Cats are wonderful creatures that fill us with excitement and joy. However, if there’s one thing that cat owners can all agree on, it’s that litter boxes are one of the worst things pet parents have to deal with. But mess and clean-up aside, there’s also the issue of health risks when handing your cat’s urine and feces each day.
One thing I noticed whenever I cleaned up one of my cat’s toilet accidents was that I got a splitting migraine. And, with such a strong and pungent smell, can cat urine cause headaches? The short answer is yes. However, this doesn’t mean cat urine will give everyone a headache, and you may or may not be affected by your kitty’s pee.
To better understand why this is, let’s take a closer look at what cat urine is made up of and which components are harmful to our health. In this article, I will also run through what to do if you get a migraine when cleaning your cat’s litter box and other health issues you should be aware of.
Why Does Cat Urine Smell Bad?
Normal and healthy cat urine is made from a few different substances. The majority of the liquid is water, which we all know isn’t dangerous to us, nor bad-smelling. However, also inside the urine are several other compounds: urea, urobilin, uric acid, sodium, pheromones, and bacteria.
Urea is the part of the urine that gives cat pee its foul smell. This substance in itself is odorless, but bacteria in the urine break the urea down and cause it to release ammonia, the typical nasty smell that cat pee is known for. On top of this, as the urea breaks down further, mercaptans are also released. This is the same substance that makes sunk spray smell so terrible!
For this reason, the longer the pee is left, the worse it smells as more of the urea is broken down into these smelly compounds. Cat pee will also smell worse the more concentrated it is. This is because the more concentrated your cat’s urine, the more decomposing urea, and bacteria will be present.
Why Can Cat Urine Cause Headaches?
Now we know the substances that make up urine, we can start to understand why cat urine can cause headaches in some cases and the specific compounds responsible.
It is the ammonia produced from urea decomposition that is dangerous to human health. In extreme cases, it can cause headaches when inhaled, which is why I and some other owners may experience head pain when cleaning up after our felines.
However, most urine will not be concentrated enough to cause headaches or migraines. Therefore, how much water your cat drinks, how many cats you have, where your cat pees, and how well-ventilated your home is all play into how likely it is that their urine will give you a headache. All of these factors will affect the concentration of ammonia found in the air and the severity of its effects.
For example, people living in a poorly ventilated home with several cats that don’t drink much water will be at higher risk of getting a headache. The likelihood is further increased if they have a cat that sprays or has accidents around the home that could go unnoticed and aren’t cleaned away promptly. On the other hand, a person that lives in a well-ventilated house and owns one cat that drinks lots of water and always pees in the litter box will be less prone to headaches.
You may also find that it is actually something else triggering a headache: the cleaning products you use! That’s right, the products we use to clean away cat pee could be giving us a headache, or at least making it worse. Often, cleaning products are highly scented and can cause headaches in people sensitive to smell. Your cat may not be a fan of the artificial fragrances.
What Other Dangers of Cat Urine Are There?
Having a headache can be painful and frustrating, especially if it’s severe such as a migraine. However, there are several other health consequences and risks also associated with cat urine.
Firstly, ammonia can cause respiratory issues. Therefore, anyone with an underlying respiratory condition such as bronchitis or asthma should be extra careful when handling cat urine. It can make their underlying condition much worse, and may also trigger asthma in people that haven’t previously suffered from this disease.
Again, the higher the concentration of ammonia in the air, the more likely you will experience respiratory problems. However, as with headaches, it only appears to be extreme cases that will cause any long-term damage to your respiratory system.
Therefore, a bigger and more common issue is actually allergies. Most people associate cat allergies with being allergic to cat hair and dander, yet there are also allergens hiding in cat urine. Some people will be more sensitive, whereas others will not suffer at all. This is down to our individual immune response.
Those that do experience cat urine allergies will have typical allergy symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, a runny nose, and itchy or watery eyes. If cat pee comes into contact with your skin, you may also develop mild skin irritation or a rash.
How to Reduce the Dangers of Cat Urine
Thankfully, there are some easy ways that you can keep the health risks of cat urine to a minimum! So, if you always have a headache when cleaning your cat’s litter box, or have allergies to cat urine, try following these tips and seeing if it helps.
1. Make the Area Well-Ventilated
The dangers of cat urine become worse the more concentrated the ammonia is in the air. So, the easiest way to prevent headaches or other health issues is to make the area well-ventilated.
If your cat has had an accident outside its litter box, your first step should be to remove the item that is covered in cat urine into the garden. Then, open all the windows and doors of the room in which they had the accident. This will help to lower the concentration of ammonia in the air. If your cat has urinated on the floor or up a wall, the best you can do to improve ventilation is to open the windows and doors.
When talking about cleaning your cat’s litter box, my best advice would be to swap from an enclosed litter box to an open design. Although not as sightly, hooded or top-entry litter boxes do trap the smell inside and hit you with a powerful punch of ammonia when you open the lid to clean inside. Conversely, open litter boxes keep your kitty’s toilet well-ventilated at all times.
2. Clean The Litter Box Regularly
Cleaning your cat’s litter box regularly will also reduce the intensity of ammonia in the air. By scooping your cat’s litter box daily, you’ll be removing the urine before the bacteria completely breaks down the urea into ammonia. You may be cleaning more, but the effects on your head and overall health will be reduced.
You should also always empty, clean, and refill the litter tray each week, even with regular scooping. Ammonia smells can seep into plastic and over time this can accumulate and cause headaches. Stainless steel litter boxes are a great option for any headache sufferers as they don’t hold onto the nasty odors!
Besides, keeping your cat’s litter box clean will also encourage them to use it, reducing the accidents your cat has around your home. Bathroom accidents that go unnoticed for a while are often the main culprits of headaches, not litter boxes. So, reducing the likelihood of this is also hugely beneficial.
3. Change Your Cleaning Process
You can also change how you clean up cat urine. For one, wear protection! You can wear a respirator that blocks ammonia if you know you’re prone to headaches and allergies. This way, even if there is a high concentration of ammonia in the air, you won’t suffer whatsoever. Secondly, always wear gloves when touching objects covered in pee. This helps to prevent any skin irritation or rashes.
Secondly, ensure you’re using the right cleaning products. For the smell of ammonia to be properly removed, you need to use an enzymatic cleaner. This promotes the breakdown of urine so it can be cleaned away easily rather than lingering on surfaces for a long time. Opt for fragrance-free cleaning products too which could be making your headache worse!
Vinegar is also hugely successful at removing the smell of cat urine. It’s highly acidic and so damages the bacteria found in the urine. So, for any fabrics that become soiled, try putting them in the washing machine with a cup of white vinegar. This will help to remove any persistent and lasting smells!
To summarize, cat urine can cause headaches. However, the risk is low and there usually needs to be a high concentration of ammonia in the air. Ventilating the area, cleaning the litter box regularly, and using proper cleaning methods that diminish the odors associated with urine can go a long way in stopping headaches. Also, watch for your cleaning products – any highly fragranced cleaning sprays could be making your headache worse!