What to Do When Your Cat Pees Outside the Litter Box

cat-in-litter-box

Dealing with a cat who pees outside the litter box is one of the most frustrating issues cat guardians may be faced with. It’s also one of the most common reasons why cats are returned to shelters. The reasons why cats eliminate outside the litter box vary, and include litter box aversion, urine marking, hormonal problems, and medical issues.

The difference between urinating outside the box and spraying

Cat guardians often confuse urinating and spraying. Cats who are urinating outside the box usually squat and deposit larger amounts on horizontal surfaces. Urine spraying, on the other hand, is a territorial behavior. Cats who spray stand upright and deposit a small amount of urine on vertical surfaces.  Even though both male and female cats spray, the behavior is mostly seen in unneutered male cats, and occurs more often in multicat households, although even a single cat may spray.

Spraying is not to be confused with vertical peeing. Some cats, both male or female, will urinate inside the litter box either standing up, or they start urinating in a squatting position and then gradually stand up as they finish.

Your first step: a trip to your veterinarian

Anytime a cat stops using the litter box, a trip to the veterinarian should always be your first step. Inappropriate urination can be an indicator of a serious health problem. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and a urinalysis. Bloodwork and radiographs may also be necessary to diagnose the problem.

Addressing behavioral problems

If there are no medical problems, your best bet is to work with your veterinarian and/or a feline behaviorist to identify what is triggering the inappropriate urination. Sometimes, the solution can be as simple as adding an additional litter box, changing the location or type of litter box, or changing the type of litter you’re using. Long standing issues may require some more intense detective work.

In multicat households, inappropriate urination can be caused by territorial issues. Treating the problem will require analyzing the dynamics of your entire household, with an eye to identifying what causes territorial stress and tension between cats.

Cats do not urinate outside the litter box out of spite

One of the biggest myths around litter box issues is the idea that cats pee outside the box because they’re angry at you, or because they’re getting back at you for something you did. They may urinate outside the box because something in their environment is stressing them out, such as a new family member, a guardian who travels frequently, new furniture, or any other major changes in the household, but they do it because they are upset with something in their environment, not with you.

Thoroughly remove urine stains and odors

Anytime a cat pees outside the litter box, it’s important to thoroughly clean the area, because cats are attracted back to the same area if there’s even just a residual scent of urine. There are a number of effective stain and odor removers, you can find some of the best here. Don’t use ammonia based cleaners as they can intensify the smell of urine. One of the best products to completely eliminate urine odors is the Critterzone Air Purifier (see the banner below this post for more information.) This deceptively small unit eliminates odors completely: simply mop up excess urine, then place the unit upside down on the damp spot for about 30 minutes.

A blacklight* can help you find stains invisible to the naked eye.

Holistic remedies

Safe Space for Cats* is an effective remedy for cats whose inappropriate urination is caused by territorial issues. Some cats may respond to herbal calming remedies. Reiki can help reduce stress in households with territorial issues.

Medication

If none of the steps to correct behavioral causes of inappropriate urination are successful, cat guardians may need to consider anti-anxiety medication in conjunction with behavioral modification.

The litter box

Sometimes, the litter box itself is the cause of the problem. Too few boxes, the wrong type of box, the wrong type of litter, a box that isn’t scooped frequently enough, can all contribute to inapproriate urination. Please read How to Prevent Litter Box Problems for more information.

*These are affiliate links, which means that I will receive a small commission from any purchases.

25 Comments on What to Do When Your Cat Pees Outside the Litter Box

  1. Bernie
    March 7, 2017 at 12:06 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi, we adopted a cat at Christmas time. He is now 5 months old. He sometimes urinate or defecate outside the litter box. It is mostly when he urinates. At the beginning he would urinate on my daughter’s bags. Now he urinates on her bed. We always scoop his poop as soon as we are aware of it. He used to sleep in my daughter’s room and we left him in her room during the day. We have now moved him into the bathroom as I can’t change her mattress again and I’m tired of having to dry clean the duvet. I’ve tried spraying the area with a product that is supposed to keep them from going there. Any advice will be much appreciated.

    Reply
  2. Tom Randall
    October 12, 2016 at 9:29 am (3 years ago)

    Hi all, it’s been a while since I posted here. Our Charlie passed away from complications from feline calici virus last October. This is not why I’m writing however. Recently we took in a little fellow who was like some of our other cats born in our condo complex. He really is a little fellow, the vet estimates 8 or 9 weeks. Anyhow we have been keeping him isolated in our room away from the other cats until he got a clean bill of health and is a bit bigger. He’s been fine with this for the last couple of weeks but litterally over the last two days he’s started peeing on the bed. He does use the litter box most of the time and so far as we know isn’t peeing on anything else. We took him to the vet which we needed to do anyway and they could find no problems. He is a very friendly and happy kitty, he plays with his toys a lot and loves to be held, in short he does not appear stressed although I know this can be difficult to determine sometimes. The other cats are not allowed in with him at all at this point. He seems to do it more on my side, we were wondering if it’s because I’m gone to work all day. Any thoughts?The only suggestion the vet had at this point was to change the litter out completely which we have done and for the record it hasn’t worked yet although we just did this last night. All I can say is thank the gods for Nature’s Miracle which seems to get rid of the piss smell really well. Fortunately with him being so little it doesn’t stink that much at all yet. Like I say I welcome any thoughts or ideas, he’s a great little guy but this is going to get old really fast. Oh by the way we call him Athelstan.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      October 12, 2016 at 3:11 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m sorry about Charlie, Tom.

      As for Athelstan, it’s possible that the confinement is causing some stress for him, and the peeing could be marking behavior, since he can smell the other cats in the house. I’m not sure how to fix that beyond slowly introducing him to the others. Adding a second litter box might help – put it in the spot where he’s currently peeing on the bed.

      Reply
      • Tom Randall
        October 12, 2016 at 4:07 pm (3 years ago)

        Hi Ingrid,
        Thanks for the condolences for Charlie, yes that was a bummer. Now that we know that Stan has a pretty clean bill of health we are gradually letting him out a little. It’s strange because he doesn’t really seem stressed, he doesn’t cry to get out of the room much or anything. Do you mean to litterally sit a box on the bed where he’s going? I guess I could do that although it obviously couldn’t stay there the whole time. Have you had much luck with the herbal things mentioned in your post like the safe space? I’m prepared to try about anything at this point.

        Thanks.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          October 13, 2016 at 5:36 am (3 years ago)

          I’ve found Safe Space for Cats to be very effective in these situations. It’s not an herbal remedy, it’s made from flower essences.

          And yes, I meant placing a litter box on the bed as a temporary measure. Once he starts using it, gradually move it to a permanent location.

          Reply
      • Tom Randall
        October 12, 2016 at 5:30 pm (3 years ago)

        As a stop gap measure until we get this figured out I’m considering getting a cheap shower curtain or something similar to put over the bed so it doesn’t get ruined.

        Reply
      • Tom Randall
        October 13, 2016 at 12:07 am (3 years ago)

        Well it’s obviously way too soon to tell but today we let Athelstan out for quite a bit longer than we have up to now and he had a grand time being free to charge around the house and use up his energy. Our other cats have been fine with him so far and no one has been the least bit aggressive. He’s currently back in our room completely tuckered out, no peeing incidents so far today. I’ll keep everyone posted on how it goes from here, I obviously don’t expect it to just stop instantly but I’d say we are off to a good start.

        Reply
    • Kristina
      February 18, 2019 at 4:55 pm (7 months ago)

      Natures miracle is amazing. I use it all the time and it seriously kills the enzymes

      Reply
  3. Joyce
    July 16, 2016 at 11:59 am (3 years ago)

    Has anyone tried Dr. Mercola’s BioCharged Litter. Casey was having difficulty going all the way into the box with the usual litter, I figured because he suddenly was paw sensitive. The biocharged litter is very soft and all my kids took to it instantly. PROBLEM? The charcoal turns their paws BLACK and everything they step on after that. They clean this stuff off their paws, how good can that be? I get NO decent replies from the Dr. Mercola people. Their response: Dr. Becker uses it with her cat. She says just wipe their paws and wash the rugs and comforters, it comes out easily. She didn’t think it was that big of a deal so they went to market anyway. FOLKS! I have have 4 kids. And regardless about it washing out easily (which it doesn’t, just sayin’) can swallowing it be ok? Does anyone have an opinion about an unscented clumping litter, MUST BE soft on paws but SAFE from toxins like GMO corn (worlds best, which is too harsh on Casey’s paws) or walnuts, etc?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 17, 2016 at 5:44 am (3 years ago)

      I have not tried this litter, and I have a lot of respect for Dr. Becker, but that seems to be a bit of a product fail, Joyce. I like and use Dr. Elsey’s Precious Cat. It’s an unscented, clumping clay litter with virtually no dust.

      Reply
      • Joyce
        July 17, 2016 at 5:13 pm (3 years ago)

        Great, thank you Ingrid. That’s exactly the brand I landed on. Was just doing more research before I jump in again. I buy Dr. Mercola’s products all the time. I also appreciate Dr. Becker’s advice, too. I’m just so disappointed. Wish they could just figure a way to subtract or neutralize the charcoal color because that really is the only thing that makes me nuts. I’m upset because their customer service was not knowledgeable and that I have to pay to ship back all the product I have. This is not that my cats don’t like it, it’s a product fail and the customer should NEVER have to pay for that.

        Reply
  4. Misty Eyed
    December 3, 2015 at 9:54 am (4 years ago)

    I wish I could understand and pin point more with my cat, but my cat peed on my floor 58 times. I’m almost crazy! He’s diabetic, hyperthyroidism, a new male cat in the house ( the neighbor’s threw him out, no front claws) the get along fine, but I think my peeling cat might be insane and trying to take me down with him!

    Reply
  5. Tom Randall
    September 27, 2015 at 5:25 pm (4 years ago)

    So, what do some of you guys do if you have multiple cats and one simply will not share the box? I’m asking just in case we are having that situation with little Charlie, like I said in my last comment he’s recently started peeing outside the box, only Saul our other male uses the box in our bathroom area that Charlie uses. We were keeping Saul out of there because we had Charlie pretty much isolated when we got him because he has CFV. We started letting Saul back in there when our vet told us it was alright to allow some interaction and Charlie seemed fine with it for a while, this issue just started last week. The girls all use the other two boxes we have in the utility room. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Jean
      January 4, 2016 at 4:29 pm (4 years ago)

      Hi Tom,
      I may suggest using another kind of litter which is made of Walnut shell, I got my new cat last year and she was upset when met my other boy cats, she kept peeing outside of box, and I tried several things until using Buffalo Blue walnut litter. She just tried to get into the box and pee immediately when I changed the litter.
      I know they are different cats with different cat-titude, but you can have a try, hope it works

      Jean

      Reply
  6. Tom Randall
    September 27, 2015 at 1:12 pm (4 years ago)

    Our newest cat Charlie has recently started doing this he is about 3 months old and has been very good about the box until recently. Taking him to the vet tomorrow.

    Reply
  7. Pattie
    July 9, 2015 at 5:40 pm (4 years ago)

    Urinary tract infections are a main reason that cats begin peeing outside the litter box. Males, especially, are prone to them and as utis are very painful, they associate the litter box with being a cause of pain and avoid it. It’s absolutely vital to get your cat checked out medically.

    Reply
  8. Laura
    July 7, 2015 at 7:03 am (4 years ago)

    Great article and even better the ideas in the comments – thank you to other readers…. My 3 year old kitty who unfortunately is very overweight she is 18lbs, well she has been going outside the box but not out of spite or any medical reason other than being so big she can’t fit herself in the box. I am gonna make a extra large box DIY out of a tote with a side cut down to get in and I am going to melt the cut part a bit so no sharp edges so to speak but in the mean time I most definitely am going to get some puppy pads for around the box for her non purposeful accidents thanks to the comments cuz as I have been racking my brain to try and figure out a way to cover the floor that will absorb the accidents I never thought puppy pads – GREAT idea thanks so much! !!!

    Reply
  9. Maria
    July 6, 2015 at 10:28 pm (4 years ago)

    my 7 year old cat started urinating and pooping outside the litter – usually on my area rugs. She is not sick and i isolated her from the other two cats for several days with one litter box along with her toys and food and that seemed to work. however, out of nowhere she will do it again. She is definitely the alpha cat in the household and I don’t know if she is feeling territorial even though I have 4 litter boxes. I am now at the point where i have picked up all the area rugs in the house because i couldn’t afford to keep having them sent out to be cleaned

    strangely (and luckily for me) she doesn’t go on the wall to wall carpets.

    Reply
  10. Ellen Pilch
    July 6, 2015 at 9:52 pm (4 years ago)

    Excellent post. I have had Lucy tested numerous times and she was fine. She won’t use the box often so I have a puppy pad near it that she goes on.

    Reply
  11. The Swiss Cats
    July 6, 2015 at 3:56 pm (4 years ago)

    Great post ! Medical, behavior, litter or litter box : we hope it will help humans to check reasons in the right order if they have that kind of problem with their cat ! Purrs

    Reply
  12. Charlotte Dwyer
    July 6, 2015 at 12:25 pm (4 years ago)

    My shelter cat turned 17 in March. She has been with me for 3 years by September. She stank and peed outside her box regularly. I threw out the box she came with, turned her over on her back on a bunch of newspapers and found she had severe infections of her anal sac and vagina. I began treating her with no-lint paper towels soaked in warm water tossing them in a baggie, then gently dotting those areas with Bacitracin. It took nearly two weeks and she was cured. I keep her litter box and area clean and scooped. She still prefers to pee on the newspapers that I line under and all around her litter box. I have to change them twice a day frequently. She is loving and sweet to me, and also totally unfriendly to others and will attack anything else with 4 legs. She has been in a shelter 4 times. Can’t send her back. Heaven help me.

    Reply
    • Joyce
      July 16, 2016 at 12:06 pm (3 years ago)

      I realize this is a year old, and I hope you don’t have this issue anymore. But I recently found out from the new vet that the anal sac infections are common but they have so many. The infected sacs can be removed. I haven’t tried that yet but am considering it. Want to do some research first. But most cats who don’t use a litter box appropriately have some type of medical issue and that could be hers. They get so sensitive down “there” that litter may bother them.

      Reply
  13. Fur Everywhere
    July 6, 2015 at 8:54 am (4 years ago)

    This is great information, Ingrid, and I hope it helps a lot of kitties and their humans.

    Reply
  14. Summer
    July 6, 2015 at 4:25 am (4 years ago)

    I wish humans understood that the motivations for what we cats do is different from the way they think. It’s not “jealousy” or “anger,” it’s about stress and territory. And often they jump to behavior when the problem is medical. They SO need to be straightened out in this area.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 6, 2015 at 6:08 am (4 years ago)

      You are so right, Summer.

      Reply

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