Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: January 25, 2023 by Crystal Uys
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.
What to Do When Your Cat Pees Outside the Litter Box:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Understand that 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
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.
7. 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.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.