Cat Peeing Outside of the Litter Box
Originally posted Jan 11, 2013 – updated often
One of the most common inquiries I get is why cats pee outside of the litter box. If you are having this problem with your cat, here are some reasons and possible solutions. If you have had this problem and have found a solution and the reason or solution isn’t listed below, please share it below. I am looking to make this page one that many folks can reference to get the help that they need, so please offer any additional insight you might have.
The most important thing is to get your kitty to a vet to make sure s/he doesn’t have a blockage of some sort. Male cats, for example, can get crystals in their urinary tract and can die from it if not treated immediately.
Cats Not Using Litter Box Anymore: Reasons and Solutions
- UTI (Urinary Tract Infection) or a blockage – Sometimes if they have a UTI it will make them “go” outside the box because they associate the box with pain when urinating. If they are peeing on the couch, for example, it probably feels softer. Take your kitty to the vet to get checked out. Take your kitty to the vet to get checked out. Once UTI is ruled out (for a REAL rule out, tests need to be done – urinalysis, x-ray, perhaps ultrasound) A quick trip to the vet and a long-lasting antibiotic cured him and he’s back in the box.
- Bladder Infection – S/he may have a bladder infection. If it’s painful when s/he pees, s/he’ll associate the litter box with pain and pee somewhere else. Take your kitty to the vet just to be sure s/he’s healthy. The first step is always to take your kitty to the vet to make sure it’s nothing medical.
- Urinary Crystals – Like a bladder infection – these can cause a lot of pain and the kitty starts associating the pain with the litter box. Go see a vet just in case!
- Hormonal – if your kitty isn’t spayed or neutered. Some females will urinate to “advertise” that they are in heat. And males will spray to mark their territory. Spraying is quite different than just peeing.
- Message – The cat is trying to “tell” you something – they need an additional litterbox (rule of thumb, the # of boxes should = the # of cats + one additional; some cats like to pee in one and poop in another), they don’t like where their current boxes are located, they don’t like the kind of litter, they don’t like the kind of box (some cats do NOT like hooded or automatic boxes, for example). Caymus and Murphy, my parents’ Ragdoll Cats definitely had a message – check out what we discovered – Cats Peeing Everywhere – The Redecorating Efforts of Caymus and Murphy Dean.
- Territorial – It could be a territorial behavior with another animal in your house or even one that visits just outside of the home. This could also happen if the kitty is required to share the box with another cat.
- Dirty Boxes – How often do you scoop your litter box? It should be once a day and sometimes twice a day. You should also completely clean and replace litter about once a month. Try cleaning the box more often too. Sometimes it can look OK but you have to check with the scoop for buried or ‘mystical under the surface’ pee. A bigger, cleaner box can help.
- Litter Type/Kind Problems – Could be something as simple as not liking their litter – have you changed it lately? What litter are you using now? Have you tried Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract? (Read our review about it here.) Think about it – if you don’t like what you have to stand on to go to the bathroom, then you probably aren’t going to stand there to do your business. Cats prefer fine-grained unscented litter.
Litter Box – If you have a large breed cat, you might need to get a XL box. Do you have a hooded litter box? Maybe s/he doesn’t like the idea of a Johnny-on-the-Spot type of atmosphere when peeing. If you use a hooded litter box, remove the lid. A great litter box for large breed cats and ones that pee standing is Nature’s Miracle High-Sided Litter Box. Make sure you have at least one litter box per cat. Old plastic litter boxes can absorb odors, even if you have kept them clean on a regular basis. So you might try buying new litter boxes to see if that will help.
- Litter Box Numbers – More than one box is a great idea. Sometimes kitties are very particular and like to go #1 in one box and #2 in the other box.
- Litter Box Placement – The location of the box might be an issue. Is it somewhere in a high traffic area? Is it near a washing machine or dryer? Some cats stop using their litter box because they were scared out of their minds once when they were in the litter box. They stop using the litter box because it is not in a safe quiet place. Think about it – would you want to take a dump with tons of people walking by? Try putting boxes in different areas of your house and of course, on different floors. Likewise, if you have an old kitty or a young one, then it might take them too long to get to the one litter box you have in the home. Like a child or an elderly adult sometimes can’t feel the urge to pee until too late and your kitty can’t make it to the litterbox in time? Also, this article offers insight on placement and specifically had a good tip about litterbox placement in multi-cat households, “Some cat owners find innovative solutions to litter box problems. One owner with several kitties found the younger animals would gang up on the elderly arthritic cat when she needed to use the litter box in the living room, de Jong recalls. The owners resolved the problem with a sensor cat door collar, which gave the senior animal exclusive access to a room with a separate litter box.” SureFlap makes a Microchip Pet Door that opens and closes for specific kitties or pups.
- Litter box placement next to walls – Alicia shared this discovery about her cat that solved his improper elimination behavior: “For his inappropriate toileting, I discovered by accident that he wants the box to be away from walls and not in a corner. With a 360 degree exit strategy, he uses a box 100%. It was a complete accident that I discovered it. I’d tried so many types of litter, covered and uncovered boxes, cat attract powder, you name it. Then 1 day when I was scrubbing the bathroom floor, I had moved the box out from the wall to clean behind it and he went right in it and peed. I left it away from the wall after seeing that and sure enough, he continued using it. This was after a decade and thousands of dollars in ruined furniture and rugs. In hindsight, it makes sense because he acts very aggressive whenever he feels cornered or confined. He won’t even take food or treats if he feels like he’s cornered. I’m sure it’s collateral damage from having him declawed and him feeling defenseless. “
Scooping – At the minimum scoop the litter box once a day. Have multiple cats? Scoop twice a day. Would you want to step on your old pee or poop to go to the bathroom? Most certainly not – neither does your cat. I love the Litter Lifter for easy and quick scooping. Read our review here.
- Cleaning – In addition to clean litter boxes, you also need to have a clean environment and that includes removing all old urine stains and spots from the places s/he has peed. If your kitty can smell the old urine, then that place will still seem like a good place to pee. Use a Black Light to find old spots and treat them with an enzymatic cleanser.
- Animal Communicators – There might be something weird going on like a ghost that is haunting the house and making them want to mark their territory. Animal communicators can help you figure this out. Read more about why my parents’ cats were peeing all over: Cats Peeing Everywhere – The Redecorating Efforts of Caymus and Murphy Dean
- Orange Peel/Potpourri/Teabag – If none of the above, put orange peel or potpourri or a tea bag that is dry on the spot where the kitty is peeing!
- Plastic Carpet Runner – You know those plastic runners you put over the carpet or the ones you use under your desk chair with the pointy ends on the other side – try putting that upside down where they pee. They don’t like the feeling of that on their feet!
- Black Light – Invest in a good black light– this will show you all the urine that you have probably missed. Jackson Galaxy from Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell uses a black light frequently with clients that are having peeing issues with their cats – he uses it to show the cat owners that the urine goes everywhere and needs to be cleaned up to discourage the kitty from marking/using that area again.
- Feliway – Feliway is a product that imitates the friendly marking that cats do when they rub their faces on things. The smell of this friendly scent deters them from wanting to mark the area. The Feliway box contains detailed instructions on how to use it.
- Fizzion – a Cat Stain and Odor Remover has been reported to remove urine smells. Sharon in AZ said, “We used Fizzion when Selene first got here, and she was sneaky-peeing in anything that crinkled (shopping bags, crinkle tunnel, etc). It is AMAZING…!!! She had hit 1 spot multiple times over 2 days before we found it – no trace of smell and neither of them went back to that spot! We used it on tile/grout and it was awesome!”
- Planet Urine – a Floppycats’ reader swears by this product for urine odor removal – you can buy it directly from them on their website or on Amazon.
- Simple Solution Extreme Stain and Odor Remover -get this bottle by itself or with a black-light to help you find the urine stains.
- Eco88 – Another stain and odor remover readers swear by.
- Puppy Pads – Some cats just like to pee on something soft, so some readers have found that placing puppy pads in the litter box works just like putting litter in the litterbox – and the kitty pees on the puppy pads rather than in litter.
- AUTOMATIC LITTER BOX – Some readers report that their cat stopped peeing outside of the litter box when they switch to the Litter-Robot Open Air.
How to Combat the Smell of Cat Urine
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For Kittens Weeing and Pooping Outside of the Box
A reader recently inquired about a cat peeing outside litter box and pooping outside of the litterbox – and we had a discussion on Facebook about it. Here were some of the suggestions, including many of those listed above.
- VET VISIT – First things first….take him to the vet to make sure that he doesn’t have parasites (very common at younger kitten ages), an infection, UTI or crystals in his bladder. That is sometimes 75% of the problem – health. The #1 reason for peeing outside the litterbox is medical. If a cat has a UTI for example, it will hurt to pee. If it hurts when they pee in the litter box, they may not understand it and think that somehow the litter box hurt them, so they avoid it. Also, take a fresh stool sample to the vet right away. Have them check for worms, coccidia, and giardia. (Do not assume they will check without your asking!). It may take multiple sample checks to get a positive. But they can be treated. The sooner the better! Two weeks is a LONG time for a kitten to go on like this.
- LITTER BOX – You should have multiple litter boxes. Are you using a high sided tray that he’s intimidated by?
- LITTER BOX LOCATIONS – Are the litter boxes in social spaces? This is a tough one for people because people don’t like litter boxes, but cats are very scent driven. Pay attention to where the cat is peeing. If it’s near couches, beds, or other places where people spend lots of time, he may just be insecure. It’s awful for the owner, but cats will often pee/scratch where their people’s smell is to ‘mix’ the smells so that they feel more comfortable. You can gradually move it out later, but for now, having a litter box in a bedroom or living room will be less bad than cleaning up the messes. Try moving the boxes to the areas he’s most likely to pee. Are the litter boxes in places with escape routes? If the litter boxes are in tight corners, wedged in small rooms, etc, the cat may be unwilling to go there because it is very vulnerable while ‘going’. This is especially bad with covered litter boxes. It may be fine for a while, but if they get cornered by a child or startled (by frankly anything, cats startle easily) and didn’t feel like they had a good escape route, they may avoid the box in the future because they learned that it isn’t safe. Put the boxes in two separate locations so he has a choice and take him to those at different times.
- LITTER BRAND – The kitten may not like his litter. Are you using the same litter that the breeder used? Look at the brand of litter you are using. Cats are often extremely adverse to scented litters. They also can be finicky about texture. If the litter is too large of granules or too loose so they sink in when they step on it, the cat may avoid the surface. A good one to try is Kitten Attract by Dr. Elsey.
- LITTER HEIGHT – The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of the cat.
- LITTER MATS – Do you have litter mats that may be uncomfortable on the cat’s paws?
- SCOOPING – Are you scooping his litter several times a day?
- FORGETFUL / START OVER – Weird trick, but supposedly good for kittens who are learning where their box is. You generally want to keep litter boxes very clean, but kittens can forget where their box is / that that is what the box is for. One cat behaviorist recommends scooping the pee, but if the cat ever poos outside the litter box, scoop the poo into the box and leave it there for a bit. The cat can uses the sense of smell to learn “oh this is a good place for poo to go”.
- CLEAN UP – Make sure you are using an enzymatic cleaner specifically designed for cat urine (see ones suggested above in the adult cat section). If he can still smell his pee after you clean it, he’ll still associate that spot with being a good bathroom location. You may want to buy some puppy pee pads to place in areas that you know the kitten has eliminated in the past until he is comfortable with using his litter tray. Place foil where the unwanted behavior occurs.
- NEUTER/SPAY – Has he been altered yet? Some pee outside the box when they started producing testosterone to mark their territory. Get him fixed as soon as possible.
- DECLAWED? – Has this kitten been declawed? Declawed cats often have litter box issues as various litters hurt their paws now so something to consider IF he has been declawed.
- FELIWAY or PET REMEDY – Calming remedies like Feliway or Pet Remedy – Make sure the Feliway is placed in the right place. It should be placed where the unwanted behavior is occurring – NOT by the litter box.
Looking for Cat Poops Outside of the Litter Box solutions? Check out this post: Cat Pooping Outside of the Litter Box
You can learn even more on CatInfo.org – The Litter Box From Your Cat’s Point of View
We have also had discussions on Facebook that you might be interested in:
Have you had a successful experience of getting your cat to properly eliminate again? If so, please share your tips and tricks in the comments below!
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