Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

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

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, facing left
Paw prints coming forward

Since you’re asking this question, I’m assuming your cat isn’t happy with his litter box at this point 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:

Have cat examined by vet if peeing outside litter box
  • 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?

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! DON’T WASTE TIME TRYING HOME REMEDIES OR ASKING QUESTIONS ON THE INTERNET!

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.

Getting Your Cat Back in the Litter Box

Cat with stinky litter box
  1. First, 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 exact cause of the problem. Put on your thinking cap and figure it out rationally!
  2. Second, get out your pencil, paper, phone, or whatever you use and make notes!
  3. Third, read on to figure out exactly what the problem is.
  4. Fourth, 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!
  5. Fifth, the answer might be as simple as “You’re not cleaning the box enough”. Think about it…do you want to use a toilet that hasn’t been flushed in days? Neither does your cat! You can easily fix that problem. See “Cleaning Cat Urine” for details on proper cleaning of soiled areas in your home.
  6. Last, but not least, put together a plan to deal with the problem(s) you’ve found.

Put your Skye Blake Detective Cap on and become your kitty’s litter box detective. Embrace the box! It’ll give you lots of clues…

Keep in mind as you follow the trails, it’s much easier to detect and fix the problems with one rather than multiple cats. 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!

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

man frustrated with cat peeing outside  the litter box

Let’s look at what your furry friend is NOT doing. He’s not being spiteful, mean, bad, jealous or an idiot cat! He doesn’t hate you or your boyfriend, mother, or other person. That’s emotion humans project onto us poor felines!

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

Keep in mind that each cat is an individual. An answer that works for one might not work for another. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer but you’ll be able to 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…a message to other cats in the household (and you) that something has made him insecure about his territory (which includes you)
  • 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 tracking clues

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?

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 us!

Alien 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.

Did you change Kitty’s litter box in some way?

cat covering waste in litter box
  • Is the box too small?
  • Does she have to deal with the concentrated smell of a covered box (the “outhouse effect”)?
  • 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 a box?

If so, see “Location, Location, Location…the Box” for more about that problem. That’s like moving your house to another street!

Is the litter Different in Some Way?

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? Many cats hate strong scents in their litter box.

ginger tabby cat hiding his face

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 Pee Patterns: Pee Pattern #2-Litter Box Avoidance” for more explanation and solutions.

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

FOLLOW THE PEE CLUES

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

First, get a black light…Don’t skip this step

Use it often…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

Graphic cat peeking around corner

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. Remember the reward at the end…your cat happily using her litter box and a clean house. Restoring peace and harmony to your household!

Your hunt should include everything your cat can reach

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. Check these spots…

  • furniture – all sides and underneath
  • beds
  • clothes
  • drawers
  • pillows
  • shelves
  • counters
  • kitchen appliances (refrigerator, stove) on sides and top
  • cat trees and beds
  • area around all litter boxes
  • under windows and on sills
  • 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
Cat Pee Treasure Hunt Map

Look for every spot that glows yellow or white. Mark it with painter’s tape or sticky notes (anything that’s easily removable).

Get Help if You Need It

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

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

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!

Cameras representing motion cameras

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

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…

Cat Pee Treasure Hunt Map
  • 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

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. 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

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.

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

Now your pee detective work pays off

Use the records you’ve created to determine what’s bothering your kitty…read the pee patterns. That’s your “aha!” moment.

paw prints

Follow this trail “Deciphering Pee Patterns” to take the next step in the process of making your kitty happy, balanced, and at peace with his world…

You can’t arrest the perpetrator, but you can make effective changes to fix your cat’s problem. Then he’ll pee in his litter box again! Yay!

Also, 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…


RELATED PAGES OF INTEREST

Location, Location, Location…The BoxCleaning Cat Urine
Deciphering Pee PatternsSymptoms of Illness in Your Cat
The Territorial CatWhat’s the Best Type of Cat Litter Box?
What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?Cat Behavior…Is My Cat Nuts??
Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Box?

SOURCES

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary. Primary are always preferable and have the most reliable information because primary sources are 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. Thus, 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, www.thunderbaybooks.com