cat urinating while sleeping
Cat Health and Wellness

How to Deal with Incontinence in Elderly Cats While Sleeping

Living with an incontinent cat can be a real challenge, for both human and pet. Cats like to be clean, so they’ll be mortified by their inability to control their elimination. It’s no picnic for owners either, who have to clean it up.

Old age will undoubtedly play a part in incontinence, but there will always be a medical explanation. This could be organ failure, loss of senses, or arthritis preventing trips to the litter tray.

If your older cat is struggling with incontinence, be patient and understanding. Your cat will be horrified every time they have an accident. Scolding them will not end will only aggravate their condition. This guide will offer advice and support on living with an incontinent senior cat.

My Senior Cat is Urinating While Sleeping

Incontinence is a widespread problem for older cats. It becomes particularly troublesome if they cannot stay dry while sleeping. Felines, especially older ones, love to sleep. If they lose control of their bladder every time, they take a nap it could get messy.

When a senior cat soils their bed, check if they are losing their hearing. Deaf cats sleep very deeply. This may mean that they do not wake up when they need to eliminate. If such an accident occurs, change your cat’s bedding and blankets quickly.

If this becomes a habit, you should also see if they are becoming arthritic. Cats with limited mobility may eliminate on the spot if they cannot reach their litter tray. Beyond this, you will need to see a vet. It’s possible that your cat has incontinence as part of the aging process.

One other scenario, which could arguably be considered the worst case, is feline leukemia. This is a contagious disease spread between cats, and dribbling incontinence is a common symptom. A cat with feline leukemia is particularly likely to struggle to stay dry while sleeping.

What Are the Causes of Incontinence in Cats?

Simple old age is the biggest cause of incontinence in senior cats. As your cat advances in years, their bladder will become increasingly weak. This could lead to dribbles of urine, or full-on accidents outside the litter tray. Your senior cat’s body will still receive messages from their brain that it’s time to eliminate. If they have a weak bladder, however, they may not make it to their litter tray. Some people find that their cat starts to sleep in its litter tray.

Common medical and explanations for incontinence include:

  • Urinary Tract Infections. Senior cats often struggle with UTIs. Incontinence is a common symptom of these complaints.
  • Diabetes. As older cats become less active, they are at increased risk of feline Diabetes. This will result in them drinking substantial amounts of water, which needs to be processed. They may struggle to make it to the litter tray in time to pass this urine.
  • Bladder or Kidney Stones. These are a result of minerals combining in your cat’s body. These crystalize into small but painful stones, which irritate your cat’s bladder. If your cat has bladder or kidney stones, they will often have blood in their urine.
  • Senility, aka Feline Cognitive Dysfunction. Some older cats start to struggle to remember how to perform basic bodily functions. This could include visiting the litter tray to eliminate. They may also forget where the litter box is located, and panic.
  • Cancer. Tumors can develop on a cat’s bladder. They will create pressure, and lead to incontinence. An x-ray will reveal if your cat is struggling with such a condition.
  • Injury or Trauma. If your cat has injured their lower back, it will impact upon their bladder. Surgery may be required to rectify this.

If you believe that your cat is living with any of these conditions, see a vet. Incontinence is not always preventable in senior felines, but it can be managed. This is particularly likely if the incontinence stems from another illness.

senior cat losing control of bowels

What Should I Do if My Cat Urinated During Sleep?

If you notice that your older cat lost control of their bladder, stay calm. It may have been a one-off. That will still merit come investigation, however. Keep a close eye on your pet, and speak to a vet if the leaky bladder continues.

In the meantime, follow these steps in the aftermath of a feline bladder spasm.

  1. Stay calm. We have already said this, but it bears repeating. Your cat will likely be horrified by their accident. Making a big deal of it will leave them feeling even worse.
  2. Check if your cat needs to be cleaned up. If they have urine stuck to their fur, it will be uncomfortable. It will also distress your cat. Felines like to stay clean, and a urine smell will stop them from masking their presence.
  3. Clean up the area, including any stains. You will be able to find products to help with this in any pet store. It’s vital that you also remove any trace of the smell. Leaving the aroma behind may confuse your cat, as they’ll think it’s a regular elimination spot. A solution of vinegar, baking soda and water will help with this.
  4. Wash your hands very carefully as cat urine contains all kinds of unpleasant bacteria.
  5. Reassure your cat that they are not in trouble. If your cat grows stressed, they are more likely to have another accident.

This may be a single incident. Remember, however, incontinence can be chronic. This does not mean that your pet cannot be helped, though.

How Can I Tell if My Cat is Incontinent?

Any cat is capable of an accident every once in a while. Even a healthy cat may be unwell, and struggle to make it to their litter tray. Also, urinary incontinence and diarrhea are side effects to some medications and surgical procedures.

Incontinence does not always take the shape of puddles of pee, either. Some cats that struggle with the condition suffer from constant, tiny dribbles of urine.  Symptoms of regular, ongoing urinary incontinence are as follows:

  • Wet spots or pools of urine around the home and your cat’s bed.
  • Regular wet fur around the legs and lower abdomen.
  • Moist genitals.
  • Inflammation surrounding the genitals.
  • Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections.
  • Strong smell of urine on your cat’s fur.
  • Unsuccessful dashes to your cat’s litter tray.

Incontinence in Cats with Renal Failure

Renal failure, aka Common Kidney Failure, can impact as many as one in three cats. It’s a serious condition, and will require immediate veterinary attention. If caught early enough, your cat’s condition will be manageable. Common symptoms renal failure in cats include:

  • Increased thirst. This, in turn, leads to increased urination. Your cat may ‘flood’ their litter tray, or struggle with incontinence.
  • Halitosis
  • Lethargy and depression.
  • Sudden and inexplicable weight loss.
  • Vomiting

As your cat reaches senior status, you must be vigilant about monitoring signs of renal failure. If you spot any symptoms, of which incontinence can be a significant indicator, seek help. The sooner you do so, the more likely your cat is to make a full recovery.

How Do I Know if My Cat Has a Urinary Tract Infection?

Urinary Tract Infections are quite common in senior cats, especially females. Sudden onset incontinence is a regular symptom, but others include:

  • Struggling to urinate, despite constant trips to the litter box.
  • Blood in the pee, and displays of pain while urinating (such as meowing or crying.)
  • Drinking excessive amounts of water.
  • Avoiding the litter box. Your cat may believe that is what is making them unwell.
  • Very strong-smelling urine.
  • Constant licking of the genitals.

A cat UTI may pass by itself, given time. It could just as easily escalate, however. This will place your cat in pain, and could even become a medical emergency.

How Can I Help My Senior Cat Deal with Incontinence?

If your senior cat is struggling with incontinence, you should make some adjustments to your home. Anything that you can do to minimize accidents will be welcome. Some suggestions include:

  • Keep multiple litter trays around the home. One in every room that your cat frequents is advisable.
  • Ensure that your cat can easily get in and out of those trays. If your pet is arthritic, they’ll need low walls to ease restricted mobility.
  • Strategically place pet pads around the house. If your cat can’t make it to their litter tray, these are the next best thing.
  • If your cat tolerates them, consider the use of feline diapers. These could be particularly helpful at bedtime.
  • Keep a constant supply of clean blankets and bedding. You’ll need to change your cat’s home comforts regularly.
  • Ensure that your cat can negotiate the house with ease. Do not place any obstacles between them and your litter tray.
  • Pick your cat up and delicately place them in their litter tray, and encourage them to eliminate. This will empty their bladder in the right place. Just don’t allow them to become reliant on being carried to their tray.
  • Clean your cat up regularly. They will be disturbed by any aroma of urine clinging to their fur. Give them regular once-overs with a wet wipe or flannel.
old cat lost control of bladder

Treatments and Solutions for Incontinence in Cats

Sadly, incontinence in senior cats is not something that can necessarily be prevented. If your pet does contract the condition, however, it can be managed.

In the first instance, take your cat to see a vet. They’ll run some tests that will diagnose the root cause of the issue. Once they have an idea of why your cat is incontinent, they will take appropriate action. Some of the treatments that a vet may recommend include:

  • Lifestyle changes. This will apply if your cat is living with Diabetes. They will need to lose weight to stay healthy. Your vet will be able to devise a diet and exercise plan.
  • Medication. Many different medications are available to treat feline incontinence. These will most often be antibiotics, especially if your cat has a UTI.
  • Topical ointments. If your cat’s genitals are inflamed, your vet may prescribe an ointment.
  • Surgery. If your cat’s urinary tract is blocked, surgery may be required. This will typically be a simple and minor procedure. Discuss any risks inherent with placing an older cat under anesthetic with your vet.

Whatever treatment plans your vet may recommend, follow their advice. Both you and your cat will be grateful if you can get their incontinence under control.

How Can I Encourage My Cat to Pee in Its Litter Tray?

It may seem counter-productive to encourage an incontinent cat to empty their bladder. Surely the whole point is that you want your pet to hold their urine better?

This is known as manually expressing. An empty bladder will have nothing left to leak, which will help your cat stay dry for longer. If your cat is struggling to hold their water, it could be an invaluable exercise.

If you are interested in manually expressing your cat’s bladder, follow these steps:

  1. Place your cat in their litter tray. If you can encourage your cat to climb in themselves, so much the better. The longer a senior cat continues to pay attention to their tray, the better. If necessary, however, carry them.
  2. Lift your cat with their back legs – and thus, their bladder – over the litter box. You may need to offer plenty of reassurance during this stage. If your cat will not accept this position, lay them on their side.
  3. Find your cat’s bladder. This should be located below the ribcage. It will feel like a spongy ball. If you can’t find it, wait half an hour and try again. Your cat’s bladder may need to fill a little more to become identifiable.
  4. Once you have found the bladder, grasp it in two fingers. Gently squeeze, and push downward. This will result in your cat releasing urine until their bladder is empty. If your cat is on their side, you may need to cup their bladder before squeezing.
  5. If your cat is resistant, try also rubbing their lower belly and inner thigh. This is called stimulation, and it generally only works on female cats. You may also earn a scratch for daring to touch your pet’s tummy. It could relax your cat, though, and is worth a try.

Cat bladders are not static, and cats are not renowned for their relaxed attitude toward discomfort. Mastering this technique will require patience, and you may experience scratches. If you can coach your cat to tolerate the activity, however, it could do them the good. If they have no urine left in their bladder, accidents cannot happen.

Is My Cat Missing Its Litter Tray on Purpose?

Forget any myths that you have heard about cats being stubborn and vengeful. Cats will never eliminate outside their litter tray to punish you for a perceived slight.

Never, ever scold or punish your cat for incontinence. This will send a message to your cat that all elimination is bad. This will have one of two effects:

  • Your cat will hide the evidence every time they have an accident. This will be quite frequent if they’re incontinent. If your cat starts eating, lapping or rolling around in their waste, they’ll grow increasingly sick.
  • Your cat will become afraid to eliminate. This can have a negative impact on their mental state. Your cat will become stressed every time they lose control of their bowel. They can’t help this, as incontinence is a medical condition. This inability to control the activity that gets them in trouble increases their stress. Stress triggers another bout of incontinence. Thus, the cycle continues.

What Are the Dangers of Cat Urine in the Home?

It isn’t just aesthetic and aromatic preferences that take a hit when a cat is incontinent. Feline urine can be harmful to humans if left to fester. Some of the dangers connected to cat urine include:

  • Ammonia. When cats urinate, it contains urea. Urea, in turn, produces ammonia. This is why cat pee often smells so pungent. A urine stain on the floor will crystallize over time, releasing ammonia into the air. Ammonia irritates the throat, and makes it tricky to breathe. This is dangerous for anybody with a respiratory infection.
  • Allergies. Many people are allergic to cats. In such instances, they usually attribute any adverse reaction to cat fur. The truth is, cat urine is just as likely to spark an allergy. It may even cause somebody that tolerates cats well to struggle with sensitivities.
  • Repeat Offending. When your cat smells their urine, they assume that it’s an approved elimination spot. This means that they will continue to pee in the same place. If your cat is struggling with incontinence, this is the last thing that you want.
  • Attracting Other Cats. Think that cat urine smells strong to you? It smells considerably stronger to other felines. This could attract local cats seeking a mate, or territorial animals spoiling for a fight.
  • Contagious Disease. Some sicknesses can be passed on from one cat to another through their urine. Feline leukemia is the most notable example of this. If you live with multiple cats, you risk damaging the health of many of your pets.

If you live with children or other vulnerable people, you’ll have a difficult decision to make. Cat pee and a compromised immune system are not a safe combination.

Even if you’re in perfect health, you’ll have to be careful. One or two accidents are no significant risk. A constant stream of puddles, however, could cause problems.

Bowel Incontinence in Cats

If your cat cannot control their solid waste, it can have a severe impact on their quality of life. In addition to this, nobody wants to live in a house surrounded by feline feces.

Common symptoms related to feline bowel incontinence, sometimes also known as fecal incontinence, include:

  • Poor diet. Discuss your pet’s diet with your vet, confirming that they are receiving all essential nutrients. Too much rich food can damage a cat’s bowel.
  • Parasites in the intestine. Ensure that your cat’s anti-worm medications are always up to date. Parasites can wreak havoc with their digestion.
  • Injury and trauma. If your cat has damaged their spine, they may struggle to control their bowels. This can be serious, and must not be ignored. Your cat may need surgery.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. A cat that starts to go senile will often struggle to control their bowels. They may wait too long to visit their litter tray, or forget they even have one. If your cat is acting out of sorts, seek help.
  • Full, weak bladder. Cat’s bladders start to weaken as they grow older. A full bladder will also place a great deal of pressure on your cat’s bowel. This can lead to trouble making it to the litter box on time.

Check with a vet if your cat appears to be struggling with their bowel. The problem may be easily resolved, or it could be dire. Whatever the root causes of your cat’s bowel incontinence, steps must be taken to rectify it. Vet Info provides more data on this condition.

A one-off incident does not always suggest a medical condition. Older cats can accidentally lose control of their bowels when excited, afraid or under the weather. If your cat has more than one incident in 24 hours, consult a vet. They could be at risk of dehydration and other concerns.

Can I Give My Cat Imodium for Their Bowel Incontinence?

As Preventive Vet explains, human medications are rarely a good idea for cats. The different biology between our species means that such treatments can do more harm than good.

A professional will be able to offer advice. This may include the use of Imodium. If that’s the case, stick very rigidly to the dosages outlines by a vet. Your cat’s health may depend upon it.

You should also remember that drugs like Imodium are a short-term fix. They may help your pet overcome a temporary bout of diarrhea, but bowel incontinence is a different issue. If the problem persists, your pet will need to undergo several tests and professional treatment.

What Are the Dangers of Cat Excrement in the Home?

Cat poop isn’t just unsightly and smelly. It’s also dangerous to humans and other cats. We have already discussed how feline leukemia can be shared through urine and feces.

Some of the other risks that come with leaving cat waste unchecked include:

  • Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that lives within cat waste. It can cause blindness in people with limited immunity. These include children, the elderly and pregnant women. The parasite has some other, interesting side effects. A study in the Royal Society of Publishing claims Toxoplasmosis reduces fear and anxiety in humans. Other studies claim that Toxoplasmosis is linked to uncontrollable bouts of rage and memory loss.
  • Escherichia Coli. Coli is is a family of bacteria frequently found in cat feces. It can cause serious illness in humans, and be fatal to other animals.
  • Some parasites found in cat waste, such as roundworm, can impact upon humans. This can easily be treated, but it’s still unpleasant.
  • Bartonella Henselae. This is a bacterial infection that’s colloquially referred to as Cat Scratch Disease. It’s usually passed on through bites or scratches, hence the name. It can, however, be passed on through feline fecal matter.

Your cat will also be upset if they have feces trapped in their fur. If your cat is unable to clean its bottom, you’ll have to do it for them. Older cats often struggle due to a lack of flexibility.

Should I Rehome an Incontinent Cat?

Unless you or a family member is in immediate danger, you shouldn’t rehome an incontinent cat. This will aggravate the problem for the poor feline.

Remember that one of the causes is stress. Subjecting elderly cats to an entirely new living situation will spark a great deal of anxiety.  This will, in turn, make the cat increasingly incontinent.

Older cats will struggle with their bladder and bowels. It’s an unpleasant, but unavoidable, part of the aging process. Bringing a cat into your home means agreeing to care for them into their dotage, however. Your senior cat still has a lot to offer. When they struggle with their bladder, your pet needs your love and affection more than ever.

An incontinent cat can still live a full and happy life. Like anything, it’s all about how you – and your cat – approach the problem. With patience and a sense of humor, an incontinent cat can remain content. You’ll need to be vigilant about cleaning up after them.

If your cat is incontinent while sleeping, you should have them checked over by a vet. Any kind of incontinence is dangerous to your pet’s health. If they are struggling to keep control of their bladder, there will be an explanation. Sadly, this may revolve around old age. Even then, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all hope is lost. An incontinent cat can usually be helped, and their condition managed.