Why Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box + How to Stop Them
Cats may pee outside the litter box for the following reasons:
- Spraying (urine marking)
- A medical condition
- A dislike for the litter box
It's certainly frustrating and upsetting when your feline friend starts peeing outside their litter box. Not only is it concerning as it indicates an underlying health or behavioral issue that needs to be addressed, but the smell of urine can be overwhelming and time-consuming to clean. A cat peeing everywhere can cause significant damage to your home, and the expenses of replacing items can quickly add up.
A cat not using their litter box is a common problem, and as a veterinarian, I have seen many cases of cats peeing on the floor, carpet, rugs, couch, bed, clothes, shoes, and even the bathtub. In this article, we will discuss why cats pee outside their litter box and solutions that will help restore your home to its former state of cleanliness and harmony.
The step-by-step approach to stopping your cat peeing outside the litter box includes the following:
How to Tell Which Cat Is Peeing in the House?
If you have multiple cats and it's questionable who is urinating outside the litter box, it's essential to identify all participants involved to address the issue effectively. Sometimes cats urinate in hidden locations, so you may not have witnessed the culprit, or it may only occur in your absence. A simple way to do this is to set up motion-activated pet cameras, such as the affordable Wansview Wireless Pet Camera with Night Vision, where you tend to find pee.
Don't Punish Your Cat
Your cat does not pee outside the litter box out of spite, because they are being naughty, or only for attention, there is always an underlying health or behavioral reason that needs to be addressed. Shouting at your cat or spraying them with water will create more stress and be counterproductive. They likely won't understand why they are being told off, continue the behavior out of sight, and it may permanently damage your bond.
If they urinate somewhere they are not meant to, it's best to ignore them and clean the urine. If you manage to spot them before they pee, place them in their litter box.
Is Your Cat Peeing (Toileting) or Spraying (Urine Marking)?
Peeing and spraying both involve the release of urine. While peeing is the physiological process of removing excess water and waste from the body, spraying allows cats to communicate with each other by leaving chemical messages (urine) in the environment. Unneutered male and female cats spray to mark their territory and attract a mate. Male cats spray the most, but females will also spray, especially when in heat.
However, neutered cats may also spray urine around the home, especially if they feel a threat to their territory, such as neighborhood cats in their garden or conflict with housemate cats. Approximately 10% of neutered male cats and 5% of neutered female cats will still spray.1
It's important to identify if a cat is peeing or spraying outside the litter box, as they are different feline problem behaviors and need to be treated differently.
Signs a cat is peeing:
- Squatting (although some cats pee standing)
- Depositing urine on a horizontal (flat) surface
- Digging a hole before peeing, and digging to cover the urine
Signs a cat is spraying:
- Standing up (although some cats mark squatting)
- Depositing urine on a vertical (upright) surface
- An upright and quivering tail
- May tread with the back feet
The behaviors can sometimes be confused with each other or challenging to determine if you only found urine and didn't catch your cat in the act. For more tips on how to differentiate between the two, read Is My Cat Peeing or Spraying? If you suspect your cat is urine marking, read How to Stop Your Cat Spraying Urine.
Medical Reasons Cats Stop Using the Litter Box
It's important to take your cat to the vet to check for health problems that may be causing them to urinate outside the litter box. Depending on your cat's history and physical exam findings, your vet may recommend a urinalysis, urine culture, bloodwork, or imaging. Medical causes of peeing everywhere include the following:
- Feline lower urinary tract diseases. Conditions that cause pain and inflammation of the bladder and urethra (the lower urinary tract), including a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, and idiopathic stress-induced cystitis, can lead to an increased urgency to urinate, so they don't have time to get to the litter tray, or they avoid the litter tray as they associate it with painful urination. Signs include discomfort urinating, increased frequency of urination, or blood in the urine.
- Excessive urine production. Conditions that cause the body to produce more urine than normal, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism, can cause a cat to pee outside their litter box. Since they urinate larger volumes more frequently, they may not make it to the litter tray in time, or the box becomes dirtier quicker, so they don't want to use it.
- Arthritis. A common painful condition affecting the joints in older cats that can cause them to stop using the litter box if they have to travel far to reach it, have difficulty climbing into it, or the litter is hard (such as pellets), and it hurts their feet. For more information, read How to Care for a Cat With Arthritis.
- Obesity. A severely overweight cat may have difficulty accessing or climbing into their litter tray. If your cat is overweight, read The Ultimate Diet Plan for Cats.
- Urinary incontinence. Bladder or urethra abnormalities, or spinal cord disease, can cause a cat to leak urine.
- Decreased vision. Impaired vision may make it challenging for a cat to find and access their litter box, especially if it is moved.
- Dementia. An elderly cat can become forgetful in their older age and sometimes urinate outside the litter box.
- Feeling unwell. Any condition that causes a cat to feel lethargic could potentially cause them to stop using the litter tray.
If your cat has an underlying health condition, medications, diet changes, or surgery may be recommended depending on the diagnosis. To stop or significantly reduce the incidences of peeing outside the litter box, work closely with your vet to manage your cat's medical condition. Also, keep reading to find additional ways to help your cat, such as providing the perfect litter box setup and ensuring urine around the home is properly cleaned.
Litter Box Problems and Solutions
A common reason cats don't urinate in their litter box is that they dislike it or have difficulty accessing it. Having the best litter box setup for your kitty will help ensure they use their box, and also reduce their stress levels, which is beneficial for their overall well-being and general health.
Even if your cat has been using the same litter box for years, it's still worth considering if you need to make any adjustments. They may not have liked the setup but tolerated it, then additional stress, such as a new baby, new pets, moving house, or construction work, meant everything became too much for them, so they started peeing around the house.
If you made any changes just prior to your cat peeing in unacceptable places, for example, to the litter box location or type of litter, you might need to switch back to your original setup.
It's important to remember that each cat is an individual and will have their own preferences, so you may need to experiment and offer them a selection of options to see what they like best.
1. Litter Box Location
2. Number of Litter Trays
3. Litter Box Accessibility
4. Cat Litter Type
5. Litter Depth
6. Size of the Litter Tray
7. Litter Box Cleanliness
8. Open vs. Closed (Hooded) Litter Boxes
9. Low vs. High Sides
10. Plastic Liners
11. Negative Associations
12. No Litter Trays in the House
Effectively Getting Rid of Urine Odor
As long as a cat can smell urine on the couch, carpet, or bed, they will continue to view it as a toileting area. Therefore, eliminating urine odor is an essential part of the treatment plan.
An ultraviolet light, such as Simple Solutions Urine Detector, is recommended to find all the cat urine in your home. It works best in the dark and on dried urine, and stains will fluoresce a bright yellow-green. All stains can be outlined with masking or painter's tape to remember the size and location.
Enzyme cleaners are recommended since they neutralize the odor, rendering it undetectable to you and your cat, rather than just temporarily covering it up. Our favorite enzyme cleaners are Anti-Icky-Poo Odor Remover and Cat Extreme Stain and Odour Remover. Areas where your cat urinated should be generously sprayed, including 2x the surrounding area to include any splashes, then left to dry for 24-48 hours. For further information on finding and tackling tough odors, read The Best Cleaning Technique to Get Rid of Cat Pee Smell.
How to Deter Cats From Peeing in Certain Areas?
The area where your cat pees must be effectively cleaned with an enzyme solution so your cat cannot detect any urine odor. If possible, once the area is clean place a litter box there. If the location is inconvenient, once they have reliably used the litter box for two weeks, gradually move it, a couple of inches a day, to a more suitable location. Alternatively, since cats rarely urinate where they eat, sleep, and play, have regular play sessions there, or leave a food bowl, water bowl, catnip, or cat bed in the location.
You can attempt to make the site aversive by spraying a lemon-scented fragrance every 24 hours to help deter them, as cats usually find citrus scents offensive. Prickly Scat Mats for Cats can also be placed where they urinate, which most cats would find uncomfortable to sit on, or cover the area with aluminum foil. Additionally, preventing access to certain rooms, removing rugs or bath mats if they are urinated on, and always picking up clothes if that's your cats toileting choice may help until your cat is reliably using their litter box.
Taking Care of Your Cat's General Well-Being
Stress can contribute to medical and behavioral problems, including urinary tract disease and urinating outside the litter box. Therefore, creating a positive and safe environment for your cat is essential for their general well-being and health. Consider the following suggestions to ensure your cat remains happy and healthy:
- Plenty of resources for all your cats, such as food bowls, water bowls, scratching posts, litter boxes, and resting areas, which are spread throughout the home to avoid competition.
- Regular playtime with fishing rod-type toys, such as Da Bird or PurrSuit (UK), to bring out their inner hunter and help them release any tension.
- Up-high places for resting and hiding, such as cat shelves and cat trees, where they won't be disturbed if they want some peace and quiet.
- Use puzzle feeders, scavenger hunts, and clicker training to keep them mentally stimulated.
- Plug in a Feliway Optimum Diffuser, which releases calming pheromones, in the room they spend most of their time.
- Provide outdoor access, whether you cat-proof your garden with Oscillot Fencing, build an outdoor enclosure, or train your cat to walk on a leash and harness.
- Many cats prefer routine and a predictable and stable environment, so changes should be minimized.
- Reduce stranger cats in the garden by feeding strays elsewhere, removing bird feeders, using a Motion-Activated Sprinkler, or blocking their view with Frosted Glass Window Film.
Monitoring Your Cat's Progress
Keeping a journal of how often your kitty urinates outside the litter box helps you determine if a change you implemented is working or if further adjustments need to be made. Look for cat pee daily with a UV light, such as Simple Solutions Urine Detector, and record the location, date, and if there were any changes or events prior that could have triggered the behavior.
If you do not see any improvement, your vet may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist who has undergone extensive training in pet behavior and can spend time assessing your situation and providing specific advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Is My Kitten Peeing Outside the Litter Box?
To help stop your kitten peeing outside the litter box, consider the following:
- When you first get your kitten, show them the litter box so they know where it's located.
- The box should be easily accessible, for example, they shouldn't be expected to travel far, use stairs, or go past anything they find scary.
- The box should also have a low entrance so they can easily enter.
- Remember the rule of thumb that each cat in your house should have their own litter tray plus an extra one, and they should be kept in separate locations.
- Stick with the same litter your kitten used at their previous home, then slowly transition to a new litter by mixing the two and gradually using less of the old and more of the new.
- Dr. Elsey's Kitten Attract Litter is a good training litter for kittens who won't use the box as it contains a herbal attractant, and the size and texture of the granules are suitable for their sensitive paws.
- The litter should be kept clean by scooping waste several times a day and replacing it with fresh litter once a week.
- If you have a large house, limiting your kitten to one or two rooms may be best until they reliably use their tray.
- If it looks like they need to toilet, for example, they are sniffing and scratching the floor, place them in the litter box.
- Praise them and give them a treat if they successfully use the box.
- Never punish a kitten for peeing in the wrong place, as they won't understand, and it will damage your bond.
- Clean up accidents appropriately because if they smell urine on the carpet, bed, or couch, they may continue to perceive it as their toileting area (read The Best Way to Clean Cat Pee).
- Always speak to your vet for advice, especially if your kitten is not learning to use the box, they seem to be in discomfort, there is blood in the urine, or if urine is dribbling out and they don't seem to be aware.
Why Is My Young Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?
It's important to determine if your cat is peeing or spraying (urine marking) everywhere, as they are different behaviors with different treatments. Neutered male and female cats can start spraying urine, even if they never sprayed before they were fixed, which often indicates underlying stress due to conflict with other cats inside or outside the home, although there are other triggers as well. For further information, read Is My Cat Spraying or Peeing, and How Do I Stop My Cat Spraying Everywhere?
Another common reason young cats pee outside the litter box is feline idiopathic cystitis. The bladder and urethra become inflamed and painful due to stress, not a bacterial infection. Pain relief is required, as is taking care of their general well-being, increasing water intake, and addressing litter box problems and solutions.
Ensure you have multiple litter boxes (1 per cat plus an extra 1) in separate locations that are easy to access and kept clean, with plenty of non-scented, clumping litter. It's also common for cats to outgrow the litter box they used as a kitten, and an upgrade to a larger box may be in order.
There are many reasons a young cat may pee outside the litter box, so always consult your vet, who depending on their findings, may suggest a urinalysis (to check for bacteria, protein, crystals, and if they are concentrating their urine appropriately), a urine culture, bloodwork, and imaging (to check for bladder stones and other abnormalities).
If a cat has difficulty passing urine, for example, straining, repeatedly trying to urinate, or producing little or no urine, it is considered an emergency. This is because the bladder/urethra can become blocked due to stones, a urethral plug (an accumulation of inflammatory cells, red blood cells, crystals, and mucus), spasms due to pain (which occurs with stress-induce feline idiopathic cystitis), and less commonly, a tumor. A blockage is more common in males than females due to their longer urethra.
Why Is My Old Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?
One of the most common reasons an older cat starts urinating outside the box is because they have arthritis, which is a painful condition, and getting to or inside the box is uncomfortable. As well as starting them on pain relief under the guidance of your vet, make sure the litter box is nearby and has a low entrance. If they are normally expected to toilet outdoors, they may start peeing in the house as the cat flap is too painful to use due to their arthritis, or they don't feel comfortable going outside due to bad weather or other more dominant cats in the neighborhood. If you suspect your cat has arthritis, read How to Care for a Cat with Arthritis, which also provides advice on identifying arthritis in cats.
Older cats may also urinate outside the litter box if they have a health condition that causes them to produce more urine, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism. Since their urine is dilute, they are also more prone to urinary tract infections as the substances that naturally inhibit bacterial growth are less concentrated (plus, if they have diabetes, there is glucose in the urine that bacteria can feed on). Urinary tract infections are painful and can cause a cat to urinate outside the box due to increased urgency or because they avoid the box as they associate it with pain while peeing.
Less commonly, an older cat may urinate outside the litter box due to dementia (cognitive dysfunction) since they become more forgetful, or blindness, especially if the litter box is moved. An older cat who experiences constipation may also not want to use pelleted litter, as it hurts their feet when straining, and may prefer a sand-like litter.
A thorough veterinary examination, including diagnostic testing, is always required to help determine the underlying cause and guide appropriate treatment for a senior cat who is not using their litter box.
Why Is My Neutered Male Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?
A neutered male cat may pee outside the litter box because of an underlying medical condition, such as cystitis, or a dislike for the litter box setup. Also, 10% of neutered males spray urine, often due to an underlying territorial issue, such as conflict with other cats (read more about urine marking). Always take your cat to the vet for a health check and review the litter box problems and solutions.
Why Does My Female Cat Pee Everywhere When in Heat?
Female cats in heat may spray urine to signal their receptivity to mate. Other behaviors include attention seeking, excessive meowing, rolling on the floor, and raising their hind end. If you are unsure if your cat is peeing or spraying, for example, if you only found urine and didn't catch your cat in the act, or they are squatting rather than the more common standing position, read Is My Cat Peeing or Spraying?
Other reasons for peeing outside the litter box include health problems, such as cystitis, or a dislike for their litter box. Always consult your vet for advice.
Will Getting a Cat Spayed Stop Her From Peeing Everywhere?
If your cat is spraying urine when in heat, having her spayed will reduce the chances of her spraying by 95%. However, if she is peeing everywhere for medical or behavioral reasons, it may not help. Always consult your vet to find out why she might be peeing everywhere and the best time to get her spayed.
Why Is My Cat Throwing Up and Peeing Outside the Litter Box?
A cat could be vomiting and urinating outside the litter box for many reasons, including but not limited to the following:
- A blocked bladder
- Kidney infection
- Chronic kidney disease
- Acute kidney injury
- Diabetic ketoacidosis
A blocked bladder is one of the most frequent reasons a cat suddenly pees everywhere and then starts vomiting. Initially, they are in pain and keep trying to urinate. However, as the obstruction progresses, they can't pee and, therefore, can't excrete toxins and potassium in the urine, which build up in their body and causes them to vomit. A blocked bladder is a life-threatening emergency.
Kidney infections, chronic kidney disease, acute kidney injury, hyperthyroidism, diabetic ketoacidosis (a sick, uncontrolled diabetic), and hypercalcemia (elevated blood calcium levels) can all cause the body to produce more urine than normal, leading to accidents outside the litter tray, and may also cause vomiting.
Your cat may also have two separate conditions, one that causes vomiting, such as inflammatory bowel disease or pancreatitis, and one that causes inappropriate urination, such as feline idiopathic cystitis. Also, any illness that causes vomiting in a cat may cause them to feel unwell and stop using the litter box.
If your cat is vomiting and peeing everywhere, contact your vet for advice immediately to determine if it's an emergency.
Why Does My Cat Keep Meowing and Peeing Outside the Litter Box?
Excessive vocalization indicates that a cat is in physical or emotional distress. Some of the reasons a cat may meow excessively and pee outside the litter box include the following:
- Stress or anxiety
- Painful conditions of the bladder, such as feline idiopathic cystitis, urinary tract infections, or bladder stones
- Cognitive dysfunction (dementia)
- Pain due to arthritis
- A female cat in heat
- High blood pressure (secondary to chronic kidney disease)
If the meowing suddenly started while peeing or trying to pee, it would be more likely to be a painful bladder condition. Contact your vet for advice immediately to determine if it's an emergency, as a painful bladder can progress to a life-threatening urinary tract blockage.
If an older cat has accidents outside the litter box and yowls at night, hyperthyroidism, hypertension (due to chronic kidney disease), cognitive dysfunction, or blindness would be a concern. An older cat with arthritis may stop using their litter tray and cry out, especially after sitting or lying down, as they are stiff and it hurts.
A female cat in heat will usually show additional signs, such as attention-seeking, rolling on the floor, and raising her hind end in the air.
Any situation that causes stress, anxiety, or frustration, or any condition that causes pain, could lead to a cat vocalizing more and peeing outside their litter box. A veterinary exam, including any recommended diagnostic tests, is necessary to determine the underlying cause.
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