Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box? - Cat Info Detective

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Hi there… Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, reporting on a question every cat lover dreads… “Why is my cat peeing outside his litter box?”

paw prints coming in from a distance

Since you’re asking this question, I’m assuming your cat isn’t happy with his litter box and you’re not happy with your cat.

Good news, though! There are ways to detect and fix this problem.

Before we go any further, decide if this is an emergency situation by answering these questions:

  • Is your cat straining to pee with nothing coming out?
  • Do you see blood in the urine?
  • Is it painful when he tries?
  • Has he become lethargic (not moving much)?
  • Has he stopped eating and/or is vomiting?
tabby cat squatting in litter box

If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions or you’re not sure, get your kitty to the vet immediately!

Some conditions, like a urinary blockage, can kill a cat very quickly!


vet removing cat from carrier

If the answer is “no”, it’s still best to eliminate the possibility of a thyroid, kidney or other underlying illness causing the problem.

Make an appointment to have him seen as soon as possible.

The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs. 

Discover more at “Symptoms of Illness in Your Cat

Who Is Skye Blake?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a veterinarian) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you! 

Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page. 

All sources are given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping… 

Getting Your Cat Back in the Litter Box

Cat with stinky litter box

Once you’ve ruled out medical problems, follow these steps to take to get your cat back in the litter box…

  • Don’t be angry at your cat… it’s not personal against you. Cats don’t think that way.
  • Take the emotion out of it and focus on finding the real cause. Put on your thinking cap and figure it out rationally.
  • Get out your pencil and paper or phone and make notes.
  • Learn to see your home through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin of your cat. All his senses play a big role in this.
  • Put together a plan to deal with the problem(s) you’ve found.
curious tabby cat

The answer might be as simple as “You’re not cleaning the box enough”… see also “Cleaning Cat Urine”.

It’s much easier to detect and fix the problems with one cat. The more cats you have, the more dedication and work you have to give.

It’s well worth the effort to have a happy relationship with all your furry friends!

tabby cat focused and doing a blep

The various steps mentioned here are ones that cat behaviorists use.

Try them and see how your cat responds. If one doesn’t work, try another.

Remember, your choice is to clean up your cat’s pee either in a litter box or elsewhere around your house.

I think you’d rather deal with the box.

What Your Cat’s NOT Doing

frustrated man

Let’s look at what your furry friend is NOT doing. He’s not being…

  • spiteful
  • mean
  • bad
  • jealous
  • an idiot cat!
frustrated angry woman

He doesn’t hate you or your boyfriend, mother, or other person.

Those are human emotions that are projected onto us poor felines!

Your buddy is instinctively doing something that makes sense to him. He’s telling you something.

fat dark tabby cat

You just have to understand what it is. Take it from me, my fellow cats never do anything random!

So set aside your emotions, put away that awful squirt bottle and don’t punish him.

Cats don’t relate punishment with anything they’re doing.

cat peeking out from blanket

Any form of punishment, yelling, scolding, time out, spraying, pushing his face in pee, or swatting, will backfire and make things worse.

He’ll only be afraid of you, more insecure in his territory, and look for safer places to pee.

Not what you’re trying to accomplish!

Grey tabby cat hanging out in a litter box

Keep in mind that each cat is an individual, so an answer that works for one might not work for another.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer, but you can figure out the problem by becoming your cat’s pee detective.

Your relationship with him is definitely worth the effort!

What Your Cat Might Be Doing

Cat on litter box
  • Having a potentially serious medical problem (see above)
  • Signaling ownership with scent as a message to you and other cats that something has made him insecure about his territory
  • Being unable to make it to the box or use one because another cat is guarding, attacking or otherwise intimidating him
  • Being afraid of the box due to a sudden noise or pain while in it

Be Your Cat’s Litter Box Detective

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Think about when the peeing problem started.

Add in the fact that we cats don’t like changes to our territory, including the litter box.

Then ask yourself the following questions…

What’s Changed in Kitty’s World?

tabby cat looking at camera

Is there anything obvious that changed?

A new cat, baby, man, woman, dog, bird entering the home with new, strange activity and strange scents?

Something you might not think twice about can be a really big deal to your cat!

kitten peeking around door

Human and animal invaders threaten his territory. Their scent is unfamiliar so he doesn’t know if they’re friend or foe.

He becomes insecure, his territory is shrinking and no longer belongs to him.

So he must leave his scent markers, whether with pee, cheek rubbing or scratching, to secure himself again.

Discover more at “Cat Pee Problems – How to Fix Them“.

Did You Change Kitty’s Litter Box?

cat covering waste in litter box
  • Is the box too small?
  • Did you move it to another location?
  • Does she need more boxes in various parts of the house?

Does she have to deal with the concentrated smell of a covered box (the “outhouse effect”)?

bengal cat halfway in covered litter box
  • Has the sudden noise of an automatic box startled him?
  • Is the size of the litter area too small?
  • Is a box high-sided instead of low-sided, making it harder to get in and out?
  • Did you add strong fragrance (air fresheners) in or near the box that offend her highly sensitive nose?

Did You Move the Location of the Box?

ginger tabby cat hiding his face

If so, see “Location, Location, Location…the Box” for more about that problem.

That’s like moving your house to another street!

Discover more about litter boxes at “What’s the Best Cat Litter Box?

Is the Litter Different in Some Way?

clump of green litter in scoop from box

Did you buy the one on sale this week?

The texture might be too sharp or coarse, making it uncomfortable to walk on.

Just being an unfamiliar litter can be enough to put off some cats.

Did you change to scented from unscented litter?

red scoop in white litter

Many cats hate strong scents in their litter box.

There’s more about various types of cat litter at “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?

Is your cat declawed?

Tabby cat paws crossed

Declawed (toe amputated) cats are often especially sensitive to litter texture.

They will not walk on anything harder than sand due to real or phantom pain in their paws.

If any of these things ring a bell, go to “Deciphering Cat Pee Patterns” for more explanation and solutions.

If you can’t think of anything obviously different with the box…

Follow the Pee Clues

magnifying glass

Follow the pee clues to find patterns that will lead you to solutions…

First, Get a Black Light

refraction-black light-rainbow, cat litter box

Don’t skip this step!

Use it everywhere… even if you’re convinced you know where you cat is peeing.

If you have animals, it’s going to be a handy tool! The pee spots will show up clearly under it.

You can find handheld black lights online or in hardware stores for $10 and up.

Frankly, you’ll probably find it useful more than once so is worth getting a decent one.

Second, Go on a Pee Treasure Hunt in Your House

Wait until it’s dark outside, turn off all lights in the house and go on a pee hunt everywhere in your house.

Cat pee glows white in ultraviolet (black) light so it’ll be an interesting hunt!

You’ll probably be startled at what you find but it’s the only way to be sure you’re getting rid of the entire problem.

generic person looking through magnifying glass

Remember the reward at the end… a contented cat and a clean house.

You’ll have peace and harmony back in your household!

Your Hunt Must Include Everything Your Cat Can Reach

Chloe sitting on a sewing machine table

Don’t look in just one room, even if you’re 100% positive it’s only in that one!

Go through every room including garage, basement, behind the heater, attic, crawl space, any place your cat could possibly reach.

Look for every spot that glows yellow or white.

Mark it with painter’s tape or sticky notes (anything that’s easily removable).

ginger tabby lying on floor on his back, cat litter box

Check these spots…

  • furniture – all sides and underneath
  • beds
  • clothes
  • drawers
  • pillows
cat on a bookshelf
  • shelves
  • counters
  • kitchen appliances (refrigerator, stove) on sides and top
  • cat trees and beds
  • area around all litter boxes
  • under windows and on sills
Black & white photo of tabby cat watching something, cat litter box
  • walls
  • potted plants
  • the top of each door and surrounding trim/drywall
  • perimeter of floors
  • entire floors, especially where toys or other things usually sit

Get Help If You Need It

Help button-F1-on keyboard

If this is overwhelming for you, get friends and family to help or hire somebody.

Kids love helping with this kind of thing. Heck, have a pee-zza party! (sorry…)

Or hire a cat behaviorist to walk you through each step and give advice for your specific situation.

They’re very helpful with complex problems.

upside down white kitten, cat litter box

You may not like the extra work but think of it this way. If you miss any area, you’re only fixing part of the problem.

If you fix only part, then you’re fixing nothing and will have to start all over again.

You must get the whole picture to fix the whole problem!

Use Motion Cameras

Cameras representing motion cameras

If you have more than one cat in your household your detective skills are even more important.

If you can’t tell who’s peeing outside the box, get some motion sensor cameras pointed at the areas you’ve detected.

Then take bets on who you think it is. You might be surprised at the results!

go pro camera

Motion cameras are available at Walmart, Best Buy, Samsung, GoPro, and other online sites.

Search “motion detector camera” to find them in all price ranges.

Unless you’re going to use it for something else, you probably just need something simple that can detect and record motion in low and normal light.

Third, Go Back to Where You’ve Marked Pee Spots

Cat Pee Treasure Hunt Map, litter box

Make notes, take pictures, draw a map of where the taped marks are in every part of your house… on beds, floors, under windows, by hallways, outside doors, on or around furniture.

Include In Your Notes…

woman writing notes, cat litter box
  • location
  • fresh or old
  • type of pattern (puddles, trails, spray, other)
  • quantity (a lot, a few drops, etc.)
  • if there’s blood in it (old blood looks black)
  • anything else you decide is important
Skye Blake-updated, white background

You’ll see certain patterns emerging. Are they puddles, trails of droplets, spray patterns, or something else?

Are they in certain areas only?

This is what a good detective does… gathers facts, finds patterns, creates a big picture map of the crime scene.

silver magnifying glass clip art - tilted left

If you happen to have a white board, it’s a great way to post the info and see the patterns.

This method will give you answers… that “aha!” moment where you see what’s going on and can take steps to fix it.

Clean Up the “Crime Scene” ASAP

cleaning methods, cat litter box

When you’re done with the “crime scene”, get a good quality enzyme cleaner and scrub everything well to remove any scent.

See “Cleaning Cat Urine” for more details and be sure to follow product instructions carefully.

Enzymes work differently than other cleaners and are the ONLY thing that will completely get rid of the urine odor.

Cleaning will keep him from returning to those spots to leave fresh scent, but it will only work if you deal with any medical or territorial issues at the same time.

Now Your Pee Detective Work Pays Off

tabby cat sniffing chess pieces

Use the records you’ve created to determine what’s bothering your kitty.

Go to “Deciphering Pee Patterns” for the next step in the process of making your cat happy and balanced.

You can’t arrest the perpetrator, but you can make effective changes to fix your cat’s problem.

black cat using litter box

Then he’ll pee in his litter box again! Yay!

If you’re like me, a curious cat, I highly recommend reading the sources listed at the bottom of this page.

They’re about cat behavior by experts who know these things.

If you’re curious about other cat behavior read “Cat Behavior…Is My Cat Nuts??” and “The Territorial Cat“.

Oh, and if your kitty is having other litter box problems, check out “Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Box?


Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.

However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

“Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter”, by Jeanne Adlon and Susan Logan (c), Used by permisson. Square One Publishers (www.squareonepublishers.com), Garden City Park, NY, 2012, page 60

“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com

“The Inner Life of Cats, The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions”, by Thomas McNamee, Hachette Books, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY, 2017, www.hachettebooks.com

“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011

“The Tiger on Your Couch, What the Big Cats Can Teach You About Living in Harmony with Your House Cat”, by Bill Fleming and Judy Petersen-Fleming, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, NY, 1992

“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017

“What Your Cat Wants”, by Francesca Riccomini, Thunder Bay Press, Octopus Publishing Group, San Diego, CA, 2012

Updated April 11, 2024

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