6 Common Reasons Why Cats Pee Outside The Litter Box

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Are you frustrated, losing sleep, and thinking of giving your cat away because he or she is peeing outside of the litter box?

You are not alone! House soiling outside the litter box is one of the most widespread behaviour problems cats exhibit, yet it is one of the last problems cat owners seek professional help for.

Instead, cat parents may not recognise that there are several solutions available and may not realize that cat behaviourists even exist. 

In this article, we’ll demystify the reasons for inappropriate elimination, explain how to meet your cat’s individual needs, discuss ways to prevent house soiling, and help you decide when to seek specialist support.

We will also empower you to be a responsible, alert cat parent, reduce the impact on your household, and improve your cat’s quality of life! 

Why Is My Cat Peeing Everywhere Suddenly?

All cats soiling outside of the litter box should undergo a medical (thorough physical examination and diagnostic testing) and behavioural evaluation. 

There could be several reasons your cat is peeing everywhere.

Causes include medical problems, aversion to the litter and litterbox, marking behaviours, poor house training, and social and environmental stressors. Let’s go into more detail.

Explanation of the Causes of Peeing Outside of The Litter Box

Cats are clean and fastidious creatures, particularly about their toileting habits and unlikely to soil outside the litter box for no reason.

A few of the explanations for your cat peeing outside of the litter box include:

1. Medical Reasons

Perhaps the most common medical cause of cats peeing outside the litter box is feline lower urinary tract disease or FLUTD.

FLUTD is a term used to define a group of illnesses that affects the lower urinary tract in cats: Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) is the most common reason for house soiling causes in cats, producing increased rate of urination, difficulty, and pain when urinating.

Read More: Urinary Tract Infection In Cats

This inflammatory condition can vary in severity and is intensified by stress and other problems while urethral obstruction (from crystals or stones) can be life-threatening and requires IMMEDIATE medical attention (male cats are more prone to blockages than female cats). 

Other Medical Causes Of Peeing Outside Of The Litter Box:

  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Arthritis pain, especially in older cats has been a suggested cause of house soiling. 
  • Cognitive dysfunction such as Dementia. 
  • Dental Disease – cats with tooth resorption and loose teeth have been sighted to eliminate outside of the litter box due to distress and discomfort. 
  • Post-declaw pain can be low in severity and chronic; your cat may be walking normally but avoids jumping up / down into the tray.  
  • Blindness from retinal detachment, diabetes, or old age.  
  • Chronic kidney failure.

2. Environmental Stressors

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis Symptoms

Cats are individuals and need access to environmental resources without being confronted by other cats. Key resources such as food, water, scratching posts, resting areas, play, and toileting sites should be available in multiple separate locations to avoid stress and competition in multi-cat households.

Even in single-cat homes, having an appropriate number of litter boxes, food, and water in separate locations is of great benefit. Outdoor cats should have adequate indoor trays to eliminate frustration and stress from unpredictability. 

Cats are territorial and their sense of smell is a primary means by which cats evaluate their surroundings. Introductions of odours, materials (i.e. chemicals, medications, detergents) or new places (home relocation) will disrupt the cat’s sensory perception of its environment causing anxiety associated problems behaviour. 

3. Social Conflicts

Why is my cat peeing outside of the litter box social conflict

Conflict between cats may increase stress and tension around the litter box, leading to inappropriate urination.

Cats may urinate outside of the litter box due to social conflicts and fights. These conflicts may result from various issues. Multi-story properties with narrow stairways can easily create territorial struggles when cats housed together. An assertive cat may prevent a nervous cat from getting to the litter tray. 

4. Cat-Person Distress

The significance of owners as potential stressors is often overlooked since most cat-human relationships are positive. Unpredictable and intrusive owners who over fuss may create stress for the cat while lack of stroking may create fear.

Any changes within the household dynamics, such as the owner’s absence or a visiting family member can cause anxiety and distress. Giving your cat a sense of control and security is key.  

5. Litter Box Aversion and Inappropriate Site Preferences

An aversion to the litter box is common and can lead to house soiling. Aversion could be to the box, the litter, location of the box, or all combined. A cat with an aversion to their litter box will usually eliminate on a variety of surfaces (bed, carpet, clothing, floors, bathtub, etc). Your cat may prefer to eliminate in another spot or on a specific surface like clothing or carpets. Cats that choose alternate locations often have an aversion to the litter box location. 

6. Finally, Your Cat Might Be Exhibiting Territorial Spraying Behavior.

low-sided open litter box

Cats freely eliminate wastes in 3 ways: squat urination (peeing), defecation, and urine spraying.

Urine eliminated by squatting makes a circular puddle on the substrate. The average cat pees large volumes of urine 2 times per day and defecates (solid waste) 1 per day (and up to 3-4 times in outdoor cats).

When spraying, your cat typically stands upright on all 4 limbs and holds its tail vertically, your cat will not dig before it sprays or covers the affected area afterward. When spraying, your cat generally vacates small volumes of urine onto vertical surfaces.

To assist your veterinarian, differentiate between spraying and squat urination, record a video of your cat “doing their business” and keep a diary/journal of the presented behavior. 

How To Prevent Or Minimize Your Cat Peeing Outside The Litter Box?

1. Ensure Your Cat Is Neutered!

woman cleaning cat litter box

Help your kitten be successful with litter box training from day one. 

2. Use The Right Number Of Litter Trays.

The ideal number of trays in an indoor environment is 1 tray per cat, plus 1 placed in different locations. Trays can be covered with hoods or open shallow containing a commercial litter with which the cat is familiar (recommended litter materials; recycled paper, corn-based, clumping variety, some cats can be averse to polythene liners and litter deodorants).

3. Make Sure Your Cat’s Litter Boxes Are The Right Size.

cat with wet spot on carpet

Trays should be at least 1.5x the length of your cat’s body (most litter boxes are too small; storage boxes and small dog litter pans make excellent boxes). Litter depth preference of most cats is about 1.5 inches.

Read More: The Best Cat Litter Boxes Reviewed

Litter locations should be discreet and away from busy thoroughfares, the tray should be cleaned daily and the litter should reflect the cat’s natural desire to use a sand-like substance (Do NOT change your cat’s litter type). Soiled litter must be removed daily while litter trays should be washed and disinfected once weekly or fortnightly. Do NOT move the litter trays as it may confuse your cat and they may try to eliminate in the previous spot.

4. Boredom Stresses Cats. Daily Play-based Interaction With Their Owner Is Vital.

Person massaging cat's head

Relieving boredom and stress can help to minimize inappropriate urination.

Consistent, positive, and predictable human cat-social interaction allows the cat to both initiate and stop interactive behavior. 

How To Manage And Treat Litter Box Problems?

Resolving house soiling difficulties may necessitate making easy changes to several features of your cat’s home environment and care.

This may also include medical treatments, diet alterations, and behaviour modifications consisting of: 

  • Medication if/as prescribed by your veterinarian (i.e. anti-anxiety meds).
  • Joint supplementation; beneficial for cats with chronic joint problems like arthritis. 
  • Use of positive reinforcement (i.e. treats) when your cat uses the litterbox. 
  • Keep fighting cats separated unless supervised and utilise reintroduction procedures in cases of inter-cat conflict.
  • Adequate vertical space; tree towers for resting and hiding. 
  • Use of Feliway (synthetic pheromones); spray on affected areas and plug-in a Feliway diffuser to your cat’s most frequented room. 
  • Play-based interaction with the owner and use of food-dispensing toys like puzzles to reduce boredom, stress, and obesity (all linked to FIC).
  • Minimisation of external stimuli exposure by blocking outside view (static film, blinds, translucent window coverings).   
  • Daily mental and physical stimulation (environmental enrichment); leash walking, training, and play with novelty toys.
  • Litter attractant add-on (natural mix of herbs and plant extracts). 
  • Predictable daily routine and feeding times.
  • Behaviour modification in conjunction with litter-tray management.  

Also Read: The 10 Best Cat Slow Feeders & Puzzle Feeders

Conclusion

Most inappropriate elimination cases can be treated successfully once they have been accurately identified and dealt with. Early intervention is key and represents the best chance to redirect your feline companion back into the litter box!

Tried everything and your cat is still experiencing elimination problems? Do not give up! Please seek a referral to a Cat Behaviourist or head to IAABC to Find an Animal Behaviour Consultant in your area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my cat peeing just outside the litter box?

One of the most irritating situations is when your cat pees within inches of the sides, back or front of the litter box. The most common scenarios for ‘missing the tray’ are: 

Your cat is not able to assume the correct position in the litter tray. The posture needed is one with the rear end tucked under far enough so the lot lands in the box. Several commercially available litter boxes are too small.

Check Here the DIY tip on how to make a litter box using a storage bin

The balancing act! Your cat stands on the edge of the tray rather than in the litter while the urine squirts over the side. Although this may seem funny or weird, it is a sign your cat does not like standing in this box or is not able to, possibly because it is too small. If the tray is large and they are standing on the edge, this usually means your cat does not like the litter itself. 

Do cats pee out of spite?

As unpleasant as it may be, your cat is not “out to get you”! Cat’s sensory system is different to ours and they perceive the world and environment in a different manner. Your cat is not looking for revenge; they are giving you a hint that something is not right, and they need your help!

Should I punish my cat?

You should NEVER punish your cat no matter what the cause is! This will only make your cat fearful. Punishment also damages the human-animal bond and can often increase anxiety and exacerbate the problem. Do NOT use any deterrents (i.e. water pistol, citrus peel, pepper) either because it will redirect the behaviour to another spot. 

What Can I Use to Clean My Cat’s Pee?

Most likely until you get to the bottom of the cause, your cat will re-soil the marked area with their scent, so it’s crucial you clean and remove the odour immediately with the use of enzyme or bacteria odour eliminators. Steer clear of products containing ammonia or vinegar since they smell like urine. 

Why Does my cat pees over the edge of the litter box?

Causes include medical problems, aversion to the litter and litterbox, marking behaviours, poor house training, and social and environmental stressors.

View Sources

Caney, S. (2016, November 15). Feline idiopathic cystitis management: role of the nurse and technician. (I. C. Care, Compiler) UK: Feline Focus. Retrieved April 26, 2020

Care, I. C. (2018, August 13). Soiling indoors. (I. C. Care, Producer) Retrieved April 24, 2020, from International Cat Care: https://icatcare.org/advice/soiling-indoors/

Foote, D. S. (2018, May 01). Litter Box Misses – When Your Cat Goes Right Next to the Box. (CattleDog Publishing ) Retrieved April 27, 2020, from Dr. Sophia Yin: https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/litter-box-misses/

Hazel Carney, T. S. (2014). AAFP and ISFM Guidelines for Diagnosing and Solving House-Soiling Behavior in Cats. (A. A. Practitioners, Ed.) Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 16, 579-598. Retrieved April 26, 2020

Horwitz, D. (2017). Stress and anxiety in cats: Effect on litter box use. St Louis, MO, USA. Retrieved April 28, 2020

Karen Overall, I. R.-D.-M. (2004, December 01). Feline Behaviour Guidelines. (A. A. Practitioners, Compiler) USA. Retrieved April 25, 2020

Medicine, C. U. (2015, January). Feline Behavior Problems: House Soiling. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from Cornell Feline Health Center: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-house-soiling

Sparkes, I. a. (2016, November 01). Feline Stress and Health Managing Negative Emotions to Improve Feline Health and Wellbeing. UK: International Society of Feline Medicine. Retrieved April 25, 2020

Xavier Manteca, M. A. (2015, February). House soiling in cats. (F. Focus, Compiler) UK. Retrieved April 28, 2020

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About Melina Grin

Melina’s love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a Vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Feline Behaviour and Small Animal Rehabilitation. Melina is the proud director of Pet Nurture in Sydney, Australia (Unique Mobile Animal Wellness Centre specializing in Cats). Melina contributes to various animal publications in the United States, Australia & NZ and also the founder and admin of the Facebook group: Feline Courses, Seminars, Webinars & Events.

13 thoughts on “6 Common Reasons Why Cats Pee Outside The Litter Box

  1. Patricia Bordas

    I like cats and I wanted to either get a cat or dog… My fear of getting a cat is because I have a parakeet bird and some cats won’t accept birds… I was wondering if get a cat how can I introduce the bird with the cat? Help them get along and not be jealous of each other.. What do you recommend about this situation? I live in an apartment… I hope you don’t for this question I ask…

    Reply
    1. Avatar photoMelina Grin Post author

      Thank you for your question, Patricia

      The key to amicable relationships between birds and cats are early introductions (i.e. when they are as young as possible). Since you already have a parakeet bird, another option is to adopt an adult cat that has been socialized with birds or grew up with them from kittenhood. The introduction phase will have to be done slowly and carefully, clicker training your cat prior will be of great advantage. Moreover, if your apartment is large enough, you may be able to keep them in separate parts of the unit. Lastly, it’s important to keep your cat engaged and stimulated to avoid him/her focusing on the bird all day long. Feel free to read more about how to keep a bird and a cat in the same house at https://www.wikihow.com/Keep-a-Bird-and-a-Cat-in-the-Same-House.

      Hope this helps
      Melina

      Reply
  2. Eve Sardi

    I red most of the articles I was looking foran answer why my cat is hiding under the couch but I din’t see anything related tothis alsowhy she poops outside of the litter box

    Reply
    1. Avatar photoMelina Grin Post author

      Hi Eve,

      Thank you for your question, sorry to hear your cat is hiding under the couch and pooping outside the litter box.
      If the behavior described above is new or suddenly appeared out of nowhere, it warrants a veterinary health check since it can be indicative of pain or distress.

      Hope this helps,
      Melina

      Reply
    1. Avatar photoMelina Grin Post author

      Hi Eve,
      Further to the feedback provided below, any changes in peeing or pooping habits should prompt you to take her to your vet.

      Do let us know how your cat is doing after seeing your vet.

      All the best,
      Melina

      Reply
  3. Mary Stephenson

    Years ago I had a beautiful loving lilac point Siamese. Loved cats, dogs, kids, even loved cat shows. She started peeing on the carpet, spraying on the furniture. She also had a sinus infection. Drugs made her listless. Unfortunately our vet died at the time he was trying his best to solve her issues. Many other vets seen her and the last straw was the new vet said she needed a shrink. Nothing wrong with how well this cat adjusted to her new home. So I gave up until it got so bad and found a new vet. Found her reason for peeing and spraying was because she couldn’t smell very well due to the massive sinus infection. By the time we got her to a specialist and he did the surgery. No promises if the surgery would correct her spraying. Anyways we never got to find out. Her blood wouldn’t clot. Even after over 50% of her blood volume was given in transfusions, it was still like water. She died, even though the surgeon said he had seen worse cases and the pet survived. So from then on for anything we treat we look at the whole body. Just because you see an outward sign doesn’t mean it is the real problem. Two Felines

    Reply
    1. Avatar photoMelina

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and sorry for your loss.
      I agree that a holistic approach is essential when treating humans and pets.

      Thank you again for reading our article
      Best wishes
      Melina

      Reply
  4. Detta

    I think cat pee in the sink or tub because it is cold, and helps with the Inflamation they are feeling.

    Reply

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