13 Reasons Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box (Plus Solutions!)

by | Jul 6, 2024

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside His Litter Box?

Unlike some other pets, whose bathroom-related behaviors require a lot of time and effort to accommodate, cats make things pretty easy on their people. Most cats will gladly use a litterbox when answering nature’s call, and many don’t even need to be trained to use one. 

But from time to time, cats will start exhibiting a particularly frustrating problem: They’ll start peeing outside the box, thereby ruining the convenience a litterbox provides. 

We’ll explain some of the reasons your cat may start peeing outside his litterbox and share some strategies for fixing the problem below. 

Why Do Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box? 

While not comprehensive, the following list includes some of the most common reasons that cats pee outside of the litter box. Be sure to consider each one carefully and understand that, in some cases, multiple causes may be at play. 

1. Urinary Tract Problems

Cats can suffer from a variety of problems relating to the urinary system, ranging from urinary crystals and bladder stones to kidney disease and idiopathic cystitis (a general inflammation of the bladder or lower urinary tract that doesn’t have an obvious cause). These issues can be quite painful, so you’ll want to take your cat in for a veterinary examination promptly.

2. Diabetes

Diabetes – a condition in which your cat’s body fails to produce enough insulin to adequately manage his blood sugar levels — can also affect your cat’s urinary habits. In fact, increased thirst and urination are two of the most common early signs of the condition.  

3. Liver Disease

Your cat’s liver is responsible for a litany of biological processes, from producing bile to removing toxins from the bloodstream. Accordingly, liver disease can manifest in myriad ways. Many cats become jaundiced (a yellowing of the eyes and skin) when suffering from liver disease, but some begin urinating more frequently, which can lead to litter box problems. 

4. Arthritis

Arthritis is unfortunately common among elderly cats, and it can also cause your cat to pee outside his litter box. But arthritis doesn’t cause him to pee outside the litter box because he needs to urinate more often; instead, arthritis can cause your kitty to pee in inappropriate places because he finds the litter box too difficult to enter. He may also simply have trouble assuming a typical urinating position, thanks to the pain in his joints. 

5. Cognitive Dysfunction

Essentially another term for “senility,” cats may start experiencing mental challenges as they age. This particular cause is unfortunate for two reasons: Firstly, cognitive dysfunction is simply unpleasant for your cat and difficult for you to watch. But secondly, it’s unfortunate because there aren’t many things you can do to correct the problem. 

6. Cancer

Likely the most frightening potential cause of litter box problems for cat owners to read, cancer can cause urinary or behavioral symptoms. But you shouldn’t ignore this possibility, as early detection allows for more effective treatment in many cases. It’s especially important to seek veterinary care if you see other potential signs of cancer, such as unexplained lumps, bloating, or a loss of appetite

7. Stress and Anxiety

Just like humans, cats are susceptible to stress and anxiety. These conditions can trigger an array of symptoms, ranging from aggressive behavior to increased vocalizations to coat changes. But one of the more common manifestations of stress and anxiety is a change in elimination habits, such as urinating or defecating outside of the litter box.  

8. Changes to the Home

Many cats develop litter box problems following significant changes to the home. This can include anything from welcoming a new roommate to the addition of a new pet. Moving to a new home can also lead to litter box problems, as cats sometimes struggle adapting to new living spaces.  

9. The Litter Box Is Dirty

Undoubtedly the simplest reason cats occasionally urinate outside the litter box is because the litter box isn’t clean enough! Felines are fastidious four footers, who don’t like to use soiled litter. 

Just be sure to consider the reason your cat’s litter box is dirty. If it’s just because you have slacked off in the cleaning department, that’s not necessarily a big problem – just do better moving forward. But it is also possible that your cat has begun using the litter box more often than you’re used to, which may indicate a health problem.   

10. The Location of the Litter Box

From time to time, cats will stop using a litter box because they don’t like its location (or even its orientation in the room). This occurs most commonly after you rearrange the room containing the litter box, but it can happen seemingly out of the blue. 

11. The Litter Box Style

Cats can be picky about their litter box, and many owners are shocked to find that the new litter box they’ve purchased doesn’t appear to suit their kitty’s sensibilities. This probably occurs most commonly when owners abruptly switch from an open-style litter box to an enclosed model. It can also happen when owners switch to a self-cleaning litter box (the noises can frighten skittish kitties). 

12. Your Choice of Litter

Among the myriad other things cats can be picky about, litter may cause some to look for better places to handle their business. This is especially common when owners switch to litters that may smell like potential food items, as cats don’t like to relieve themselves near feeding areas. Litters containing corn or coconut are the most frequent causes of trouble in this regard. 

13. Lingering Urine Smells

If your cat smells urine outside of the box, he may be inclined to urinate in that location. This is especially common in houses with multiple cats; one cat decides to pee on the carpet, which triggers the other cats to respond in kind. Note that cats have more sensitive noses than people do, so just because you don’t smell urine odors doesn’t mean your cat can’t. 

Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box: How to Fix the Problem

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to fixing litter box issues like this – you’ll usually have to do a little detective work, and you may have to employ some trial and error to arrive at a solution. 

Nevertheless, the following steps are generally the most helpful:

1. Make an appointment with your vet. 

The first thing you should do when your cat starts peeing outside the litter box is to have your vet examine him. A number of the causes for these kinds of elimination problems are medical in nature, and many of them are associated with considerable pain. Ruling out health problems is the right thing to do for your cat, and it’ll allow you to focus on other causes. 

2. Assess your cat’s mental well-being.

Is your cat showing signs of stress or anxiety? Is he suffering from lost hair or vocalizing at all hours of the day or night? If you notice these problems, you’ll want to try to identify the reason for his stress and make the appropriate adjustments. For example, if your cat is suffering from separation anxiety, you may need to adjust your schedule or arrange for a cat sitter to come by and make periodic visits.  

If you can’t identify the cause of your cat’s stress or anxiety, consult with a cat behavior consultant. 

3. Think about any potential changes in the living environment. 

Have you added a new person or pet to your household? Have you started spending less time at home? Did you recently move? Any of these changes may trigger inappropriate elimination. Sometimes, time will help alleviate the issue as your cat adjusts to the chance, but in other cases, you may need to reevaluate the change and try to restore a bit of normalcy to your cat’s routine. 

4. Clean the litterbox and anywhere that may have lingering urine odors. 

Thoroughly cleaning your cat’s litter box and refilling it with fresh litter may be all that’s necessary to alleviate the issue you’re facing. It may also be necessary to increase the frequency with which you clean the litter – especially if he’s started peeing more frequently because of a health problem. 

5. Use an enzymatic cleaner to eliminate any urine odors from the surrounding area. 

If your cat is peeing in the same area repeatedly, you may need to clean that area with an enzymatic cleaner to eliminate any triggering odors. Just be sure to stick to pet-safe products and follow the manufacturer’s directions to have the best chance of success. 

6. Start experimenting with the litter box, the litter, and its location. 

If your cat’s pee-pee problem is the result of litter or litter box preferences, you’ll need to start trying different solutions. Start with the easiest things you can do, such as trying a different cat litter, before moving on to more elaborate solutions, such as replacing the litter box itself. 

***

It’s certainly no fun to find that your cat is peeing outside the litterbox, but a number of the most common causes are relatively easy to address. Just be sure that you don’t ignore the problem, as some of the potential causes may be related to serious medical issues. 

But no matter what the cause of your kitty’s tinkle problem is, be sure that anyone caring for your cat knows about it – especially if you’re relying on a professional cat sitter

Well-trained cat sitters know that these kinds of litter box problems can signify serious health problems, and you want your sitter to know that your cat has already been examined by a vet and that there’s no cause for concern. And as long as Fluffy’s not suffering from a medical problem, the sitter can just clean up the puddle and dole out some extra cuddles.

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