Downtime

Why Does My Cat Pee on My Boyfriend’s Laundry?

Are they friends, or is my cat telling him to piss off?

Collage of a cat sitting on dirty socks.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Federica Diliberto on Unsplash and Andrew Neel on Unsplash.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

My boyfriend and I moved in together last year. We have two cats that were both mine before we moved in. The cats are not litter mates, but they are both neutered males that get along beautifully and have no history of health issues.

About once a month, I notice that one of the cats pees on my boyfriend’s pile of laundry. They don’t do this to my clothes. I don’t know which cat does this or if both of them do. I keep their litter boxes very clean.

For what it’s worth, they both like my boyfriend. He thinks the older cat is the culprit, and the older cat is the one that always wants his attention and loves to snuggle with him while he’s watching TV.

What can we do here? Why would they (or just one of them?) single out his clothes to pee on once in a while? I feel like there’s a message we’re not picking up on!

—Tinkle, Tailor, Smelly Guy

Dear Tinkle, Tailor, Smelly Guy,

Your cats are speaking to you in the most ancient of languages: pee-pee. We may consider ourselves superior to our pets because we can converse with our fellow humans using words, but your cats are spritzing their message directly onto your boyfriend’s clothes.

Berlitz doesn’t make a cat urine–to-English dictionary, so translation won’t be easy, but here are some steps you can take to understand them. First, make sure your cat isn’t sending out an SOS. “Cats urinate outside the litter box when they are not well,” certified cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson tells me. “It doesn’t always mean a urinary problem, but it means something is amiss.” She urges you to take your cat to the vet for a urinalysis and overall wellness exam to make sure there’s nothing causing pain or discomfort. Because you aren’t 100 percent sure which cat is peeing on the laundry, you may have to take both guys in to be safe. Or you can set up a camera in the basement to obtain documentary proof of which cat has been conversing with your boyfriend’s T-shirts and boxer briefs. (Surveillance cameras are surprisingly cheap nowadays, and you can Truman Show your cat for around 30 bucks.)

Another possibility is that the urinator might be seeking some downy comfort for his paws. “If the cat is declawed and the owners are offering a hard, pellet-y litter … [the cat] might be choosing soft textures to go to the bathroom,” Johnson says. She also advises giving the cats more space, which means keeping the two litter boxes in separate locations while adding a third to help spread the love. Her rule of thumb: “You should have one more litter box location than there are cats in the home.”

If the behavior persists, this could be your cat’s way of bringing you all together. “Urine doesn’t smell bad to them,” Johnson says, referring to felines and not boyfriends. “Cats like their smell and our smell to be melded. They want to be on the same plane when it comes to scent interaction.” It’s their version of having everyone wear the same sweater for the annual Christmas photo (though that indignation is probably worse than getting peed on).

Human testosterone is especially “loud” to cats, so a pile of sweaty dude clothing is hard to ignore. “We have this problem a lot with households that have teenage boys,” Johnson says. Kindly ask your boyfriend to stop throwing his dirty laundry on the floor like a pubescent savage, and that could lead to some progress.

However, like a dinner guest who doesn’t get the hint when you start loading the dishwasher, your cat may be intent on continuing the conversation even after your boyfriend starts tidying up his laundry. If the cat moves to mark other surfaces in your house, it could be time to bring in a professional behaviorist to help get over the language barrier.