Why Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box and What to Do About it

A cat that pees outside the litter box is probably the most frustrating problem a cat guardian faces. No one wants their home to smell like the cat’s bathroom. Cats pee outside the litter box for a variety of reasons. 

Medical Conditions:

There are several medical reasons that cats may pee outside the litter box. 

  • Cats are prone to urinary tract infections, crystals in their urine, and urinary blockages. Kitty associates pain with using the litter box, so he looks for an alternative. This can quickly become life threatening, so don’t wait to call your veterinarian.
  • Kidney disease can lead to a cat peeing outside the box. Kitty drinks much more and produces so much urine they fill the box faster than you can keep up with cleaning it. 
  • Feline Diabetes also leads to a cat that over-produces urine. Their urine is also sticky and smelly. The box gets gross fast and Kitty looks for other places to pee.

I always recommend that you see the vet first if your cat is peeing outside the litter box before attempting to treat it as a behavioral problem. 

A good litter box setup will offer your cat a clean, comfortable litter box with adequate privacy and peace, that is still easy for your cat to find.

Unappealing Litter Box Setup:

The second reason cats pee outside the litter box is a bathroom setup that isn’t appealing to them. If Kitty has passed a vet check, then their litter box “experience” is almost always the reason for cats peeing outside of the box.

Have you designed your litter box setup for your cat or for yourself? Mistakes with litter box set up are made because people think in terms of what they want, not what makes Kitty comfortable. Ask yourself these questions to see how you can improve Kitty’s comfort with their bathroom.

  • Are you keeping the litter box clean enough? The number one mistake people make is not scooping the dirty litter out often enough. We should clean litter boxes at least twice a day.
  • If you use scooping litter, your litter boxes should be emptied, washed, dried, and refilled with clean litter at least monthly. You’ll have to wash it out more often if you use a non-clumping litter or have multiple cats. 
  • Is the box itself big enough for your largest cat? The box should be 1.5 times bigger than your cat, so she has room to turn around and get comfortable, and scratch to cover afterwards.
  • Are you trying too hard to make the job easy for yourself? Do you have a motorized litter box? Do you put trash bags or box liners in the box? Litter box liners and self-cleaning litter boxes are off-putting for cats. They can get their claws caught in the liners or frightened by the moving parts.
  • Training cats to use the toilet is another ill-conceived idea. It is an unnatural position and experience, especially for an older cat with stiff joints. Falling in and getting wet will certainly lead to Kitty finding somewhere else to do his business.
  • Is the litter too strongly scented for a cat’s delicate nose? Stick with unscented litter. Perfumed litter may be better for you, but Kitty will hate it, especially in a covered box. 
  • Is the litter uncomfortable to walk or stand on? You might have to try several types of litter to find something to please your furbaby. 
  • Have you changed the type of litter you use? Kittens learn what type of litter they prefer at about three weeks old. Switching the type of litter your cat likes could cause Kitty to pee outside the box. If you want to change your brand or style of litter, transition slowly. 
  • Is your litter box covered? Enclosed boxes can be small, dark, smelly and difficult to turn around in, none of which is conducive to cats doing their business. Essentially, you’ve created a port-a-potty experience for Kitty. I’m sure you can understand why Kitty opts to pee outside the box.
  • Is the location of the box appropriate? Cats want peace and privacy when using the bathroom. So don’t set up the box in a loud or busy area of the home? Cats get scared by the washer and dryer starting up or the furnace turning on. 
  • Keep the food and water bowls away from the litter box. No one wants to eat in the bathroom, right? 
  • Are you expecting your young kitten or geriatric cat to voyage to the basement or garage to find the litter box? Litter boxes should be easy to access. At least one on every level of your house. 
  • Do you have enough boxes to support the number of cats you have? The standard rule of thumb is one box per cat plus one. If your cat is peeing outside the litter box, adding a box is an easy way to address the problem. 

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Multiple Cat Politics

The third most common reason for inappropriate peeing is problems between your resident cats. 

Cats can be very territorial. They want to be sure they have access to all resources and litter boxes are one of the most important. 

This is another reason for uncovered litter boxes. Kitty is vulnerable when using the litter box. While a covered box is more aesthetically pleasing to people and may appear to give the cat privacy, it actually presents a situation in which the cat may feel trapped and unable to escape from a bully.

Bully cats simply will not share a box with other cats. They will either prevent their roommate from using the litter box or refuse to use it themselves if their buddy has used it. 

Related Post: Best Litter Box Solutions for Multiple Cats

Stress and Anxiety

The fourth reason cats pee outside the box is stress and anxiety. This is probably the hardest reason for inappropriate elimination to solve. Your cat is trying to tell you that something is making him unhappy. We have to figure out the problem and fix it. We think it’s gross, but cats are trying to bond with us by mixing their scent with ours to soothe themselves. 

Changes stress out cats and make them more likely to pee outside the box.

Even small changes in their environment can cause Kitty to get stressed out:

  • Have we left Kitty alone for longer than usual (vacation, going back to school or work?) Or perhaps the kids are home all the time and the household is louder?
  • Have there been any changes in the household? Have any new people, new pets, babies, significant others, roommates moved in? Or have there been any losses of significant people or pets?
  • Have you moved, renovated, or gotten new furniture? 
  • Are there other animals in the yard that might cause stress for Kitty? If Kitty is peeing by the door, that’s a tipoff that he is experiencing anxiety about animals in the yard.

Boredom and lack of enrichment can cause stress and inappropriate elimination.

“Catifying” your home can keep Kitty entertained enough that he has better things to do than pee around the house.

  • Do you have enough places for Kitty to climb and scratch?
  • Do you have scheduled, structured, interactive playtime with Kitty daily?
  • Box forts and bags to hide in, tunnels to play in, and cave style beds all add safe zones and comfort for a bored cat. 
  • Bird feeders and fish tanks (even a fake fish tank with mechanical fish) can open a window on the world for your bored cat.
  • Music and videos designed for cat

Related Post: Enrichment Ideas for Indoor Cats

Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box Because They Aren’t Trained.

Lastly, a kitten or new cat isn’t litter box trained yet. We cat guardians think cats will come to us all reliably litter trained. Think of it like potty training a toddler. You won’t have instant success. 

How to Stop a Cat from Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

  • First, see your vet and treat any medical problems.
  • Fix any problems with your litter box setup and maintenance routine.
  • Clean up all the places Kitty has peed with an enzyme cleaner. Use a black light to make sure you’ve found all the places your cat has peed outside the box.
  • Make the places he has been using unappealing. Put a piece of furniture in the spot or cover it with a tarp or an upside down laundry basket. 
  • Take advantage of his aversion to eating and peeing in the same place and put his food in that spot.
  • Increase enrichment, playtime, and purposeful social interaction with you.
  • Try Feliway or Comfort Zone plugins.
  • In extreme cases, when all else has failed, consider medication.

How to Prevent Cat Pee Accidents?

The best way to prevent your cat from peeing outside the box is to give Kitty a good litter box experience and enriched environment.

  • Have a normal, not mechanized, uncovered litter box that is 1.5 times the size of your cat and located where your cat can’t get ambushed by other cats, dogs, or kids.
  • Use an unscented fine clumping litter. 
  • Have as many litter boxes as you have cats plus one so they can’t resource guard. 
  • Locate boxes on all floors of your home, especially if you have kittens. 
  • Scoop a minimum of twice a day and scrub the box at least every month.

How to Clean-up Cat Pee Outside the Litter Box?

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Use an enzyme cleaner designed to deal with biological accidents. Regular household cleaners won’t do the trick. Vinegar and baking soda don’t work. There are components in cat pee, specifically urea, that require an enzymatic cleaner. Cat pee has a half-life of six years. You might not smell it, but Kitty will still be able to smell it.

  • Use a black light to find all the spots that Kitty has peed. It will fluoresce a bright green.
  • Blot up excess waste, rinse with COLD water and blot. Hot water will set the pee stain and smell.
  • Thoroughly soak the spot with your enzyme cleaner. 
  • Let the cleaner stand for 15 minutes, then blot up, rinse, and vacuum.
  • Repeat if necessary. 

How to Treat Cat Pee on a Mattress or Upholstery

The same type of enzyme cleaner that you’d use to clean a solid surface will work on soft surfaces. The key to cleaning an upholstered piece of furniture or a mattress is to get the enzyme cleaner as deep as the pee. A light surface spray won’t do anything. It might kill the smell from your perspective but Kitty can still smell it. Using more product is better than not using enough. 

How to Do Laundry a Cat Has Peed On

Don’t just throw the items in with your regular load. You’ll spread the pee to everything else.

To launder washable fabrics, soak the materials with a biological detergent like Biokleen Bac-Out or Skout’s Honor Laundry Booster and blot. Pre-treat the soiled items with the product. Then wash with your regular detergent boosted with the bioactive laundry cleaner or white vinegar in a COLD water load. Repeat if necessary.

Air dry the items until you are sure the smell has gone. The heat of the dryer will set the stain and smell.

How to Discipline a Cat for Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

YOU DON’T!!!!!

Punishing cats does not work! They don’t have the ability to understand cause and effect, so punishment is of no use. Instead, you set them up for success by giving them a litter box experience that will keep them happy.

Kitty is not trying to aggravate you by peeing outside the box. He isn’t being spiteful or angry. Cats don’t have the capacity for that sort of emotional warfare. Rather, they are highly sensitive to stress and environmental changes, which can often lead to urinary issues.

Solving the problem of cats peeing outside the box requires us to be detectives and figure out what Kitty is trying to tell us and fix her problems.

Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box infographic

Buyers’ Guide: Products for Cats that Pee Outside the Box

Best Litter Choices for Cats That Pee Outside the Litter Box

Most cats prefer a fine-grain, unscented, scooping litter. Whether you choose clay or an alternate environmentally-friendly substrate isn’t as important as the texture and scent. Low-dust and good odor control are other important considerations when picking a litter for your furbabies.

Dr Elsey’s Cat Attract

  • Hard clumping clay litter
  • Low dust
  • Blended with a natural herb attractant
  • Ideal texture and particle size combine to solve litter box problems

Dr Elsey’s Ultra

  • Cat friendly texture and granule size made with 100% bentonite clay
  • Low dust and low tracking
  • Hard clumping
  • Superior odor control

World’s Best Cat Litter

  • natural litter made from whole-kernel corn with no artificial perfumes
  • Natural litter with long-lasting odor control
  • Quick clumping and easy to scoop
  • Naturally free of silica dust, low tracking and less mess

Naturally Fresh Clumping Walnut Litter

  • Natural cat litter made from walnut shells
  • Cat-friendly, fine grain texture
  • Biodegradable for an eco-friendly option
  • Dust-free formula reduces tracking
  • No chemicals, toxins, clay, corn and grains to reduce allergies

Best Litterbox Choices for Cats that Pee Outside the Box

Nature’s Miracle High Side Jumbo Rectangular or Corner

  • Large size box fits even large breed cats
  • High sides to prevent litter scatter
  • Spot or wipe clean
  • Non-stick surface

Van Ness Giant High Side Litter Box

  • Ideal for multiple cat households or large cats that like to dig
  • Easy to clean, odor, and stain resistant
  • Open litter box design makes spot cleaning easy
  • Perfect for cats who prefer easy access to the litter

Iris Open Top with Shield 

  • Offer cats plenty of room and quick accessibility
  • Three sided shield keeps litter inside the box
  • Creates a semi-private space for your kitty to go potty
  • Open-top makes for easy cleanup

Catit Jumbo

This a hooded box which I don’t really recommend. But if you feel you must have a covered box then this is the one.

  • Provides privacy while retaining the litter inside the pan
  • Removable door. I recommend you remove it or fold it all backhttps://amzn.to/3n3Vnp5
  • Wide opening. Fold it back as far as you can for larger cats or cats that need to view their surroundings to feel safe in the box
  • Easy to clean

Best Enzyme Cleaners to Clean Up Cat Pee

Anti Icky Poo

  • Unscented Anti-Icky-Poo is 100% guaranteed to remove odors caused by any living thing
  • Unscented Anti-Icky-Poo has no scent or fragrance and is the perfect odor remover for people that are sensitive to perfumes or harsh chemical smells
  • Works on all surfaces of your home to destroy odors and put pet stink in the past.
  • Developed by a brand recommended by behaviorists, veterinarians and animal professionals.

Skouts Honor

  • Destroy cat stains and odors for good
  • Safe for pets and kids
  • Non-toxic, biodegradable, eco-friendly and free of harsh chemicals.
  • Great for use on rugs, carpets, upholstery, clothing and other porous and water-safe surfaces.

Natures Miracle Just for Cats Urine Destroyer

  • Targeted urine enzymatic formula
  • Tough on strong pet urine odors, stains and sticky residue
  • For use on carpets, hard floors, furniture clothing and more
  • Light fresh scent
  • This cleaner is designed to be safe for use around cats.

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