Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

Here's how to get to the bottom of the problem and get your cat back into the litter box.

If a litter box is too small or cramped, cats often won't use it. (Photo: Tiplyashina Evgeniya/Shutterstock).

About 10 percent of cats develop elimination problems such as urinating outside their litter box, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

When your feline friend starts to opt for the carpet, your bed or a favorite plant instead of the litter box, it’s important to resolve the problem quickly before the new habit becomes a chronic problem.

There are numerous reasons why a cat might quit using a litter box, and treatment must be tailored to the cat’s specific issue.

While spraying or urine marking is often considered a litter box problem, its causes and treatments are different. Cats that spray will use their litter box, but they’ll also urinate in other locations, especially vertical surfaces like chairs and walls.

If your cat is consistently urinating or defecating outside the litter box, the animal should first see a veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. Urinary tract infections, feline interstitial cystitis and kidney stones can all contribute to elimination problems.

Once medical issues have been ruled out, try to determine what else could be causing your feline’s issue.

It could be as simple as the box is too dirty and needs to be emptied more often, or it could be more complicated if the cat has started to associate the litter box with a negative experience like being frightened by a loud noise while using the box.

Depending on your cat’s health and behavior, here are some steps you can take to help your pet feel more comfortable with the litter box.

Make the box as appealing as possible

Cats prefer large boxes they can enter easily, and they often don’t like boxes with liners or lids. Keep about two inches of clumping, unscented litter in the box.

Scoop the box daily, and wash the box with baking soda or unscented soap once a week.

Be sure to provide enough litter boxes. Generally you should have one for each cat in your household, plus one extra.

Location is everything

Cats prefer their litter boxes to be in quiet locations where there’s not a lot of foot traffic. It’s also important that your cat not feel trapped, so make sure you place the box in an area where the cat has multiple escape routes.

If your cat soils in the same spot repeatedly, try placing the litter box in that area. If this isn’t possible, place the animal’s bed, toys or food and water in this location to discourage further elimination.

However, don’t put your cat’s food or water bowls next to the litter box.

Make certain areas unappealing

Clean any urine from carpet or other fabrics with an enzymatic cleanser that neutralizes pet odors.

You can also deter the cat from urinating in a specific location by making the surface unpleasant to stand on. Place tin foil, double-sided tape or upside-down carpet runners in the area.

Other ideas

Help alleviate your cat’s stress by using a Feliway spray or diffuser. These products deliver synthetic pheromones that have been shown to relieve feline anxiety.

Try using a product like Cat Attract, a litter blended with a natural herb attractant.

Play with your cat near the litter box and leave treats or toys in the area so the animal associates the box with positive things.

If your cat has long hair, carefully clip the fur along the hind legs if it’s soiled. Matted fur can be painful for cats when they’re urinating and may discourage litter box use.

Talk to your veterinarian about medications and other treatment options.

What not to do

Don’t scold your cat, rub their noses in urine or feces or try to force them into the litter box. Also, never confine the animal to a small room with the litter box for days without doing anything else to resolve the problem.

When cleaning up accidents, don’t use a cleaner that contains ammonia. Urine contains ammonia, so the scent could encourage your cat to keep eliminating in the same location.

Why Pets Matter to Treehugger

At Treehugger, we are advocates of animal welfare, including our pets and other domestic animals. The better we understand our cats, the better we can support and protect their wellbeing. We hope our readers will adopt rescue pets instead of shopping from breeders or pet stores, and will also consider supporting local animal shelters.