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Do Cats Pee When They’re Scared? Deciphering Cat Behavior

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

grey cat peed in bed

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There are many reasons that cats will sometimes pee outside of the litter box. Sometimes, it might be for medical reasons, and other times, it can be behavioral issues. But a cat might also pee if they’re severely stressed out and afraid.

This isn’t always typical behavior, so here, we take a look at why some cats might pee when they’re scared and what you can do to help stop it or at least help your cat feel less anxious.

Urinating From Fear and Stress

When cats pee outside of the litter box, it is called feline inappropriate elimination. Stress is a common reason that cats will sometimes pee outside of their litter box. Cats are sensitive animals, and when under extreme anxiety, they are prone to house soiling.

Any change in the environment, such as moving to a new home or introducing a new pet or person to the household, can trigger some cats into urinating outside of the litter box.

This kind of behavior is more likely with cats that are already nervous and anxious. Sometimes, peeing in different locations helps relieve their anxiety because the smell of their urine is familiar and can make them feel safe. It’s similar to marking or spraying behavior.

But do cats pee when frightened? While it isn’t common, it has been known to happen. If a cat is in a heightened state of fear, they might just void their bladder involuntarily.

Scared cat'
Image Credit: SakSa, Shutterstock

Common Stressors That Can Cause Inappropriate Elimination

Since most cats prefer predictability, they don’t react to changes or stress well. In some ways, peeing on the floor could be your cat’s way of letting you know that they’re not happy (assuming the issue is not medical, of course). Here are common stressors for cats:

  • New person in the household: If you’ve introduced a new roommate or family member into your home, including a baby, some cats might get quite stressed in response. Of course, this can depend on the cat.
  • New pet: A new dog or cat can be one of the bigger stressors that a cat can go through. Not only can this create anxiety for the original cat, but it could also trigger defensive spraying behavior in order to mark their territory.
  • Other cats in the neighborhood: If other cats come around to visit your house and your cat can see them from the windows, this can cause undue stress for your cat.
  • Moving or other changes in the home: Moving to a new home can be stressful for everybody, including your cat! To a lesser extent, if you buy new furniture or do some rearranging, it can be disorienting for a cat.
  • Change in household status: If things have changed, such as going from being at home most of the time to working outside full-time or going on an extended vacation, this can be upsetting for them.
  • Death of another pet: Losing another pet can be upsetting for cats because they are sensitive creatures.
  • Litter box problems: There can be stress around the litter box itself. Is it too small? Is the litter being cleaned regularly? Is it the right kind of litter? Is it in a quiet location? Is the cat harassed by other pets or noise while using it? All these issues can cause cats stress, and peeing anywhere but in the litter box can be the result.

So, these are all typical reasons that cats can become anxious and urinate in places that they shouldn’t.

It’s imperative that you never yell at or berate your cat in these circumstances. This will only add to their anxiety, and the behavior will continue and probably worsen. The last thing that you want is for your cat to urinate in your presence out of anxiety.

ginger cat near litter box
Image Credit: Yuliya Alekseeva, Shutterstock

Medical Reasons for Urinating Outside of the Box

Medical issues are among the more common reasons for this behavior, so you’ll want to rule them out as soon as possible. Common medical reasons are:

Some of these conditions are from increased urine production, and others are from pain while urinating. If you have any concerns that your cat’s inappropriate urination might be from a medical issue, speak to your vet as soon as possible.

Signs of a Stressed Cat

There are several signs that cats exhibit that should help you notice when they are stressed:

  • Changes in eating habits — drinking or eating less or overeating
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Sleeping more than usual — lethargic
  • Clingier and needier than usual
  • Growling and hissing
  • Hesitant or reluctant to use the litter box
  • Eating items that are not food (pica)
  • Stomach upset — vomiting and diarrhea

There are also behavioral signs and changes that a cat will exhibit when stressed:

  • Not spending as much time with you — not interacting as much
  • Excessive vocalization, sometimes while pacing
  • More withdrawn and hiding more than normal
  • Excessive scratching of furniture
  • Less tolerant or outright fearful of people
  • Crouching and looking tense — not wanting to be touched
  • Bald patches or sores from overgrooming
  • Licking of the nose and exaggerated swallowing
  • Any significant changes in behavior and routines
  • Aggressive behavior directed at family and other pets
  • Being reluctant to play when previously playful
  • Jumps at every sound
  • Unresponsive to things happening around them (not reacting to loud noises)
  • Peeing outside of the litter box

When a cat starts to become anxious and worried, they will crouch and not want to be touched. The visual signals that cats showcase when they are anxious and worried are:

  • Ears flatten or “airplane
  • Rapid breathing
  • Whiskers point forward
  • Eyes open with dilated pupils

When a cat is outright stressed, they will hide and flatten their body or try to find the highest place to escape to. You shouldn’t touch them at this point. Physical signs that a cat is stressed include:

  • Frequent head shaking
  • Twitching and rippling skin along the back
  • Eyes open but looking down with a glazed expression
  • Rapid and frequent grooming that starts and stops suddenly

When a cat is at the highest level of fear and is cornered, this is when you’ll see that Halloween cat posture. Cats will stretch up and arch their backs to appear larger and threatening. The hair will bristle and stand up on the tail and along the back and neck. Growling and hissing will occur, followed by biting and scratching if the warnings are not heeded.

british shorthair cat having Arched Back
Image Credit: Piqsels

How to Best Help a Stressed Cat

If your cat seems to be peeing out of fear, you should schedule an appointment with your vet. This way, you can have any potential medical problems ruled out. Your vet can also prescribe medication to help cats with severe anxiety issues.

You should also take the time to figure out the source of the stress. You can anticipate any potential problems and help your cat cope with the situation better. You can also take steps when you know that a stressful event will occur in the near future, such as moving or bringing home a new cat. There are many resources out there that you can access that will help under these specific circumstances.

Beyond those more significant stress-induced events, you might figure out that it’s a litter box issue or that the neighborhood cat keeps coming around. This is where you can fix the situation so your cat will be more comfortable.

If it’s an ongoing problem and you feel as though you are in over your head, you can consider consulting with a behaviorist. Qualified cat behaviorists can work with you and your cat, which should help improve things. Speak to your vet, as they might be able to refer you to a behaviorist. They can sometimes be paid through pet insurance if you have coverage.

anxious looking tabby cat
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay


If your cat is scared and hiding, it’s best to leave them alone until they calm down. When cats are in a heightened state of fear, being in a calm and quiet environment will help. Just give your cat the space and time that they need, and don’t attempt to touch them.

If you’re in doubt and don’t know how to proceed, speak to your vet. This probably won’t be the first time that they’ve encountered an anxious cat.

Plenty of calm, patience, soft voices, and slow movements will go a long way toward helping a fearful cat. Let your cat come to you when they’re ready. We all need time to decide when we’re ready to deal with the world.

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Featured Image Credit: Creative Cat Studio, Shutterstock

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