The Mind of Your Cat: 02/04

Question: My cat is one-and-a-half years old and has always traveled with us between our two homes. One of these homes has waterbeds as well as traditional beds. Starting at about three months of age, my cat began to urinate on both of the waterbeds. She would urinate in a single location, even while I was in the bed. The behavior was intermittent at first, but has increased in frequency. She does not urinate on the traditional beds in either of our homes. I have placed litter boxes in each room that has a waterbed – to no avail. Do you think she likes the motion of the bed? What can I do to stop this behavior?

Answer: Well, I suppose you could argue that your cat enjoys the challenge of balancing herself on a moving surface while urinating. In my experience, most cats seem to seek stable though malleable surfaces for elimination. Perhaps your cat is a thrill seeker.

Two other possibilities are more likely: Either your cat has decided that waterbeds are suitable elimination surfaces, or she is marking the beds with her urine. It is important to make the correct assessment, as the treatment for the two distinct conditions will be necessarily different.

My question to you is, When your cat urinates on the water bed, does her litter box also contain a deposit of urine? If you have discovered that when the bed is soiled, the box is clean, then your cat has probably selected the waterbed as an alternative litter box. She has undoubtedly learned to posture in such a way that she is able to urinate, stay out of the mess and leave the area with dry feet.

What can you do if your cat has claimed your waterbed for her toilet? You were on the right track by placing litter boxes in these areas. Initially, these extra boxes should be placed very close to the waterbeds. Be sure the boxes are immaculate, of course.

Test Your Cat
In addition to simply adding boxes, it would be helpful to conduct a litter box preference test. Place two boxes side-by-side, and vary one component of the box to determine your cats preference. For instance, choose a jumbo versus a small box, with equal amounts of litter, to determine whether she uses one more frequently. Then, place two boxes of her favorite size side-by-side. This time, try two litter types. Finally, try two litter depths. Preference tests will help you to learn exactly what your cat wants in a litter box. You may then place your cats ideal litter box next to each waterbed.

If your cat continues to urinate on the bed, you may consider teaching her that the bed is simply an uncomfortable place to rest. This may be done by placing plastic carpet runner with the nubs up on the bed, or by using one of the many commercially-available devices that create harsh sounds when disturbed. (However, your cat will appreciate it if you place a kitty condo or other comfortable resting place close by.)

Now, back to the original question. Suppose, when you discover urine on the waterbed, you also discover urine in the litter box. That is, the urination on the bed was done as an extra deposit. In that case, I would suspect that your cat is marking the waterbed.

Why would that be? Many cats mark beds when their owners are unavailable – out of the house or asleep. These cats may crave attention or food. The chemicals in urine seem to comfort cats while they wait. Your cat does not fit this pattern since she does not urinate inappropriately when you sleep in your traditional bed.

Another reason for urine marking is to create a comfortable scent amidst competing unpleasant scents. It is possible that your cat detects an offensive odor emanating from the cover of the waterbed, or even from the water inside.

If your cat is urine marking in response to such an odor, you might apply a feline pheromone product on the areas that she has chosen to mark. In addition, place an open litter box near the bed. Fill the box with only a shallow depth of unscented litter – your cat can urine mark inside the box. Why not try a new cover for the waterbed, one that more resembles your other bedcovers? And of course, you could simply teach your cat to avoid the bed, as was discussed earlier.

As always, be sure that there is no medical reason for the urination. Some cats develop lower urinary tract inflammation, particularly when stressed. If your cat is uncomfortable, she may seek a new area for urination. If the behavior continues, do pursue a resolution by scheduling a behavioral consultation. Further details about the different environments in the two homes may reveal another treatment strategy. A behavioral interview will allow a thorough understanding of your cats personality so that the underlying motivation for the behavior may be determined with more accuracy.