Revenge Pottying – Is it a thing?


Your cat pees on your bed. She leaves tootsie rolls just outside the litter box. Or, you see the urine on your pile of fresh, clean clothes. What’s happening? Is kitty mad at you? The answer is no.

Might be a medical issue According to Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of Ryan Hospital’s Companion Behavior Medicine Service at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, when a cat isn’t using the litter box it’s a sign there are medical issues, anxiety-based problems or your litter box setup just isn’t right.

“The very first thing you should do is visit your veterinarian, “Dr. Siracusa says. Cats often don’t use the litter box because they are in pain. Urinary tract infections, feline lower urinary tract disease, feline interstitial cystitis (when their bladder is painful but not infected) or bladder stones or blockage, are just a few of the ailments that can cause inappropriate urination. “There are many cases where the cat just stops using the litter box simply because it associates the litter box with pain. Then they go to places like your bed or fluffy rug, because it feels better for them to relieve themselves there.”

The ACVD board-certified behaviorist says if your cat stops using the litter box at an older age, sometimes metabolic diseases like hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can be to blame. Gastrointestinal problems may also lead to painful defecation in the litter box. To know if your kitty has issues, veterinarians use urine samples and blood work to help diagnose problems.

Might be the Litter/Litter Box

Dr. Siracusa says once all medical conditions have been ruled out, it’s time to determine the relationship your cat has with his litter box and litter. “Cats have very passive coping strategies, they don’t fight back and they internalize everything. A quiet cat can easily be stressed.” The professor also believes the litter box you choose, where it’s placed and the kind of litter you use can have an impact on inappropriate elimination. He says that some cat products, including litter boxes and litter, may be designed to appeal to cat owners more than the cat.

He says, “It’s your job to make sure your cat has as few challenges as possible to use the litter box.”

Your litter box needs to be sized adequately based on how large or small your kitty is. Dr. Siracusa recommends that it be at least oneand-a-half times longer than the length of your cat from nose to tail. He also believes a regular plastic litter box sized appropriately is generally best for most felines.

As to whether a litter box should be uncovered or covered, he believes that most cats prefer using an uncovered box. If your cat will use a covered litter box, he believes you should remove the door.

Dr. Siracusa has concerns about top-entering litter boxes for older cats or those with arthritis. “You need to make going to the bathroom as easy as possible. Your cat should not have to go through hurdles to do its business.”

When it comes to litter, the behaviorist personally prefers seedbased litter, like corn or wheat litter, because it’s natural and more akin to the soil outside. Most cats will use clay litter just fine, but he does believe clay may be hard on cats who have been declawed, because their paws are more sensitive.

Might be the Smell

Of course, cleaning your litter box daily is imperative, and some cats simply will not use a soiled one. The dirty deed needs to be part of your daily regimen.

The location of your litter box is also key. “When you have multiple pets, sometimes another dog or cat can prohibit your kitty from using the litter box, due to its location in your home,” he says. “Territorial issues can be a big factor in multi-animal households. If your kitty doesn’t feel safe at your designated spot, they will find somewhere else to go. The cat’s box needs to be in a place where they feel secure.”

Dr. Siracusa believes the common saying of “revenge pottying” is simply not accurate. “Cats have needs and preferences just like people do. It’s your job to figure out what they need, for everyone to have a happy, healthy, stress-free life.”

“It’s your job to make sure your cat has as few challenges as possible to use the litter box.” — Dr. Siracusa

©Nataliia Pyzhova; Voren1 | Getty Images

9 thoughts on “Revenge Pottying – Is it a thing?”

  1. I once had a cat that from the very beginning would never use a litter box, which I believe was because she hated getting her paws dirty. She was very fastidious in her grooming. However, she did teach herself how to use the toilet. I never tried to teach her to do it; I believe she figured it out by watching me. She always watched everything I did in the bathroom very carefully. She also liked to flush the toilet over and over so she could watch the water run down. However, I don't think she ever connected the idea of flushing after using the toilet since she usually did not. When she didn't feel like perching on the toilet seat she would pee directly over the drain in the bathtub but would poop on the far end of the bathtub away from the drain. That I suppose was her way of revenge pottying.

    My current head cat does indeed revenge potty. When he gets mad (i.e., over-stimulated, stressed out, box not cleaned fast enough, not let outside in time, etc) he has a favorite spot in the kitchen where he will pee or poop – or both. If there is any litter spilled outside the boxes, he will use that once. Also, if he can find any paper or plastic bags, or cardboard boxes, he will pee or poop on those too whether he is stressed out or not.

    In both cases, I tried moving the boxes around and changing brands of litter, to no avail whatsoever. Many of my cats like to have high sides on their boxes for privacy oh, but none have ever used a completely covered box. Covered boxes are not made big enough and the cats react as if the box was a trap. So, I use extra large boxes ( plastic storage boxes that are shallow enough work very well) and tape poster board around the inside of the boxes on three sides. That way, the cats do not feel trapped yet the poster board will contain any litter thrown about and prevent cats from spraying outside the boxes.

  2. Not for revenge, my butt! My cat has no problems using his litter box. But after we come home from the vet even for a routine checkup visit, he lets me know how much he didn’t like it by pooping right in front of his litter box then comes to me meowing, makes me follow him until I see it, looks at me like he says: “There, that’s for the vet visit”.

  3. Once again cats are individuals who show their love, loneliness, and displeasure in their own ways that may or not fit the official explanations. Over the years I have had three young male cats that I was close to who chose to pee on my bed several times with me in it. While nothing proceed that action I sort of consider it as a bonding thing and after making it clear I didn’t like it they all ceased, my imagination? I had another boy who had no known problems who liked to jump into the kitchen sink to pee, I thought it was clever all water goes down the drain. He eventually stopped that without any other change. Cats, cats, cats what else can one say except maybe, would you like tuna with that?

  4. My Maine Coon, Majestic Titan, had a habit of (don’t gross out) peeing in the sink, right down the drain. At least it’s not my sofa or carpet. I finally figured out that his litter box was too small for him and as soon as I switched it out the problem was solved.

  5. Marsha McCroden

    Whenever my parents went on a cruise, the neighbor girl came over to feed our cat, play with her and change the water. Tiki hid on the furnace pipes in the basement. Liz never got to play with her. Tiki would wait until she left before coming out and eating. When they got back Tiki would get on top of Mom and meow until she lost her voice and a very silent meow was still coming out. We translated that as a “How could you leave me?”

  6. Marjorie E. Lango

    I disagree also. I believe our cat is angry we went on vacation and is using our couch as her way of telling us. She has also used our recliner. This happens every time we go.
    She hides under the bed when the pet sitter comes and wants nothing to do with her. It gets so frustrating.

  7. Have to disagree with the doctor on this one.
    Our long-departed Boopsie was a relatively solitary and self-reliant (indoor) cat. When we went on vacations, we would hire a catsitter to come in once a day to feed her and clean the litterbox (rather than boarding her somewhere).

    We’d always come back home to a clean house and a cat who seemed happy to see us. But, invariably, the day after we returned, she would take a dump in the dead-center of our bed. Only the one “accident” but it happened after every trip. We interpreted it as a statement of her displeasure.

    If she soiled the bed while we were away, she would’ve inconvenienced herself. But waiting until we were back – how can that be anything but a message?

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