5 Reasons Your Cat is Peeing Outside the Litter Box

Improper urination is the most common behavior problem reported by cat owners. There are many reasons why your cat might be peeing outside the litter box. They could range from medical issues to stressors in the household to the litter box itself. Let’s take a look at why cats pee outside of their litter boxes and what you can do about it.

1. Medical Issues

Underlying medical issues such as a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, diabetes or anything that causes your cat to feel uncomfortable, like arthritis, can be a cause for your cat urinating outside the litter box. Some of these issues can make urinating painful and increase the frequency and urgency of urination. Your cat might associate the litter box with pain, their control over defecation might be decreased, or they simply can’t get to the litter box in time.

Medical issues that can cause your cat to pee outside the litter box include:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Crystalluria (urinary crystals in the urine)
  • Cystic calculi (bladder stones)
  • Hyperthyroidism (hyperactive thyroid gland)
  • Degenerative joint disease (arthritis)
  • Kidney disease
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)
  • Diabetes Mellitus

It’s important to begin by speaking with your vet. Blood and urine tests can detect or rule out medical issues that could be causing the problem. Your vet can recommend treatment for your kitty’s medical issue.

2. The litter box itself

Once a medical issue has been ruled out, we can begin to look at other reasons your cat might be avoiding her litter box. The state or quality of the box itself is often the cause of out-of-box urination. When your cat doesn’t feel comfortable in their litter box anymore, she will look for other options. Here are some reasons your cat might start disliking the litter box:

  • The litterbox has not been cleaned frequently enough for the cat’s taste
  • There are not enough litter boxes for all the cats in the household
  • The litter has perfume or dye that is off putting to your cat
  • Your cat prefers a different type of litter
  • The box has a hood or a liner that bothers the cat in some way
  • The litterbox is too small, making it difficult to use

3. Litter box location

Where you place the litter box can also make a big difference. Cats, like humans, prefer to do their business away from lots of action and noise. However, keeping the box too far away or in deeply secluded rooms can make the box hard to find for your cat. The proper litter box location should:

  • Offer your cat privacy and peace
  • Be easy for your cat to find
  • Be away from noisy things like the washer, hot water heater or HVAC
  • Be easily accessed (things like not too high, not through a small door)

4. Multiple pets in the home

If you have multiple cats in your household, it’s common for litter box problems to arise. Some cats will stalk and/or prevent other timid cats from getting to or using the litter box. Some cats don’t feel comfortable using a litter box with a hood because they can’t see other cats approaching. More cats increase daily “deposits,” creating full litter boxes more quickly. Litter Boxes are like port-o-potties, if they are smelly you want to use somewhere else

5. Stress & Anxiety

Stress & anxiety are common sources of litter box problems. Cats are very sensitive animals who are creatures of habit. Even small changes that seem trivial to you might throw off their emotional balance. Stress & anxiety in your cats could result from things like:

  • Rearranging furniture or new furniture which can disorient your kitty
  • New cats or dogs introduced to the household or to the neighborhood
  • Another pet passing away
  • New noises (like construction in or near the home)
  • New person moving into or out of the home
  • New person visiting
  • Owners gone for an extended period of time like a vacation
  • Change in diet
  • Another person, or child, messing with the cat while it’s in the box, on the way to the box, or when it’s done

How can you treat the problem?

There is no quick-fix solution to litter box problems, but don’t worry. They can be solved! Each situation is unique to your cat and your home. Here are some tips to help you start addressing the problem:

Rule out a medical issue

If your cat is suddenly peeing outside the litterbox, consult with your veterinarian first to rule out medical conditions. Since our cats can’t tell us when they’re feeling bad, paying attention to their habits can be critical in identifying a health problem early.

If your cat has gotten a clean bill of health, be patient and take some time to work through the possible reasons your cat might be avoiding their litter box. Your veterinarian can help you determine behavioral issues related to inappropriate litter box issues.

Discourage inappropriate litter-box use

To discourage your kitty from peeing in the wrong places, make sure you neutralize the odor in the places she has urinated with an appropriate cleaning product for this purpose. Do not use ammonia-based cleaners. Urine contains ammonia and cleaning with ammonia could attract your cat to the same spot again. We often recommend a product called Anti-icky Poo. Covering these areas with double sided tape or aluminum foil might also help, since cats, in general, do not like walking on these textures.

Encourage appropriate litter-box use

Help your cat fall in love with their litter box again by treating them to a new one, preferably without a hood. Try a different kind of litter, preferably unscented clumping litter, and double check that the locations of your boxes are ideal. We typically recommend Fresh Step Unscented (not the light version).

Another technique to try is to place the new litter box near where the inappropriate urination is occurring to encourage your cat to use it. After several days, move it two to three feet closer to the original location. Repeat this until the litter box is back where it belongs. Keep the old litter box in its usual location in case your cat decides to reuse it without additional encouragement.

Litter box harmony in a multi-cat household

If you have multiple cats in your household, especially if one is a bully who prevents another cat from getting to the box, be sure to devote a space and litter box to your timid kitty that other cats can’t access easily.

It’s important to make sure you have enough boxes as well – at least the number of cats you have plus one. Place the litter boxes in different rooms to provide privacy and peace.

When you have multiple cats in your home, it’s even more critical to keep their boxes clean, scooping at least once a day, if not more.

Make sure you never

Cats are highly sensitive animals. It’s never a good idea to do any of the following things, as they can stress your cat and make the situation worse:

  • Rub your cat’s nose in the urine or feces. This increases stress in cats.
  • Yell at your kitty, or carry/drag it to the litter box. Again, this is simply going to make things worse.
  • Use ammonia-based cleaners. Urine contains ammonia and cleaning with ammonia could attract kitty to the same spot again.

In Conclusion

Solving litter box issues takes time and patience. Rule out any medical conditions first before taking steps to improve your kitty’s experience with her litter box. Provide their preferred type of box and litter in the ideal locations, clean the boxes regularly and stay sensitive to changes that might be causing your kitty stress and anxiety. Eventually, you’ll have a grateful kitty using the litter box again. If you are having trouble, make sure to work with your vet to come up with a plan to get your cat using the litter box appropriately again.

Lisa Beagan

Lisa Beagan

Dr. Lisa Beagan is a 1995 graduate of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. After working in an equine practice then a small animal clinic, she opened Mobile Pet Vet in 2003. Dr. Beagan has also completed a veterinary acupuncture certification through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society.

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