The Dangers Of Cat Urine: Why You Must Eliminate Cat Urine Odor From Your Home

Cat pee isn’t just disgusting, it can harm your health, too. The dangers of cat urine aren’t always obvious, though. No doubt you realize that cat urine, like all human and animal waste, carries bacteria that could cause illness.

So you dutifully wear gloves when cleaning up kitty’s “accidents” and while washing the mops, sponges and other items you used to clean it with. ( By the way, cleaning your mops and other items with bleach kills bacteria, but apply bleach only after thoroughly rinsing out all traces of urine with plain water to avoid risk of producing noxious fumes). No problem there. Or is there…?

Man in gas mask to avoid cat urine odor.

It’s easy to assume that once the urine stain and germs are gone, that lingering odor is nothing but a harmless nuisance. Remember, though, that odors are composed of microscopic particles of the thing that caused the odor. So by inhaling cat urine smell, you’re actually inhaling cat urine. Just the thought is enough to make you sick, right? Wait, it gets worse

Ammonia’s Effect on Respiratory Health

Cat pee contains a particularly high concentration of ammonia. Although this is a natural compound containing nothing more than nitrogen and hydrogen, it’s not exactly good to breathe. The good news is that most cat caretakers won’t need to worry about this. A corner of the living room carpet that smells faintly of kitty piddle isn’t going to harm healthy lungs.

The risk occurs when either there’s a very strong odor of cat urine in the room or when someone in the household has a respiratory condition, such as asthma or COPD. The amount of ammonia in a room that reeks of cat pee can irritate and eventually harm healthy lungs. Lungs that are already compromised, such as in someone with asthma, may be irritated by even a mild odor of cat urine, especially if they’re frequently exposed to the odor.

Odor’s Effect on Mood

Scent has a very powerful effect on our mood and behavior. Just think of the way a certain scent–like a particular perfume or food–can bring memories flooding back. Clinical research has shown that the scent of lavender can reduce agitated and aggressive behavior in those with mental health issues, such as dementia. Why am I telling you this? Because the dangers of cat urine smell don’t stop with your lungs.

In the same way pleasant scents improve our mood, bad smells can make us unhappy and irritable. Even when you’re used to it, cat urine odor definitely qualifies as a bad smell. Let’s put it this way, which would put you in a better mood–coming home to the smell of cinnamon buns or cat piss? So if you find yourself, your partner or your kids to be irritable and just plain ill-tempered in a room with lingering cat urine odor, it may be the nasty smell that’s ruining the mood.

There is one small exception here, though. Your cat’s litter box should always have a faint smell of urine. So faint that only your cat, who has a highly sensitive nose, can smell it, but you cannot. All it takes to ensure this is not cleaning the litter box with bleach, Pinesol or any other strong chemical that will strip out any odor.

Floors, furniture and other areas, however, should be totally odor-free. Traces of urine odor can cause your cat to come back to the soiled area and strike again. To get your cat to stop urinating outside the litter box and to save your health and mood, you’ll need to neutralize all cat pee smell in the house. For a detailed guide to the causes of inappropriate urination and effective methods for eliminating that nasty cat pee odor, check out Cat Urine Problems Eliminated.

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17 thoughts on “The Dangers Of Cat Urine: Why You Must Eliminate Cat Urine Odor From Your Home

  1. Thank you for the great info. Scary health risks. We just moved into am apartment where the previous tenant was evicted…she had 15 cats, and extreme ddamage. The owner had workers replace the carpets and repaint all of the walls. However,after moving in, we’re now realizing the odor is strong and still there
    The city, Medford Oregon, is extremely impacted in terms of the rental market, so quickly finding another not an easy option. Do you have any suggestions for us, ando know.of anything we could do to counteract, neutralize, or eliminate the odor? Thank you!

    • I can imagine 15 cats could do a lot of damage. My guess is that the urine seeped into the floor under the carpet *and* possibly the subflooring, as well as up into the walls. When a cat pees near a wall, the wall can soak up the urine like a candle wick. Most likely the owner simply wasn’t aware that could happen.

      If that is the problem, it would require…tearing open the walls and floors to clean, unfortunately. Since that’s probably not an option for you, you might ask if the owner if they wouldn’t be against repainting the walls in the worst smelling room first with an odor-barrier primer, such as KILZ MAX, then with a high quality paint that should further seal in the odor. In the meantime, do what you can to improve the ventilation or use a portable air cleaner.

    • Omg I’m in Medford too.
      The apartment we just moved into is disgusting. I hope it’s not the same one.
      Can you contact me?

  2. Wow! Very well written article. I think most people are not fully aware of the health consequences of lingering cat urine odor. We run an odor removal company, Smell Fresh Arizona, in Phoenix, AZ, and run into cat pee problems all the time. Lots of people live with it as a minor nuisance, but your article really sheds light on things.

  3. I have a friend who’s home reeks of cat urine.
    When he is riding in a car with me ,he reeks of same odor.What is the proper way to tell him about the situation without offending him?

    • Well, that’s more of an etiquette question, but… If he’s a close friend, then probably gently mentioning that his clothing seem to have picked up a little odor from the cats would be the polite thing to do. Better to hear it from a friend first so he can do something about it before his co-workers start complaining.

      If you’re not so close to him, you might try hinting around in a general way about how cats are great pets (just to bring up the topic), but cat urine has a particular odor and you need to be careful about cleaning or even your clothes can pick up the smell. That kind of thing.

    • I haven’t heard that particular symptom, but if the odor is causing you breathing problems, that could sap your energy and leave you feeling tired.

  4. I have a 75 year old neighbor who is mentally challenged. She is at a 4th grade level. Her case worker has said she is capable of taking care of herself, I beg to differ. She has always had a dog now cats. She lets her animals pee and poop on her floor and carpets. Her house smells terrible of urine. The other day when I went to her door the smell of urine was so great I couldn’t breath. My eyes watered. It was like someone dumped a pail of ammonia at me. I can’t get any help to help her. I just heard about the health risk.

    • That’s a tough one if her case worker won’t do anything. If you don’t think you’ll get anywhere by pressing the issue with the case worker, could you maybe call a different government agency to send someone to check up on her? Or see if there’s any local volunteer group that helps the elderly with chores that might be able to help her clean up and maintain her home better?

      Alternatively, if you think the animals are neglected (which sounds likely), you could contact a local animal rescue organization for advice. That ultimately might lead to removing the pets, but that might be necessary if both her and the animals’ health is at stake.

  5. Our neighbor has adopted many cats. They hang out all around the house and under the house. When it rains which is all the time the smell of cat urine is horrible. So we pretty much sleep inhaling the smell. Its gross amd now knowing it can cause health issues is scary.

    • Hmm. Have you tried (politely) talking with your neighbor about it? It kind of sounds like he or she isn’t really doing the amount of cleaning necessary for so many cats, so maybe something can be done (on the neighbor’s part) to keep the odor down. In the meantime, you might consider a portable air purifier for your bedroom.

  6. We are both over 70 and my partner has Lewy Body Dementia. We have five cats who spend most of their time outside where we have one litter box, and we have one more inside. The cats are all fixed and do not urinate on rugs or furniture. We don’t smell cat odor or have respiratory problems and we are almost always in a good mood. However, my partner’s daughter claims the smell of ammonia is too much for her and may be dangerous to her dad. Is there any basis for a belief in a connection between urine smell and dementia? He has only lived here for less than two years and had it for much longer.

    • I’m not aware of any connection between ammonia odor and dementia; however, I’m not a medical professional, so you might want to ask your partner’s health care provider. That said, if his mood and general well-being seem okay, I would say it’s unlikely he’s being affected by the odor. It’s possible you and your partner have become used to the odor, whereas your partner’s daughter is more sensitive to it because she doesn’t live there. Or she might have an especially sensitive nose. If you’re unsure, you might want to get third opinion from, for example, a neighbor who doesn’t have pets.

  7. My husband is a cat lover and well so am I and I had one cat ONE mind you and she was fixed however every cat he came across, he would bring them in the house and not fix them, and thus far I’ve counted 15 cats in this house… and I have COPD. He has no clue on how the health affects a person especially what you said about COPD. with my COPD I never smoked but gained it through second hand. I’ve always had asthma problems growing up and such. Again does he care? No. I told him repeatedly if you think I’m going to go around picking up the cat poop and piss you have another thing coming. He thinks three cat boxes is enough for 15 cats. Eh, No. You need more than 3 boxes for 15 cats in fact you need at least 25 cat boxes for 15 cats. I’m on a house wife strike. I’m not doing diddly squat till he changes this house. I even told him I was leaving. He waved good bye. Sad that your 28 marriage will fall apart over some cats. Yes, you spoken about mood swings. I’ve notice that as well. I get so annoyed over this, its very depressing and I don’t know what else to do.

    • Wow, that sounds like a difficult situation. I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. It kind of sounds like he might be heading towards a hoarding problem. You could talk with his doctor (if possible) if you suspect that’s the case. Or maybe he’s dealing with depression or another mental health issue.

      In any case, you’re right, three litter boxes isn’t nearly enough for 15 (!) cats. Generally you want one per cat plus an extra, so 16 or 17 would be enough, but that’s still a lot of work that he can’t expect you to do by yourself, especially if it’s affecting your health. You could see what he thinks about responsibly re-homing some (probably most) of them. So, doing home inspections of prospective adopters and follow ups and so on to make sure the cats are going to good homes (because sadly, some people “adopt” cats to be used as fight-dog bait, so you really have to be careful re-homing them). That won’t stop him from picking up more, though. I’m afraid that’s all the ideas I have, but I wish you well.

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