Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 30, 2023 by Crystal Uys

White thai moon diamond 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.

Peeing outside the box is often referred to as inappropriate urination, but it’s important to understand that from the cat’s perspective, this behavior is never inappropriate. There’s always a reason – and it’s not because your cat is trying to get back at you for something.

Always rule out medical problems first

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.

Determine why your cat is peeing outside the litter box

For a step-by-step process of elimination to determine why your cat is not using the litter box, read What to Do When You Cat Pees Outside the Litter Box.

Image Credit: Alexandra Morosanu, Shutterstock

The difference between spraying and inappropriate urination

Cat parents often confuse urinating and spraying. Urine spraying is a territorial behavior. Cats stand upright and deposit a small amount of urine on vertical surfaces. Cats who are urinating usually squat and deposit larger amounts on horizontal surfaces. Even though both male and female cats spray, the behavior is mostly seen in un-neutered male cats, and occurs more often in multicat households, although even a single cat may spray. For more on spraying and how to stop the behavior, read Why Is My Cat Spraying and How Can I Stop It?

Urinary tract issues and stress

Urinary tract disease is one of the most frustrating conditions to diagnose and treat in cats. It’s not always possible to identify the exact cause, since most of the affected cats have more than just one single problem. A 2011 landmark study conducted at the Ohio State University on 32 cats over a three year period found that stress has a significant impact on lower urinary tract health. For more on this stress connection, read Does Your Cat Have Pandora Syndrome?

Destroy the evidence

Once a cat has peed outside the box, he’s drawn back to the area and considers it an appropriate urination site, which is why it’s important to eliminate all traces of odor from the trouble spot. Our favorite product for this is the Jackson Galaxy Stain and Odor Remover.

Person cleaning carpet
Image Credit: Andrey_Popov, Shutterstock

Choose the right litter box

The average cat uses the litter box three to five times a day. It would make sense that something that is used so frequently on a daily basis requires that we humans put a lot of thought into it. Unfortunately, cat guardians often select a litter box for all the wrong reasons – or at least for the wrong reasons from the cat’s perspective. Read The Optimal Litter Box for Your Cat to get a better understanding of what is important to your cat when it comes to the right litter box.

When all else fails

If you’ve tried everything and still can’t get a handle on the problem, you may want to consider working with a feline behaviorist. I can highly recommend Mikel Delgado and Dr. Marci Koski Both offer remote consultations.

This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated.

Featured Image Credit: MelodicinD, Shutterstock

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18 Comments on Litter Box Issues: A Round Up of Solutions for a Frustrating Problem

  1. We have this problem with Einstein and Dad is at his wits end. Einstein is one of two alpha cats. He gets more play and stimulation than any of us and will stop for a week at a time and then, PeEnie does it again. Dad put tile down before we moved in otherwise this would be bigger than it is. But it is huge

  2. I use a mix of litter made out of corn cob and litter made out of cedar and pine (for a natural fragrance). The crystals may be good but it’s not fun when you step on those when walking barefoot on a hard floor.
    I advise everyone to stay away from using CLAY litter like I did in the beginning because I wanted to save a few dollars because your kitty may lick little bits here n’ there when cleaning his paws after going in the litterbox and over time it can cause an intestinal obstruction (it clumps in the intestines like cement balls) which can be very costly (over $1k) if it ever came down to performing life saving surgery.
    Fortunately my cat didn’t require surgery but it still cost me $1800.00 between a series of enemas and laxatives galore and X-rays in between until he luckily was able to pass them.

  3. hi
    I use sweater boxes as litter boxes and have never had a problem.
    The real issue, as I see it, is … litter. Specifically, the chemicals used to control odor. Dr. Mercola has quite a bit to say about this. Any comments??

    • I recommend unscented litter. If the box is scooped regularly, there’s no need for odor control additives.

      • Thank you for reply.
        I do use unscented litter and clean boxes two to three times a day.
        It is the sodium bentonite (crystalline silica … a carcinogen) used to eliminate odor that is of concern.

        • Actually, sodium bentonite is a clumping agent. There are no formal studies that I’m aware of on the effects of sodium bentonite on cats, although there’s certainly plenty of anecdotal “evidence” on the interwebs. That doesn’t mean that just because there are no studies it’s safe, but it also doesn’t mean it’s harmful. It’s a controversial topic, and if you have a cat who eats litter, I would certainly avoid it.

          • Thank you, again.
            Part of the controversy has to do with the fact that cats lick their paws.
            I will continue to follow studies, while not buying into every fear factor alert out there. At the same time, marketers are very savvy, so cannot rely on their claims, either.

    • We use a cookie sheet for Chicken my 18 year old tabby. I put puppy pads beneath and and sprinkle baking soda on top of the puppy pads and on the cookie sheet before putting the litter in. It was working. Great until my 10 year old daughter convinced me she NEEDED a kitten. The sweet little thing forgot to stop growing and is now 10 months and weighs over 15 lbs. he has decided to use Chickens cookie tin as his pee spot causing a flood every time. He pees like a giant cat.

      • Try putting a high-sided litter box right next to the cookie tray – hopefully your kitten will decide to use that instead of the tray!

  4. My rescue kitten has been home for 4 months now. He’s never urinated outside his box BUT poops outisde of it EACH time. Normally in the same place. I’ve no idea why he does that or what to do to solve this problem.

    • Try putting a litter box in the spot where he defecates, Monica, or try and put a second litter box next to the one he uses to urinate.

  5. We use the Breeze system. Our 14 year old male kitty Henry stands up and sprays out the back of the litter pan. I use a plastic crate cover which I stand up behind the litter pan which I cover with dog pee pads and change them once a week – he does this in his litter pan and in his sister’s litter pan so I have the same set up for both. I suspect that it is a territory issue as he would probably like both of his sister’s to disappear but he does not pee anywhere else, fortunately.

    • We use the NVR Miss litter box, which has solved the problem with our vertical peer:

  6. This is one of the toughest issues for humans because they only see it through their eyes… and the solution is figuring things out from the cat perspective, whether the problem is physical, psychological, or just a matter of the wrong litter or bad litter box placement.

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