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

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

Skye Blake looking left through magnifying glass

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 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:

  • 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?
Have cat examined by vet if peeing outside 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.

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!
  • The answer might be as simple as “You’re not cleaning the box enough”. Do you want to use a toilet that hasn’t been flushed in days? See also “Cleaning Cat Urine”
  • Put together a plan to deal with the problem(s) you’ve found.
curious tabby cat

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…

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

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
  • an idiot cat!

He doesn’t hate you or your boyfriend, mother, or other person. Those are human emotions that are projected onto us poor felines!

frustrated angry woman

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.

cat peeking out from blanket

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, 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 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 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 us!

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.

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”)?
  • 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!

Is the Litter Different in Some Way?

clump of green litter in scoop

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.

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 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

magnifying glass

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

First, Get a Black Light

refraction-black light-rainbow

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

cat and lamppost

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… 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

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

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

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

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

  • 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

cleaning methods

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

Skye looking through glass with colorful background - turned right

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. 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…

Location, Location, Location…The BoxCleaning Cat Urine
Deciphering Pee PatternsSymptoms of Illness in Your Cat
The Territorial CatWhat’s the Best 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 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.

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


(Links below are for your information only. I make no money from them.)

“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