Nom Nom logo

Learn : Cat Nutrition & Training

Does Your Cat Smell Like Urine?

Cat looking up

Cat urine has an incredibly potent smell. Most pet parents have had the experience of getting a whiff of cat urine while cleaning the litter box, or even when caring for a new kitten. As far as pets go, cats are pretty clean creatures, and their parents can feel secure knowing that their cat is cleaning themselves regularly and dealing with any dust or dirt that might get into their fur. In addition to keeping themselves clean, cats instinctually keep their litter box clean as well. They do this by covering their urine and feces with loose litter. Therefore, when the smell is coming from the cat herself, this can be cause for concern. The reasons and solutions of a foul urine smell vary from cat to cat.

What Does a "Urine Smell" Mean?

If a cat smells like urine, take into consideration the cat’s age, coat length, and overall health when deciding how to proceed. Whether or not the cat spends a majority of her time indoors or outdoors may also offer insight. Cat grooming habits address their own odor. This often means that if you are detecting the smell of cat urine, it is likely that the cat is no longer grooming herself or at least not enough to hide the smell.

Elderly Cats

When a cat starts to age, she can have a lot of trouble grooming herself. Many pet parents may notice that the older their cat gets, the more likely she is to have greasy or ungroomed fur. The smell coming from a senior cat may be nothing more than the result of old age. To help senior cat stay fresh and groomed, gently groom her with a damp washcloth. If the cat will tolerate a bath, parents may even give their aging cat warm baths with cat-appropriate shampoo to help ease the scent in her fur. Some older cats that smell like urine may be having a tough time contorting their body like when they were younger. It may be time to talk to your vet about whether arthritis could be affecting your cat as symptoms can be subtle even when there is significant, and likely painful, damage to the joints. Older cats are also susceptible to cognitive changes; if you notice reduced grooming along with inappropriate howling, a sense of forgetfulness, changed schedule, or other strange behaviors, these could all be signs of a process going on in the brain itself.

Long Fur

Cats with a shorter coat often have a much easier time grooming themselves and keeping themselves clean than cats with longer fur. For pet parents who have a cat with luxurious, long fur, the smell may be coming from an inability to keep the area around their backside clean. Cats with long coats tend to get mats (fur tangled or stuck together in a thick mass) more easily, especially around the backs of their legs and their backsides. The mats that form here are a prime place for cat urine to stick. A great way to keep this from happening is to keep the mats trimmed so they do not grow bigger. Keeping the back of the cat’s legs and backside trimmed prevent matting in the first place, as well. Parents should make sure to keep a long-haired cat well-groomed as a preventative measure against mats forming.


While a fat cat may be especially cute on the internet, pet parents should make sure their cats are getting the right amount of food for their size and breed. A strong smell of urine coming from a cat that is overweight or obese might be the result of the cat not being able to groom herself properly. Cats are pretty flexible, but a cat who has some extra body fat may not be able to reach the places she needs to clean most. Obese cats also are more susceptible to urinary tract infections, especially females, and while such infections are fairly rare in cats (as compared to dogs and people) because of their concentrated urine, your vet may recommend checking to be sure. Obesity can also predispose to medical conditions like diabetes which can also predispose to bladder infections. Veterinarians can help parents decide the right weight for any cat. A cat’s nutrition is key to balancing a healthy diet and weight. There is no universal right answer when it comes to figuring out the right weight for a cat. Healthy weights vary by both size and breed. 

Medical Issues

Cats who smell like urine may be experiencing some medical issues. Cats tend to be rather stoic creatures, and pet parents may not always know when something is wrong. The smell coming from a cat might mean that she has anything from arthritis to inflammation in the bladder.

Arthritis in cats is not dissimilar to arthritis in humans. A senior cat’s joints can become inflamed, making it difficult for her to groom herself, or even use the litter box correctly. Signs of arthritis in cats include difficulty with normal levels of mobility, limping, and irritability from unseen pain. While there is no medical cure arthritis altogether, parents can take comfort in knowing there are ways for local vets to decrease the level of pain.

For cats, feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is among the top reasons that cats tend to either use the bathroom outside the litter box or smell strongly of urine. Most people rush to a urinary infection as the cause, but these are quite rare in cats because of their concentrated urine unless they have other underlying issues. More commonly, cats eliminate in unfortunate locations or strain to urinate because of inflammation in the bladder without an infection. This is known as idiopathic cystitis. It's thought that connections between signals from the brain to the bladder are responsible. Stressed cats are often the ones to get the condition, and stressful events often precede an episode. These can include a new person in the house, a new cat (your cat may not be so fond of that new kitten and is letting you know), medical issues, and the like. Bl

Urination may be painful for a cat who has a urinary inflammation which may reveal itself through changes in litter box behavior. Pet parents will want to keep an eye out for a cat who goes to the litter box several times in an attempt to urinate. If she is unable to go in the litter box, she may very well take the opportunity wherever she is standing. Parents should also keep an eye out for blood in the urine. If a cat is having any of these signs, a local veterinarian will be able to diagnose and suggest treatment options that best suits both the cat and the parent.

Does the "Urine Smell” Relate to Cat Behavior?  

For the pet parent who has a young, well-groomed, slim cat with no sign of a urinary tract infection, what does it mean when the smell still lingers in the cat's coat? “Spraying” is a term for a behavior in which a cat “sprays” urine. Spraying is particularly common in intact (or unaltered) cats. Intact or unaltered means a cat who is neither neutered nor spayed. Spaying or neutering a cat often stops spraying entirely, but for parents with an intact cat, this may be the source of a lingering urine smell.

Male Cat Spraying

Male cats are usually the ones doing all the spraying. When a male cat sprays, he is marking his territory and letting everyone else know that he is claiming his territory. Male cats tend to start spraying around the time they reach sexual maturity. Pet parents may see an increase in spraying around a male cat’s favorite spots in the house. If the household has more than one cat, spraying is much more likely to occur. However, spraying can also happen when a male cat moves to a new home or experiences anxiety.

Female Cat Spraying

While a female cat may also spray for territory or dominance in a multi-cat household, it is much more likely that she is spraying due to being in heat. In fact female cats go into heat every 1 to 3 weeks, which can last anywhere from 1 to 7 days. When a female cat is in heat, she is much more likely to spray in an attempt to let any nearby tomcats know that she is ready to be mated with. Due to such a short and constant heat cycle, intact female cats can cause both herself and her environment to smell like urine pretty quickly.

How to Control Spraying

The best way to control spraying in the household, either territorial or heat-induced, is to have a cat spayed or neutered. Pet parents will want their cat spayed or neutered around six months old. This is just before the spraying behavior tends to occur in most cats. Most likely, a cat fixed at a young age will never start spraying in the first place. In the meantime, keeping a low-stress environment for most cats will help reduce anxiety spraying, and keeping only one cat in the house can reduce territorial spraying. Cleaning up a sprayed area with white vinegar will help stop a cat from returning to spray again.

The cause and solution to the smell of urine in a cat greatly depends on a few defining factors in her life. When it comes to changes in a cat's smell, behavior, and bathroom use, parents should always remain alert. Whether she is coming into her senior years or she has an inflamed bladder causing her difficulties, it's important to know what to do in any situation. Each parent knows their cat best and whether or not she needs to see a vet or just needs to get her fur trimmed.

Related articles