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Should Your Special Needs Cat Wear a Diaper?

October 17, 2011

Missing the box can be one of many struggles for moderate to severe CH cats — and their parents. Since their mobility and motor skills are limited, it may be near impossible for some cats with cerebellar hypoplasia to stand in, let alone get into a litter box.

While there are many things you can do to make using the litter box easier for your kitty (and for you!), using the box is not the only option. One solution may be diapering your cat.

If you think diapering your cat sounds bizarre, think again. Some sites claim that as many as 600,000 pets nationwide have incontinence issues, so using diapers or the like isn’t unheard of. While that’s a small percentage of the number of dogs and cats kept as pets (about 0.3%), it can definitely be a big issue if it’s happening in your own home.

So where to start? Here’s some info:

Pet diapers come in just as many varieties as human ones. I’ve seen sizes range from XXXSmall (4-6 lbs) to XXLarge (175 lbs, obviously for dogs). Some are disposable, others are washable. Some have drawstring waistbands, others have adhesive closures. A simple Google search for cat diaper will provide you with a list of dozens of links to information and companies that sell diapers for pets. I’d recommend doing a Google search so you can get the full picture and see what companies are offering.

Of course another option is to modify human baby diapers instead of purchasing (sometimes costly) pet diapers. However, this can be a bit challenging too. Obviously it takes a bit more time and effort to modify each diaper (see the how-to video below), but it may also take a bit of trial and error to find the right size diaper for your pet.

When buying diapers for your cat, there are three things to take into account:

  • Your cat’s weight (do not depend on this alone)
  • The size of your cat’s hips
  • How long your cat is from waist to tail

Photo courtesy lior shapira

You see, your cat’s weight doesn’t matter half as much all three factors combined. Selena diapers her most severe CH cat, Shinju, and offers this advice:

“One thing about buying baby diapers is to consider that a cat’s body type is much different from that of babies or dogs, so you can’t put too much weight on the weight category when choosing the right size,” Selena says. “Shinju is petite and lean, and the smaller diapers were way too short lengthwise to cover her sufficiently and I found that she needed the diapers 2 sizes larger.”

She said that since the larger diapers are too large around Shinju’s waist, she’ll simply wrap the diaper over itself. It leaves a bit more room in Shinju’s tush area, which can help prevent things from getting too squished.

Here’s another chart from HandicappedPets.com, which may help you decide which diaper size works best for your cat:

So how do you modify a baby diaper to fit your cat? There are videos on YouTube that show how you can do this; here’s one of the most popular:

Once your diapers are ready to be used, it’s time to gather the courage – to diaper your cat. Fortunately, there’s a video for this too.

Some more tips:

  • Put the diaper on backward. Your cat may learn how to take off her own diaper, but this may help prevent that. It will also make it easier for you to remove the diaper.
  • With females, you’ll sometimes get leaks. This can happen if the tail hole is cut too large, or if the diaper doesn’t do it’s job quickly enough. Be patient and watchful, just in case.
  • Just like with babies, you may need to use non-scented, non-alcohol baby wipes on your kitty after each changing. Diaper rash ointment may be needed too, followed by an occasional bath.
  • Keep track of your cat’s feeding and pooping schedule. Most cats can be quite regular, and will go 30 minutes to an hour after eating. If that’s so, perhaps you can work out a schedule where you can change the first diaper in the morning before you leave for work, so your kitty won’t have to live with it until you return home.

Remember, at the end of the day, as convenient as this may be for you, it will be a big change for your cat. Many may be adverse to it at first, but some may become used to it gradually. Remember, your know your cat best, and in all things, patience!

For all of those cat moms and dads out there who diligently change their kitties’ diapers, what other tips or wisdom can you share??

33 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012 7:28 pm

    I thought about diapers for my cat but didnt really know where to start…great video and superb explaned…helped me a lot with my Chocolate. Thanks a lot.

  2. Kerry-anne permalink
    December 8, 2012 8:34 pm

    Really great video thank you has given me hope for my elderly cat

  3. ann permalink
    December 31, 2012 10:29 am

    omg really? first he needs a stable place to do this, clearly this is not the best way to change the diaper on a cat I feel so sorry for the cat. Please learn to do this better

    • Raeven Hawkes permalink
      January 21, 2013 12:30 pm

      I totally agree…this was so not the place to change the cat’s diaper…..do not do this at home as if you are as rough as he was when you first start this…..your cat will not get used to it.

    • marla permalink
      July 9, 2013 7:12 pm

      You are so right. I thought where he changed that poor baby was awful and he did not seem to be that loving toward that sweet cat.

  4. Tracy permalink
    January 21, 2013 11:43 pm

    We use puppy pads on a changing table. I found the washable kind with a maxi pad in them are far cheaper than disposables. Just make sure you pull it around the waist/flanks, and not over the leg when you’re strapping it on.

  5. Kirsten permalink
    January 24, 2013 1:50 pm

    Thank you! My little girl, Annabelle, is 6 years old and has a tumor that has caused her paralysis (which means no more litter box). I came across this site, and so grateful I did, because I never thought of diapers! Thank you for the tips, videos, and support!

  6. natsera permalink
    February 1, 2013 1:10 pm

    I have a tiny 3-month-old kitten with mild CH, who hasn’t figured out what a litter box is for, so at the moment I’m leaving her in a large show cage overnight, with a bed, food, water, and litter box (which she only uses as a place to sit), but I feel she needs to be able to run around freely during the day, so I’m diapering her. My technique is to diaper her like a baby — she probably cooperates because she doesn’t know any different. I lay her on her back on a towel on my lap, with her head facing toward me, and put the back of the diaper under her, pass it through her legs, and fold over the front part, and do up the tabs. Since she’s only a little over 2 lb., the tabs go around to her back, but the Huggies brand newborn size has elastic legs, so there are no leaks. I don’t have to cut a tail hole, since she has a very short tail, and the back of the diaper is pouffy, so there’s room for her tail inside. She has adjusted to it beautifully, and really doesn’t seem bothered. While I hope she will eventually figure out what a litter box is for (she HAS observed the other cats using them), it doesn’t bother me to diaper her. And the only thing the vet said was to watch out for urinary infections — if the color of the urine is anything other than yellow, to get her in so she can be put on antibiotics. I know that’s a risk, but it’s worth it to give her the freedom of the house!

    • February 1, 2013 1:47 pm

      Wow! Thanks so much for sharing! I bet she’s a sight running around in her little diaper. I’m so glad the diapering is working for you. Please keep me posted with how she does :)

    • natsera permalink
      April 29, 2013 3:08 pm

      Update on Dimity: She’s now 6 months old, and still no idea what a litter box is for. But she’s totally used to the diapers. Because she has grown, I now cut out a tail hole. I figured out that if the top of the hole is on an angle, and the bottom flat, she doesn’t leak — it looks like an isosceles triangle, with a flat bottom. I’ll send you some pictures on your email account! :-)

    • April 29, 2013 3:09 pm

      Sounds great, thanks!

  7. March 27, 2013 9:58 pm

    My CH guy has actually worked out a deal with me wherein he uses painter’s tarps instead of a littler box. The tarps are cloth with a plastic backing. All I have to do is make sure the tarp is in place when he needs it, and he will use it consistently! However, I have a 2-mo-old foster kitten with one hole encompassing both her anus and genitalia. The hole is quite open and she leaks stool. I plan to try diapers on her, at least when she is running free around the house.

    • natsera permalink
      March 29, 2013 10:50 am

      Hi Stephanie (and Amanda!)
      The only thing you need to be aware of if you’re diapering a cat that leaks stool is that it is very irritating to the skin, anus and genitalia, so the diaper needs to be changed as soon as you become aware that it has emerged. If her intestines and rectum are working properly, it should still come out periodically and not continuously; if she has diarrhea-like stools continuously, then you might consider consulting a vet, because the diaper will hold the material against her skin. It can also cause urinary infections, which are just as painful to the cat as it would be to a human. I know you’re just fostering her, but maybe a vet could do surgery to correct the problem, I don’t know.

      As far as my kitten, Dimity, whom I am diapering because she is still totally unaware of litter boxes at 5 months, I diaper her during the day, and she’s in a large cage with a litter box at night. I line the bottom of the cage with puppy pads, and observe where she goes. It’s still totally random — I’ve seen urine in the box once, a stool on the puppy pad once, and stools and moisture in her bed a lot of times. I really don’t think she’s aware of when she needs to go, and it just comes out. So I’m doing the same thing as I told you above. She absolutely hates being put under running water, so I use a warm wet washcloth to clean her up after she’s had a stool in her diaper, and while she doesn’t like it, she puts up with it. Good enough.

      Other than that, she’s doing fine — ball of energy, and her physical skills HAVE improved with age — she’s still in the developmental period of kittenhood, so it’s good to see. I do need to observe the 4 on the floor rule, and sometimes she takes a tumble when she tries to jump up on something — she’s usually more cautious about jumping down. But she has figured out ways to get up onto things and get back down again — jumps from cat tree to the arm of the couch, and then down to the seat of the couch before attempting the floor. The difference is that my other cats just jump down from the cat tree without needing the circuitous route. But it’s good to see that she can think important cat things through! :-)

  8. krista permalink
    April 16, 2013 4:23 pm

    I just started diapering my cat who I consider THE Houdini when it comes to weasling out of them. I tried soooo many means of securing them, but now I use a modified onesie over a diaper. I cut the arm holes out so he cant use his elbow to use the fabric as leverage to get his paws out the front. I always feel so bad when I watch him walk around in it. He doesn’t seem to get used to it and he can’t even go down the stairs without falling (SINCE blocked off).
    It’s a lot of work, but if you love your animal, it’s worth it! Please consider diapering as an alternative to giving up your kitty cat :(

    • April 17, 2013 7:06 am

      Thanks for sharing, Krista! Not to mention loving your cat enough to be patient with his needs :)

  9. Tanya permalink
    April 18, 2013 11:22 pm

    My cat is 15 years old. Hes healthy , but starting to loose his balance a little. He still does use his litter box most of the time and all the time for poops.. But he’s been peeing on sofa lately and on blankets. He just started this a week ago. Everything else is normal, although there are female cats outside and I do believe they are spraying everything they see. My cat is an indoor cat and always was. I think I will try the cat diapers because for 1 I don’t want him peeing all over the house it is hard to get the smell of cat pee out. Plus I really haven’t got it in me to have him put down. Yes he’s old and stumbles and seems to get confused a little (like he forgets what he came in the room for, senior moment lol) But the last vet check said he was in great shape and health for a cat his age. I don’t know what else to do if the diapers do not work???

    • April 19, 2013 6:27 am

      Hi Tanya,
      Since the behavior just started, I’d suggest taking your cat into your vet to get him checked out. It sounds like he may have a health issue that needs to be addressed. If there’s nothing wrong, I think it’s a great idea to get him started on diapers. It may take a while for him to adjust, but it’s certainly a good option! I wouldn’t worry yet if the diapers don’t work – I’d suggest tackling this issue one step at a time, starting with your vet. Good luck!

  10. Judy permalink
    May 26, 2013 12:43 pm

    Great video except for the tuba music, which is too loud to properly hear the directions clearly.

  11. Jo Anne permalink
    June 3, 2013 11:26 am

    Tigger is 19 and has started missing his liter box and leaving a constant pool in the middle of the laminate floor. I had Little Ones diapers from K-Mart that I had used on my 18 year old Shih Tzi and decided to give it a try on Tigger. While he was eating, I pulled his tail through the hole I had cut in the diaper and pulled the tabs around and over before he knew it. It worked like a charm and he sports his new wear well, occasionally with an extra jiggle in his step. This will save the floor, the smell, the mess and he doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe he was always a little jealous that Shasta got to wear a diaper and he didn’t….: )

  12. Rachel permalink
    June 27, 2013 7:10 am

    Hi Amanda,
    Just after some advice. My 5 year old burmese has a broken tail which has left her incompetant (this happened last night). The vet has recommended putting her to sleep but I don’t want to give up that easily. She has lost her nerves that control both poop & pee. Do you think she would be a candidate for nappies? She has a bit of a journey in front of her which inlcudes healing the brake and amputating the tail. I want to keep her alive but I don’t want her to live uncomfortably… Do you think nappies would suit her?
    Thanks
    Rachel

    • June 27, 2013 7:20 am

      Rachel-
      I’m so sorry to hear about all of that! I definitely think that nappies would be a great option. You can always try them and go from there. Good luck!

    • Neil permalink
      February 27, 2014 7:08 am

      Rachel, what ended up happening with your Burmese with the amputation? Did she have the procedure? My 10 yr old cat dislocated his tail in June 2013 and we had it amputated with the hopes that his urine and stool function would return over time. He lost his ability to expel urine at first so we were expressing his bladder for a few weeks by hand. Eventually he regained some of his ability to compress his own bladder but he could only partially empty it. Suddenly 6 months later he has become incontinent and leaks urine when he naps or sleeps. We are going to try diapering now. Has diapering worked for you?

  13. Tanya permalink
    July 20, 2013 10:47 am

    Amanda, I was so encouraged by your video. My nearly 17 year old guy is on sub-cutaneious fluids to try to prevent the onset of kidney failure. He’s now eating again and getting his strength back :-) Everything is going well except he just can’t control his bladder so we’re going to try the diapers. Thank you for your compassionate example and excellent instructions.

  14. simba permalink
    August 30, 2013 5:18 pm

    please remember that there are bones in a cat’s tail and like us as we age our bones become more brittle…be as gentle as possible

  15. Darla Bradle permalink
    October 12, 2013 8:05 pm

    Need Help ASAP!
    I do rescue in a very small rural town. I just got a kitten, maybe 4 months old, who was hit by a car 2 days ago. She has full movement of her legs, but her tail doesn’t move much and she has no control of her bodily functions. We call her “Lexi” and she has seen a vet, but they were too busy to do anything more than an exam, and said to either put her to sleep or give her some time to see if she will heal. She did receive a shot of antibiotics and I have some ointment to put on her red, inflamed anus. (Gentizol).
    Lexi is eating well, is friendly, and active. She really wants to get out of her kennel and explore, but with her anal/bladder leakage, and the recent trauma of being run over by a car, I am keeping her kenneled. I do take her out often to clean her and hold her.
    Any ideas what more I can do for her? There are no preemie diapers in this town, and she is very skinny. I can probably order some on-line, but it will take a few days.

    Any suggestions??

    Darla

  16. Kim Vam Dyke permalink
    January 11, 2014 3:12 am

    thanks you for the cat diaper and diapering videos. they really helped me tonight, as my cat.just was diagnosed with a saddle thrombus and I am caring for him right.now at home. information about.exactly how to take car of a cat who can’t use a litter box is is surprisingly hard to.find. it is so sweet that you took the effort.to do this. I also love the music. Thank you. Kim (and Squiggy).

  17. Nat permalink
    June 11, 2014 1:41 pm

    Neil, please let me know how you got on with your cat with broken tail. My cat hs been incontinent after breaking his tail a month ago and I’ve been told he has little chance of recovering his ability to pee or poo by himself. I”m at my wit’s end as he’s stinking out the house. Did the diapers work? Did they control the smell?

  18. Heather-Joan Carls permalink
    June 12, 2014 10:46 pm

    Hi. I don’t have a special needs cat per say. Plz do not say anything bad because I hear it all the time but we kinda had our cat adopt us. We are able to provide him a loving, warm, safe, clean, forever, and flea and tic free home compared to what I can only imagine he has endured for twenty plus years as a stray, living on the porch of the rental we are in now. We were walking in the door one day and in he scooted and we haven’t been able to get him to leave since. Not that we want to anyway. We are able to provide him with fresh and healthy food, clean water, baths(which are needed quite frequently), and a fresh, clean litter box that is scooped religiously daily(sometimes twice or even more) and that is emptied once to twice a week. This is the least we can do to him. But, the reason why I clicked on this particular post regarding diapers. He is sick and we can not afford vet cat because we know, as we have been around animals long enough, that whatever wrong is terminal and at this point, he is not suffering and we wish not to cause any more undue stress on him because he is a very sensitive cat. He has had diarrhea since he has been living here and it stinks up to high heavens. But, even worse, because he is old and sleeps a lot, he always leaks a little before he gets up to go. I wonder if he does not feel it is time to go or what. Every day I am constantly cleaning our sofa, washing blankets, etc. I don’t allow him to sit on me anymore because of that reason and I would smell of it and it makes me feel just horrid I cannot hold him because he ♡ loves me so, lovess to curl up in my lap and hide in me. It gets all down his legs. It sprays on his litterbox, on the wall behind it, and on the floor. It has taken quite a toll on me physically, as I am already sick and my body is broken beyond repair but I do it for Buddy♡. Worse of allpthis place is horrendous and after paying for them barely leaves less tHan a $100 left over food food. We still owe $650 for the gas furnace from this winter we are still playing catchup on. As far as I am concerned, at Buddy’s age, he probably has a year, perhaps less and we are just making the end of his life as.comfortable to.the end as possible. So.here we are with the diapers. Plz, no criticism, plz. I get it all round from everyone, especially from the inlaws calling me lazy because I am unable to work because of 6 painful herniated disc in my lower back and a myriad of other health problems that also can leave me bedridden in crippling agony and malaise for.days and trying to drill it in my fiancée’s head to not marry him because I will probably die early and I cannot go out and work and bring lots of monies home and bear him heirs…and then from animal people who tell me I am irrepressible and abusive and ignorant and should not own animals because I am unable to provide proper medical care, which is of number one importance. I probably am guilty of all of the above charges and will take blame. Anyway, I digress . My question is if Buddy, from all the ramblings above and everything aside, in a nonbiased answer, if he would be a good candidate for diapers. Thank you for those who stayed through the long winded post, and for giving a nonbiased answer.
    Good day♬

    • Monica permalink
      June 14, 2014 3:52 pm

      Your giving Buddy a good life, don’t feel guilty we do the best in the circumstances we are in. Look online and see if you can mix some rice with baby food. My mother use to feed our cat meat baby food with rice and sometimes a scrambled egg this use to help with the diarrhea. Don’t want to give medical advice as I am not a vet but maybe do some googling and see what you come up with. The diapers are working for me but my guy does not have diarrhea. I imagine you would have to be diligent in cleaning him if he has diapers on. If you decide to put Buddy to sleep remember he was lucky to have you and sometimes we just cant do anymore and it is time. Good luck.

  19. Monica permalink
    June 14, 2014 8:56 am

    Thank you so much, my twenty year old cat recently broke his leg and has a splint on. He is relatively healthy for his age, no kidney disease, no tumors, no enlarged heart etc. The only thing was he was constantly wetting his splint and at a cost of $60 a change and the trauma of changing it every 2-3 days was not going to work. Then I came across this website. What a god send! Again, thank you! The instructions were so easy to follow. Thanks from Finbar and his happy owner!!!!!

  20. crokittycats permalink
    June 26, 2014 11:55 pm

    Hello.
    I’ve an 11 year old FIV+ girl named Frodo. About a year ago we noticed blood in her urine, the result of bladder stones. We changed her foods and had her stones surgically removed. Which was very, very expensive. Within months, her stones had returned. Vet said they are the kind that can not be dissolved with medication.
    She uses the potty box frequently but has recently decided to start peeing against/in front of my husband’s end of the sofa. She knows she is doing something we disapprove of. I worry about whether she could handle a diaper or if that is even the route we should take. She is also long haired. What do you think? I am clueless with what to do. We just lost her mother to a tumor last week, so it has been extra stressful as of late.
    Thanks for listening!

  21. crokittycats permalink
    June 26, 2014 11:57 pm

    Hello.
    I’ve an 11 year old FIV+ girl named Frodo. About a year ago we noticed blood in her urine, the result of bladder stones. We changed her foods and had her stones surgically removed. Which was very, very expensive. Within months, her stones had returned. Vet said they are the kind that can not be dissolved with medication.
    She uses the potty box frequently but has recently decided to start peeing against/in front of my husband’s end of the sofa. She knows she is doing something we disapprove of. I worry about whether she could handle a diaper or if that is even the route we should take. She is also long haired. What do you think? I am clueless with what to do. We just lost her mother to a tumor last week, so it has been extra stressful as of late.
    Thanks for listening!

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