Top 10 Ways to Stop Your Cat from Peeing Outside the Litter Box

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Katie Grzyb, DVM on Jan. 20, 2022
cat owner cleaning up cat mess

While it’s understandably upsetting to find cat pee around the house, cats aren’t being bad when they “go” outside the box. They are simply behaving in a way that addresses their needs at the time.

There are numerous reasons why a cat might pee outside the litter box, including health issues, anxiety, or bullying from other pets in the home that needs to be addressed. With a little investigation (and possibly a trip to the vet’s office), you should be able to determine what needs to be done to stop your cat’s inappropriate urination.

Here are the top 10 ways to stop your cat from peeing outside the cat litter box.

Consult Your Veterinarian

If your cat has started to pee outside the box, the most important thing you can do is make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Urinary tract infection, hyperthyroidism, feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), bladder crystals or stones, arthritis, diabetes, and kidney disease are just some of the common health issues that can make cats urinate outside of their litter box.

Your veterinarian will ask you questions about the issue and when it started, then they will perform a physical exam, urinalysis, and perhaps some other diagnostic tests to determine if the problem is medical rather than behavioral.

If your cat is given a clean bill of health, your veterinarian can then help you address environmental or behavioral issues that may be playing a role.


Clean Up the Mess Thoroughly

Whether your vet determines that the problem is medical or behavioral, be sure to thoroughly clean all areas where your cat has peed outside the box. You want to be sure you’ve eliminated the odor, not just for your own sake, but also so the smell doesn’t draw your cat back to that same spot.

You can use a black light and simply your sense of smell to identify all the problem areas.

If you are dealing with fresh urine, first blot up as much as possible with paper or cloth towels. Next (and for older spots), pick the best cleaning method based on what has been soiled:

  • Bedding, clothing, towels, etc.: You can clean these in the washing machine using a cold cycle, and then hang them outside to dry.

  • Floors and other hard surfaces: Thoroughly clean with a general household cleaning solution or a pet stain and odor remover.

  • Rugs, carpets, mattresses, and upholstery: These are best cleaned with an enzymatic or bacterial cleaner like Nature's Miracle Just For Cats Oxy Cat Stain and Odor Remover, but make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maximize the effectiveness.

Tackle Territory Issues

Cats sometimes mark their territory by spraying. When cats spray, they usually stand in front of a vertical surface and squirt a relatively small amount of urine on it. So if you find a splatter of urine on the wall, your cat is probably spraying instead of actually peeing.

Intact male cats are the most notorious offenders for spraying. Cats should be neutered ideally before puberty, which is around 5 or 6 months of age. Your vet can help determine when your kitten should be spayed or neutered.

If your neutered cat is spraying, try making him feel more secure in his territory. In a multi-cat household, it may help to provide separate living areas for each cat.

If this is not feasible, try getting some tall cat trees or perches and creating hiding places and covered escape routes so cats can easily avoid each other.

Sometimes, the territorial issue is happening because of feral or neighborhood cats outside your house. If your cat is indoor only, just seeing them through the windows is enough to possibly create an issue.

Over-the-counter anxiety-relieving products like Vetoquinol Zylkene calming supplement or Feliway Classic may also help cats that are spraying.

If all else fails, your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication like fluoxetine.

Reduce Conflict Between Your Cats

Conflicts between multiple cats or the introducing a new cat may cause inappropriate urination.

If your cats got into an altercation in or near the litter box, they may choose to avoid the box rather than take the chance that another fight will happen if they use it. Separate your cats for a while to let the tensions fade, and then try gradually reintroducing them.

One cat may also be guarding the litter box. Make sure you have several litter boxes spaced out throughout your house so one cat can’t prevent access to all the boxes at the same time. You may also consider an uncovered litter box so that your cat is always aware of their surroundings. This will help make them feel safer and less anxious.

Provide More Litter Boxes

If you’ve determined that your cat is urinating inappropriately rather than spraying, it’s time to take a close look at your litter box.

First, how many do you have? One litter box is often just not enough. The general rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus an extra one.

Cats can be very picky about using a box that already contains urine or feces, particularly if that urine or feces is not their own. The more litter boxes you have, the more likely your cat is to find one that suits their needs.

Evaluate the Litter Box Location

Where are the litter boxes located? If you have multiple stories in your home, you'll want at least one on each floor.

Think about it: if you were on the second floor of your house, would you want to run all the way downstairs to use the bathroom? Neither does your cat.

And when litter boxes are too tucked away, say inside cabinets or in the corner of a basement laundry room, cats may not bother to go find them. Making it convenient for your cat to use the litter box will often alleviate problems.

Keep litter boxes away from unpredictable areas such as near washing machines/dryers, loud pipes, or other areas that may scare your feline friend.

If your cat keeps peeing in the same spot, try placing a litter box over that area, and then slowly moving it to the spot where you’re okay with having a litter box.

The placement and setup of litter boxes can make a real difference.

Find the Right Type of Litter Box

Enclosed litter boxes may fit nicely within your decorating standards and help contain the mess and odor, but your cat may not agree. Enclosed boxes can be small, dark, smelly, and difficult to turn around in—not conducive to cats doing their business.

You also want to make sure the sides of your litter boxes are low enough for your cat to easily step over—especially as they reach old age.

The ideal litter box is large and open with low sides or at least one low spot where cats can enter easily.  

Clean the Litter Boxes More Often

A filthy litter box is almost guaranteed to send a cat elsewhere to pee. Cats are very clean creatures by nature, so they prefer to use a clean litter box.

At a minimum, litter boxes should be scooped out once a day. You should do a deep clean every 1-2 weeks by dumping all the litter and washing and refilling the boxes. Consider a self-cleaning litter box system if you find it hard to keep up on the scooping.

Let Your Cat Pick the Type of Litter

Heavily perfumed cat litter may seem to be the better choice for you, but cats tend to disagree. Their noses are more sensitive than ours, so what smells pleasant to us can be overpowering to them.

They also like to stick with what’s familiar, so a cat may urinate outside the litter box if you suddenly switch to a new type of litter.

Studies have shown that among cats, the all-around favorite litter type is an unscented, clumping clay litter containing activated charcoal.

If you want to try a new type of litter, make sure you have at least one box in the house that contains the old type of litter just in case. If your cat rejects the new litter, don’t use it.

Reduce Your Cat’s Stress

Cats are creatures of habit. Anything out of the norm will cause them stress, and stress will affect their urinary tract: kidneys, bladder, urethra, etc.

Many things that we would not consider stressful as humans can cause anxiety in cats. For example, when we decide to go on a vacation, we look forward to it. Your cats see your luggage as something changing in their environment and may even be smart enough to correlate the luggage with you leaving the house.

It may cause them major stress, which can lead to inappropriate urination—on, in, or around the luggage. New visitors, parties in the house, packing and moving, and/or new furniture or changes in the house layout can cause the same stress response. 

Loud noises from dryers, pipes, or even from fireworks on holidays will alienate cats from their litter boxes, especially if these noises occur when they are using the box or are near the box. 

Keeping several easily accessible boxes around the home with clean litter in quiet, safe areas is the best way to keep stress down. If you must pack for a trip, perhaps move your cat to an area where they cannot see the luggage, or pack in a room that is closed off.

Use feline calming aids such as specially formulated cat calming treats or cat pheromone diffusers to help keep the environment as low-stress as possible. Taking your cat for a checkup and talking with your veterinarian can also help identify stressors, and in some cases, medications can be used to help alleviate your cat’s anxiety.

Featured image: Guru

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