your vet for dietary recommendations.

Adequate Hydration: Ensure that your cat has access to clean water at all times. Proper hydration can facilitate normal urination and potentially reduce urinary problems.

Physical Exercise: Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, which in turn can lessen the pressure on your cat's bladder and digestive system.

Litter Box Maintenance: Keeping the litter box clean encourages regular use, which can help your cat maintain good toileting habits. A dirty litter box can cause stress, which can exacerbate incontinence issues.

Reducing Stress: A stable, stress-free environment can positively impact your cat's overall health, including urinary and digestive systems. Cats are sensitive creatures; changes in the household can stress them, potentially triggering or exacerbating incontinence.

While these preventative measures are beneficial, it's essential to consult a veterinarian if you notice any signs of incontinence for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Types of Cats More Likely to Become Incontinent

Certain categories of cats are more susceptible to experiencing incontinence due to a variety of factors such as age, breed, and health conditions. Here are some groups of felines that are at a higher risk:

  • Senior Cats: Older cats are more prone to incontinence due to age-related weakening of bladder or sphincter muscles.

  • Overweight Cats: Obesity can put additional pressure on the bladder, making overweight cats more susceptible to incontinence.

  • Cats with Chronic Illnesses: Conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, or urinary tract infections can make a cat more likely to develop incontinence.

  • Post-Surgical Cats: Cats who have recently undergone surgery, especially procedures related to the urinary or digestive system, may experience temporary or permanent incontinence.

  • Cats on Medication: Certain drugs can cause incontinence as a side effect. Always consult your vet about the possible side effects of any medication.

  • Purebred Cats: While incontinence can affect cats of all breeds, some purebred cats may have genetic predispositions to urinary or fecal incontinence.

  • Female Cats: Though not as common, some female cats, particularly those who have been spayed, may be more prone to urinary incontinence than males.

  • Cats with Previous Injuries: Injuries to the pelvic area or spinal cord can interfere with normal urination and defecation, making these cats more susceptible to incontinence.

While any cat can develop incontinence, these categories help to identify those who may be at a higher risk. If your cat falls into one of these categories, regular veterinary check-ups are essential for early diagnosis and treatment.

How Incontinence is Diagnosed in Cats

Diagnosing incontinence in cats involves a series of steps to rule out other medical conditions and identify the root cause of the problem. Accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment and management of the condition. Below are the various stages involved in the diagnostic process.

Initial Veterinary Consultation

The first step in diagnosing incontinence is a thorough veterinary consultation. During this session, your vet will ask you to describe your cat’s symptoms, behavior changes, and any other relevant observations. Details like when the incontinence started and how often it occurs can help the vet form a preliminary diagnosis.

Physical Examination

A comprehensive physical exam is crucial to rule out external factors such as injuries or tumors. The vet will inspect your cat's abdomen, and genital area, and may also assess its neurological responses through various reflex tests. Attention to your cat’s weight is also given, as obesity is a common contributor to incontinence.


A urine test can reveal a lot about a cat's urinary health. Through urinalysis, the vet can detect bacterial infections, crystals in the urine, or any signs of renal dysfunction. These tests are essential for differentiating incontinence from other urinary conditions like UTIs or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).

Blood Tests

Blood tests can provide a comprehensive view of your cat's overall health. These tests measure levels of different blood components like glucose, proteins, and red and white blood cells. Abnormalities in these levels could indicate an underlying issue contributing to incontinence, such as diabetes or kidney disease.

Imaging Studies

In some cases, your vet may recommend imaging studies like X-rays or ultrasound to get a closer look at your cat's internal organs. These studies can identify anatomical abnormalities, tumors, or stones that could be causing or contributing to incontinence.

Additional Tests

Depending on the initial findings, your vet might suggest more specialized tests. These could include:

Urodynamic Tests: These tests measure how well the bladder and urethra are storing and releasing urine.

Cystoscopy: A minimally invasive procedure that uses a cystoscope to view the interior of the bladder.

Biopsy: In rare cases, a tissue sample may be taken to rule out cancerous growths or other abnormalities.

Diagnosis and Treatment Plan

After all the tests and examinations are completed, your vet will discuss the findings with you. Based on these results, a customized treatment plan tailored to your cat’s specific needs will be formulated. This could involve medications, surgical interventions, or lifestyle changes, depending on the underlying cause.

Treatment Options For Incontinent Cats

When it comes to treating incontinence in cats, there are several routes a veterinarian might consider. The treatment plan is highly individualized, depending on the underlying cause of the condition, the cat’s overall health, and other factors. Below are the various treatment options typically considered.


Pharmaceutical interventions can be the first line of treatment, particularly when dealing with mild to moderate incontinence. Drugs can help strengthen the urinary sphincter muscles or treat underlying infections that may be causing the condition.

  • Phenylpropanolamine (PPA): Used to tighten the sphincter muscles and improve bladder control.

  • Estrogens: Sometimes used in spayed females to strengthen the urinary tract muscles.

  • Antibiotics: Prescribed if a urinary tract infection is the underlying cause of incontinence.

Surgical Procedures

In severe or chronic cases that don't respond well to medication, surgical intervention may be necessary. Options include:

  • Colposuspension: Lifting and stitching the neck of the bladder to the abdominal wall.

  • Urethral Sling: A surgical mesh sling used to support the urethra.

  • Artificial Urethral Sphincter: A device implanted to help control urination.

Urethral Bulking

VetMed specializes in urethral bulking, a minimally invasive procedure that involves injecting a bulking agent around the cat's urethra. This added 'bulk' helps to better seal the urethral sphincter, thus preventing unwanted leakage of urine. It's a particularly good option for cats who don't respond to medication or for whom surgery is not advisable.

Behavioral and Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, simple lifestyle adjustments can help manage incontinence effectively:

  • Weight Management: Reducing your cat's weight can relieve stress on the bladder and urethra.

  • Frequent Bathroom Breaks: Providing more litter boxes or more frequent opportunities for your cat to relieve itself.

  • Dietary Changes: Specific foods are formulated to promote urinary health.

Natural Remedies

Though it's always best to consult your vet, some natural remedies may work as adjunct treatments:

  • Acupuncture: Used to improve muscle tone in the bladder.

  • Herbs like corn silk or saw palmetto: Though not clinically proven, some owners report benefits. Always consult your vet before trying any herbal remedies.

Palliative Care

In some cases, where treatment cannot cure the incontinence, the focus shifts to managing symptoms and ensuring the cat remains as comfortable as possible. This could include absorbent pads and frequent cleaning.

Customized Treatment Plans

Your vet will likely combine several of these treatment options to form a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your cat’s individual needs. Effective treatment usually involves a multi-modal approach that may include medications, lifestyle changes, and possibly, surgical interventions.

Understanding the array of treatment options available can help you make an informed decision about the best course of action for treating your cat's incontinence. The goal is to improve the quality of life for your cat while effectively managing the symptoms of incontinence.

Recovery Process and Management of Incontinent Cats

Successfully treating incontinence in cats is often just the first step in a longer journey. Ongoing management and post-treatment care are crucial for maintaining your cat's quality of life. Below are some key elements in the recovery and management process for feline incontinence.

Post-Treatment Monitoring

After initial treatment, close observation is essential. Monitor your cat for signs of improved urinary control or any adverse reactions to medication or surgical interventions. Frequent veterinary check-ups may be necessary to adjust medication dosages or evaluate the success of surgical procedures.

Home Care

Managing incontinence at home is pivotal for your cat's comfort and well-being. This might include:

  • Absorbent Bedding: To manage accidental leakages.

  • Regular Cleaning: To prevent skin infections resulting from constant wetness.

  • Easy Access to Litter Boxes: To make it easier for your cat to relieve itself.

Long-Term Medication

In some cases, long-term medication might be prescribed to manage the symptoms effectively. It's crucial to adhere to the vet’s recommendations and instructions concerning medication, which might need to be adjusted over time based on your cat's response.

Ongoing Veterinary Care

Continued veterinary care is a cornerstone in the management of feline incontinence. Routine check-ups, occasional urinalysis, and potentially even ongoing imaging tests might be part of your cat's long-term care plan.

Quality of Life Adjustments

Your cat's comfort is paramount. Consider implementing lifestyle changes to accommodate its condition:

  • Nutritional Adjustments: Specialized foods may help in managing symptoms.

  • Environmental Enrichment: Providing stimulating toys and activities can distract from the discomfort associated with incontinence.

Emotional Support

Incontinence can be stressful not just for you but also for your feline companion. Emotional support and positive reinforcement can go a long way in helping your cat adjust to its condition and the ongoing treatment.

By understanding the recovery and management processes, you can be better prepared to assist your cat in leading a comfortable, dignified life despite its incontinence issues. Coordination with your veterinarian for ongoing care and making appropriate adjustments at home can make this challenging phase easier to manage for both you and your pet.

VetMed Treats Incontinence in Cats

At VetMed, we understand how distressing it can be to see your beloved feline friend struggling with incontinence. We are committed to providing a range of comprehensive and state-of-the-art treatment options, from medications to surgical solutions. We specialize in cutting-edge procedures like urethral bulking, which offer minimally invasive options for cats that don't respond well to conventional treatments.

Our team of experienced staff is dedicated to working closely with you to tailor a treatment and management plan that meets the unique needs of your cat. Whether it’s ongoing medication, surgical intervention, or a combination of both, VetMed ensures your pet receives the best care possible.

What sets us apart is not just our expertise but also our focus on post-treatment care and management. We provide you with the resources, guidance, and support needed to manage your cat’s incontinence effectively at home. This includes everything from diet and lifestyle advice to long-term care plans.

Incontinence in cats is often a manageable condition with the right care. Trust in VetMed to help your cat regain comfort and quality of life.


Questions You've Asked Us About Urinary Incontinence in Cats

Still have questions? Contact us here - we promise we'll answer them.

Why is my cat suddenly incontinent?

Sudden onset of incontinence in cats could be due to a variety of reasons such as urinary tract infections, neurological issues, or medication side effects. Immediate veterinary consultation is advised to diagnose and treat the underlying issue.

How do you treat incontinence in cats?

Is cat incontinence an emergency?

How long can a cat live with urinary issues?

Can you put a diaper on an incontinent cat?


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