Reviewed for accuracy on October 3, 2019, by Dr. 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 litter 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 cat litter box.
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.
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 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:
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 your favorite household cleaning solution or a pet stain and odor remover solution.
Rugs, carpets, mattresses and upholstery: These are best cleaned with an enzymatic or bacterial cleaner like Nature's Miracle Just For Cats Stain and Odor Remover, but make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to maximize the effectiveness.
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 for different reasons than when they spray, so 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. So if you find 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 (the floor or litter box, for example).
You want to address spraying or urination outside of the litter box quickly, before it becomes normal behavior for your cat.
Intact male cats are the most notorious offenders for spraying. 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 cat perches, hiding places and covered escape routes so cats can easily avoid each other.
Over-the counter anxiety-relieving products like Vetoquinol Zylkene Behavior Support or Feliway Classic may also help cats who are spraying.
If all else fails, your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication like fluoxetine.
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 needs.
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.
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.
The placement and setup of your litter box can make a real difference.
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 and open with low sides or at least one low spot where cats can enter.
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.
Would you want to go walking barefoot through your cats’ litter boxes? Well, if you don’t scoop frequently, neither do they.
At a minimum, litter boxes should be scooped out once a day, and you should dump all the litter and wash and refill the boxes every month. Consider a self-cleaning litter box system if you find it hard to keep up on the scooping.
Heavily perfumed cat litter may seem to be 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 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.
If your cats got into an altercation in or near the litter box, they 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.
One cat may also be guarding the litter box. 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.