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

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Addressing Inappropriate Urination

 

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

 

While it’s understandably upsetting to find cat pee around the house, owners need to recognize that 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 box, but 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 litter box.

Thoroughly Clean Up the Mess

 

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. Use a black light and your nose 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. Hard surfaces can be thoroughly cleaned with your favorite household cleaning solution. Use your washing machine for bedding, towels, etc. Rugs and upholstery are best cleaned with an enzymatic or bacterial cleaner, but make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maximize their effectiveness. 

Define the Problem

 

When you discover pee where it doesn’t belong, you need to determine whether it is the result of spraying or urination. Cats urinate outside the litter box and spray for different reasons, and they require different types of treatment. When cats spray, they usually stand in front of a vertical surface and squirt a relatively small amount of urine on it. If you are finding a splatter of urine on the wall, your cat is probably spraying. When cats urinate, they usually squat and leave behind a larger amount of urine on a horizontal surface. 

Tackle the Problem Quickly

 

You want to address spraying or urination outside of the litter box quickly, before it becomes normal behavior for your cat. When it comes to spraying, intact male cats are the most notorious offenders. All cats who are not going to be part of a breeding program should be neutered, ideally before puberty. 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, provide elevated perches, hiding places, and covered escape routes so cats can easily avoid each other. Over-the counter anxiety-relieving products may also help cats who are spraying. If all else fails, your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication like fluoxetine.

Add Additional 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 his fancy. 

Address Litter Box Location

 

Think about where you have 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. Finally, if your cat keeps peeing in the same spot, try placing a litter box over that area, and then slowly moving it to a more appropriate location.

Try a Different Box

 

An enclosed litter box 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 box are low enough for your cat to easily step over—especially as he reaches old age.

 

The ideal litter box is large, open, and has low sides or at least one low spot to ease access. It can be difficult to find litter boxes that have these characteristics in pet supply stores, but they are easy to make using plastic under-bed storage boxes.

Clean Your Litter Box Regularly

 

A filthy litter box is almost guaranteed to send a cat elsewhere to pee. Cats are very clean creatures by nature. Would you want to go walking barefoot through your cat's litter box? Well, if it’s dirty, neither does he. At a minimum, litter boxes should be scooped out once a day and dumped, washed, and refilled every month. 

Check the Type of Litter

 

Heavily perfumed litter may seem the better choice (who wouldn’t want to smell perfume rather than a dirty litter box?), but cats tend to disagree. Their noses are more sensitive than ours, so what seems pleasant to us can be overpowering to them. They also like to stick with the 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 this (or any) type of litter for the first time, make sure you have at least one box in the house that contains the old type of litter…just in case.

Observe Social Dynamics

 

Conflicts between multiple cats, or the introduction of a new cat, may cause inappropriate urination. If your cats got into an altercation in or near the litter box, he may choose to avoid the box rather than suffer through a repeat occurrence. Separate the cats for a while to let the tensions fade, and then try gradually reintroducing them. Make sure you have several litter boxes spaced out throughout the house so one cat can’t prevent access to all the boxes at the same time.

Consult Your Veterinarian

 

If inappropriate urination has become an issue with your cat, the most important thing you can do is make an appointment with your veterinarian. Your cat's doctor will take a complete history and perform a physical exam, urinalysis, and perhaps some other diagnostic tests to determine if the problem is medical rather than behavioral in origin. Urinary tract inflammation, diabetes, and kidney disease are just three of the common health issues that can make cats urinate outside of the litter box. If your cat is given a clean bill of health, your veterinarian can then help you move on to addressing environmental or behavioral issues that may be playing a role.

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