The smell of your cat’s urine is generally unwelcome – but do you know that it can tell you a lot about your kitty’s health?
Cat urine smells are offensive and challenging to get rid of at the best of times, but urine malodors can indicate problems such as urinary tract infections, hormonal disorders, diabetes, and many others.
So, what should normal cat urine smell like? And what does it mean if your cat’s urine smells like burnt rubber? Read on to understand what your cat’s urine reveals about their health and what you can do to help them.
Why cat urine smells so bad
Nobody enjoys dealing with the strong, pungent aroma of feline urine! The ammonia present in the urine is the main culprit of the offensive odor – even the slightest hint of this can compromise your home’s air quality.
But why does cat urine smell so bad? Actually, it all comes down to evolution.
Our feline friends are descended from desert-dwelling wild cats. To survive in areas with limited access to water supply, cats’ kidneys have evolved to conserve as much water as possible, which is why cats do not urinate as frequently as other animals. It is also for this reason that cats can get by on less water. But how is this connected to the smell of their urine?
Since cat urine is so concentrated, its odor becomes more obvious. Cat urine in its purest form is composed of urea, urobilin, sodium, electrolytes, creatinine, and pheromones. When exposed to bacteria in the environment, these substances are broken down into ammonia and carbon dioxide, causing the offensive odor. Additionally, uric acid present in the urine is decomposed into fatty acids and ammonia. The longer it stays in the environment, the stronger the foul scent becomes, and the more difficult it is to remove.
Cat urine that smells of ammonia can trigger asthmatic or allergic attacks in some people. On top of that, the unpleasant odor can also cause headaches and irritate the eyes and nose.
Why does my cat’s urine smell like burnt rubber?
Cat urine can smell like burnt rubber or plastic when cats are marking their territory. Cats naturally expel their waste to warn other animals that a certain domain is already occupied. Thus, spraying is a common occurrence in households with multiple cats, or if you have recently brought home a new pet and your resident cat does not feel comfortable with the newcomer.
The strong scent in cat’s urine is also influenced by gender, hormones, and reproductive activity. During mating seasons, unspayed females announce their availability through the pungent smell in their urine. Unneutered male cats acknowledge it by returning the message via their own pee.
Cats usually spray on curtains, carpets, beside their beds, near the door, or on the sofa. Aside from the burnt-rubber smell, you might notice that the urine has a dark hue and a thick consistency. Unfortunately, this can cause unpleasant smells in your home, especially when left uncleaned for a long time.
Other common cat urine smells
Other factors like diet, medicines, stress levels, and breed can also affect the quality and smell of your cat’s urine. Some of the more common cat urine smells are summarised below:
1. Cat urine that smells like sulfur
Sulfates are important chemicals in your cat’s body, responsible for cell growth, hydration of the eyes, wound healing, and the formation of blood vessels. A small percentage of these chemicals can also be excreted through your cat’s urine.
Mercaptan, or methanethiol, is a sulfur compound commonly found in cat waste. This natural substance is responsible for the putrid smell in cat urine as well as the offensive odor that skunks give off. When mixed with other compounds present in cat urine, it can produce an unpleasant smell reminiscent of rotten eggs or burnt matches. That is why cat urine and skunk sprays both have gag-inducing qualities!
2. Cat urine that smells like fish
Cat pee with a fishy stench is usually caused by a fluid discharge from the cat’s anal glands. Most fur parents do not notice these glands that are located beside their pet’s anus; however, they do serve an important role. The foul-smelling fluids from these glands are used by cats to communicate and mark their territory. When the fluid discharge is mixed with their feces, cats are able to leave messages to let other animals know of their presence.
However, these anal glands can sometimes become swollen and inflamed, causing a fishy smell in your cat’s urine. Stress, anxiety, and excitement can trigger the cat to release the contents from the glands, leaving the strong and unpleasant smell.
Lastly, a fishy smell in the urine can also be a warning of underlying conditions. So, if you notice your cat’s pee smelling unusually pungent, have your whiskered friend checked by the vet.
3. Cat urine that smells sweet
Sweet smells in cat pee are warning signs of kidney disease and feline diabetes, the latter being the most common culprit. Insufficient production of insulin causes an increased level of glucose in the blood and the excess is expelled through the urine. Overweight cats are at higher risk of developing diabetes. Hence, providing your cat with the right diet and exercise is the best approach to improve their quality of life and prevent such diseases from developing.
Why your cat’s urine smells different
Cat urine is made up of 95% water. It should not contain bacteria unless the cat is struggling with an infection or the urine is mixed with fur and dirt from the surroundings.
What does normal cat urine smell like?
As mentioned before, a cat’s concentrated urine is composed of various chemicals, including ammonia. These compounds are decomposed by the bacteria present in the environment, resulting in a slightly pungent and acidic odor. Hence, your home will smell like ammonia if you do not scoop the waste from the litter box every day.
You should worry if your cat’s urine begins to smell different. If you notice stronger waste odors, it could be caused by any of the following:
- Underlying medical issues
Unfortunately, most litter boxes today are excellent at concealing smells from cat urine. This makes it challenging to monitor changes in waste odor, unless your cat sprays outside his litter box.
The frequency of your cat’s urination, as well as any behavioral changes, must also be monitored, as these can provide clues to your cat’s current state of health. If you notice any changes, you should give your vet a call.
Diseases that affect the smell of cat urine
There are few medical issues that cause a cat’s urine to change its smell, and these include:
- Urinary tract infection
- Bladder infection
- Arthritis (especially in older cats)
If you suspect your cat has any of the conditions above, it is best to have your vet perform a urinalysis test. This procedure will allow him to check the composition of your cat’s urine as well as for any possible conditions linked with the unusually foul odor. With the right diagnosis, you can work together with your vet to provide the best treatment and medical care to restore your cat’s health.
Does cat urine odor get worse over time?
Although cat urine normally gives off an unpleasant smell, it can get worse if left uncleaned for an extended period of time. As the bacteria continue to break down urea and other chemical compounds in the waste, the amount of mercaptans also increases. Hence, the longer cat urine stays, the stronger the smell becomes.
Unfortunately, if the cat sprays urine somewhere other than in the litter box, it can be challenging to notice the urine spots before the smell becomes stronger and more obvious. The awful smell not only compromises the air quality in the house, but can also cause health problems in family members with allergies or asthma.
Why some cats urinate outside their litter box
Cats can be finicky when it comes to their litter box – if anything does not meet their standards, they will go and find another suitable place to relieve themselves. There are many possible reasons a cat might refuse to use their own litter box. Sometimes, it is related to cleanliness. Cats are probably the cleanest domesticated animals in the world, so they will naturally demand a clean litter box. Thus, it is important to scoop and change their litter regularly to keep them from going elsewhere.
There are also occasions when a cat might expel their waste outside the litter box due to one of the medical reasons mentioned above. Senior cats with arthritis, for example, have compromised mobility which causes them to urinate in the unlikeliest place in the house.
Therefore, be on the lookout for any behavioral changes in your cat, particularly in his litter box visits. If other unusual symptoms emerge, it should be a clear warning that something is off with your pet, and a visit to your vet should be in order.
Ways to get rid of cat urine smell
Stubborn urine stains and their unpleasant odors can cause a lot of frustration for cat parents. Thankfully, there are ways to deal with the smell in the event that your furry friend accidentally messes on your favorite carpet or sofa. Here are some tips:
1. Blot, rinse, and vacuum
As soon as you notice the urine spot, get rid of it immediately by blotting the fluid with clean cloth. After removing most of the liquid, clean the area with water and detergent. Use a wet/dry vacuum cleaner to clean the spot. Using a steam cleaner is discouraged, as this can set the stain and the odor.
2. Use enzyme cleaners
Using water and conventional soaps alone does not always remove all of the urine stain and smell. Urea, the chemical that causes the offensive odor, has low solubility in water. Hence, washing the urine spot after it has dried can be challenging.
It is best to use an enzyme cleaner to clean the urine spot. There are many enzyme cleaners available on the market, but probably the most convenient are the spray versions, such as the Rocco & Roxie Stain & Odor Eliminator. Just spray a generous amount until the entire spot is soaked. Leave this on for 10 to 15 minutes before blotting it with a clean cloth.
3. Dry the area
Finally, dry the area by wiping the spot with a clean cloth. If you notice remnants of urine stain and smell, re-apply the cleaner and repeat the whole process. Blot the area with a clean cloth once more and keep it dry.
4. Keep your cat from urinating on the same spot
Remember that if you fail to get rid of the smell, your cat will likely come back to the same spot to urinate again. You can discourage this behavior by covering the spot with aluminium foil or an aluminium baking sheet and placing a laundry basket or other heavy item on top.
Also, make sure that your kitty’s litter box is clean and accessible. Encourage your pet to use the litter box by retraining him. We recommend using unscented litter, since cats are very sensitive to scents – avoid anything that comes with artificial fragrance. Lastly, make sure that the size of the litter box is comfortable enough for your cat.
The bottom line
The smell of a cat’s urine can often reveal something about their health. Although their urine naturally smells bad, it can become more offensive with certain health problems. So, if you notice your cat suddenly leaving stronger urine odors, do contact your vet and get your furry friend checked over right away.
Image: istockphoto.com / Daria Kulkova