Greetings fellow detectives! Skye Blake here with more about deciphering cat pee problems and helping your cat get back in the litter box!
Why do you need to find pee patterns?
If you don’t see everywhere your cat is peeing, you won’t know what the problem is and can’t fix it.
Your cat will also continue to go back and mark at any pee spot you don’t clean… that’s frustrating!
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- CONTINUING ON…
- PEE PROBLEM CLUE #3: TERRITORIAL INSECURITY
- Ways Cats Mark Territory
- Territorial Threats & Pee Patterns
- External Threats
- Internal Threats
- Unfamiliar Scents
- Fixing the Problem
- Changes Within Territory
- Dysfunctional Relationships
- Check the Pee Patterns
- Cat Wars – The Furry Battle
- Fixing the Problem
- The Medication Option
- Finally Getting Your Cat Back In the Box!
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet or behaviorist) 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.
Sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
PEE PROBLEM CLUE #3: TERRITORIAL INSECURITY
On our page “Deciphering Cat Pee Patterns” we discovered that there are three main reasons cats go outside the litter box.
We discussed the first two problems…
Now we’re continuing on to the third… territorial insecurity (territoriality).
The Cambridge Dictionary defines territoriality as “the behaviour that a person or an animal uses to defend its territory” (“territory” being an “area that an animal or person tries to control or thinks belongs to them”).1 TERRITORIALITY | English meaning – Cambridge Dictionary
If your cat has a clean bill of health and you’ve worked with the litter and boxes but are still having pee problems, territoriality is the most likely culprit (especially if there’s more than one cat).
Knowing how we felines view our territory is the key to unlocking much of our behavior.
Territorial Insecurity & Scent
We felines feel safe when we know we own territory and insecure when we don’t.
Having our scent where we live makes all the difference.
Think about it… your house is your territory… you feel safe and comfortable there.
How would you feel if something or someone threatened it? Distressed is putting it mildly!
Secure cats don’t need to spray or pee to mark ownership… the scent their bodies leave where they live is enough, which doesn’t cause problems for people.
They mark by rubbing with their cheek scent glands or kneading to mark with paw scent glands.
Their litter boxes also have scent that makes them feel secure.
But when a cat is insecure, he starts needing to claim territory by spraying or leaving puddles.
Your cats signal each other (and you if you’re paying attention) when trouble is brewing and there can be more than one cat having pee problems.
Ways Cats Mark Territory
There are different ways cats mark territory…
- kneading their paws & scratching things
- rubbing their head or body on an object
- indiscriminate peeing
Scratching & Kneading
Scratching and kneading is one way cats mark territory, so it’s important to provide things that satisfy this need.
But how do you keep her from ruining your furniture? By giving her something she CAN scratch.
Putting scratching posts next to the furniture gives her something she’ll like better… adding a little catnip or rubbing it with her scent gives added attraction.
There are vertical, horizontal, and slanted scratching posts available at pet stores and online suppliers like Chewy, PetSmart, Petco, and Amazon.
Whatever scratching posts your cat prefers must be stable and give your cat the ability to stretch full-length.
You can discourage her from scratching the furniture by putting double sided sticky tape on it until she gets the idea.
Clicker training is also a helpful positive way to direct your cat.
Body Marking – Rubbing & Rolling
Rolling around and face rubbing are other ways cats like to mark territory.
This is what they’re doing when they rub against you, the furniture, rug, and their beds.
Spraying is when a cat (usually male) stands with his rump to the area, tail up and quivering while spraying.
Sometimes the cat partly or completely closes his eyes and walks in place with his back paws while spraying.
Spraying is mostly done by intact (unneutered) male and female cats because of the drive to mate, which includes strong marking signals.
This is another good reason to get them altered as kittens… see “Spay/Neuter“.
Spraying can still happen after neutering, so have your cat examined by a vet to be sure the neutering was effective and there are no other medical causes.
If that’s not an issue, there are some other reasons to consider…
“If your cat has already been neutered and is still spraying, he either feels that his territory is in danger, is anxious about something and trying to self-soothe, or is trying to exchange information with another cat in a safe way.”3 “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, p. 160
Indiscriminate peeing is different from spraying because it’s usually done squatting and is puddled in different places.
Your cat will also probably try to cover the pee puddle no matter where it’s located.
Scratches in the carpet by the puddle or attempts to cover with nearby objects like towels, pillows, throw rugs, and shoes are clues that this is peeing, not spraying.
This can have a medical or behavior cause. If you’ve ruled out illness, it’s most likely due to territoriality.
Territorial Threats & Pee Patterns
Check the pee patterns you found in your “treasure hunt”.
Many of them indicate a specific threat to your cat’s ownership, making him insecure.
Some are external and others are internal, so let’s take a closer look…
Pee Around the Perimeter
Are there spots at the front, back, or garage doors and trim?
Is pee dribbling down walls under windows or by the cat or dog door? All of these areas lead outdoors…
Marking them is a sure sign that one or more of your cats feels threatened by something outside… usually other cats.
Fixing the Problem
How do you fix this problem when you don’t control the other cats?
First, go on a pee treasure hunt outside at night when it’s dark and you can use the black light.
Finding all the pee spots is key to helping your cat. Get your kids to help… they’ll have fun!
Third, try some of these ideas…
- If your cat is in heat, attracting all the male cats in the area, get her spayed
- If you know the intruder is your neighbors’ cat, try asking them to keep him inside
This may not work, since people often claim they can’t do anything about it.
- Don’t feed or set up homes for feral cats by your house
Instead, set it up further away on your property or make arrangements for someone else in the neighborhood to do it.
- Use citrus or other strong scents outside that cats don’t like
Spray them around doors, patios, windows, anywhere an offending cat or animal previously marked… repeat frequently.
- Block off your cat’s view of the area
You may have to try a few different ways to block off any view of other cats.
Some suggestions are to put cardboard over that part of the window and/or sticky tape on the sill so your cat doesn’t want to sit there.
- Make the area outside your house unattractive to other cats
Set up some animal-safe motion-sensing air, water, or ultrasonic sound canisters that activate when the cat comes close to them.
The cat doesn’t like the sudden puff of air, squirt of water or high-pitched sound and will decide it doesn’t want to be there after a couple tries.
Put them outside by windows and doors or wherever you cleaned pee spots.
If the problem is inside your cat’s territory (your house) it’s usually caused by…
- unfamiliar scents
- changes within territory
- dysfunctional relationship with somebody in the household
Most cats hate changes in their world and there may be things you haven’t thought twice about that upset your cats greatly.
This can be complex, so if it’s too much for you, it’s time to call in a behaviorist to guide you on the path toward peace.
Learn more about them at “What Is a Cat Behaviorist?“
Let’s discover more…
Ever have a cat get upset when you and another pet come back from the vet?
New people or animals suddenly coming into the house (spouse, children, baby, dog, another cat, etc.) carry unfamiliar scents.
Even you can bring in unfamiliar scents from walking outside or being with other animals.
Since scent is extremely important for cats to be confident this can be upsetting.
A new scent could mean an enemy taking our territory, so we have to mark it with our own scent to feel safe again.
This is especially true if this unfamiliar scent suddenly moves into the house and doesn’t leave.
Think of it this way… would you like it if some stranger suddenly showed up in your bedroom and claimed it as their own?
There are some telltale signs your cat is reacting to unfamiliar scents.
Check the pee patterns you found on your treasure hunt.
Were there lovely little pee “gifts” left on your purse, shoes or other clothing?
On the clothing of your spouse, baby, or guest? What about bath towels, mats, baby crib, car seat or stroller?
Other targets for pee “gifts” are beds, couches, chairs, cat trees, scratching posts, and perches.
Fixing the Problem
When you bring in something (or someone) new, it’s important to mingle your cat’s scent with the new one before any introduction.
If you’re reintroducing after a pee problem, do the same thing, just be sure you’ve completely cleaned all pee puddles.
An easy way to mingle scent is to take a towel or old t-shirt, pet your cat with it and rub it on any new furniture or items that you bring home.
You can do the same with your scent, which will help your cat accept the new items because you’re scent is familiar and safe.
Another way to make your cat secure is to provide a cat-friendly environment and routines… that’s a whole other topic to discover.
A good way to start is by watching some of Jackson Galaxy’s videos about environmental enrichment, which he calls “catification“.
Changes Within Territory
Things may have changed that you don’t think about but can be earth shattering for your cat.
- Have you changed where or when you give him food? This can throw off an insecure cat.
Be sure you make these changes gradually… guide your cat to any new location.
- Are you putting food bowls for all your cats in the same place? Feeding them together invites bullying and territorial anxiety.
Spreading the bowls around and using food puzzles can help alleviate this problem.
Some people have found success with electronically timed feeders that have a sensor, so it’ll open only for a specific cat at a specific time.
- Are there changes in your home? Have you closed off a room he used to be able to enter?
If doors are closed, a cat can feel his territory is shrinking and he has to mark.
A sign of this is a pee pattern that shows puddles near or at a newly closed door.
- Are you remodeling your house, doing construction, or moving to a new home? Have you installed a dog or cat door?
Put your cat in a safe, quiet area of the house during any construction and make sure his cat tree, beds, and a litter box are in the same area.
- Have you moved either your furniture or your cat’s beds, trees, litter boxes, etc.?
Just moving a chair to the other side of the room can be earthshattering and confusing for a cat, although some are more relaxed about it than others.
Think of it as coming home one day and your house is spread out over the neighborhood or completely gone… nothing familiar is left!
Relationships within your cat’s world that aren’t functioning properly are a major source of territorial distress and insecurity.
If you have more than one cat, the problems can be complex and often happen when cats aren’t properly introduced to each other.
This can be difficult and frustrating, so if it’s too much for you, hire a certified cat behaviorist who can work with your specific situation.
Do you get angry, yell, swat or otherwise take out your frustration on your cat or others?
Do you punish your cat when you don’t like something they’ve done?
If you haven’t yet figured it out, punishment never works on cats… it only destroys trust.
The key is positive reinforcement like clicker training.
Have you made a major personal change, like no longer letting him in bed with you?
Your bed is a major source of comfort to a cat because it’s one place your scent is strongest. Re-evaluate this change if possible.
Has your work schedule or other routine changed so you’re no longer home much?
Are you paying less attention to him now than in the past?
Find ways to pay more attention to your cat.
Playing with him (the right way) and making his environment more fun and interesting can help.
Are you recently married, have a new roommate, or brought your elderly parent in to live with you?
These are all situations that can make your cat anxious.
Unknown people are big monsters to a small cat… and they have unfamiliar scents.
An insecure cat can respond with the need to mark ownership plus claim you as their territory as well.
You can ease your cat’s concerns by mingling her scent with the new one.
Pet her with a towel or piece of clothing from that person and rub it on the new person’s shoes, bed, and other areas, especially if they’re areas where your cat has marked.
New people can also help by doing pleasant things your cat likes.
They can feed the cat, brush and play with him, even work on clicker training together.
This helps them to form a trusting bond that will benefit everyone.
Young children, especially toddlers, can cause serious insecurity for a cat. All that energy, noise, and sudden movement is scary for some cats.
Supervision is always required when cats and toddlers are together.
The main concern with children is overstimulating, frightening, or cornering your cat.
This puts the cat in a fight-or-flight situation causing her to bite and scratch for her life.
Teach Your Kids
Teach your children how to properly touch and pet a cat (no pulling on tails or fur) and how to pick up or hold a cat.
A great method is to use a stuffed animal for teaching so both child and cat can stay safe.
Kids a bit older can learn how to play with a cat using wands and other toys instead of their hands.
They can also learn and have fun doing clicker training with their cats.
Most cats don’t like to be held upside down like a baby or dangled by our front legs!
We prefer sitting upright with your arms under our back feet and chest.
Toddlers can’t pick up and hold us properly, so they shouldn’t be allowed to until they’re big enough.
It’s safer for both the child and the cat… respect your cat’s individual tolerance levels.
Some breeds are very tolerant of the activity and noise levels of children, while others aren’t, so be aware of each of your cat’s abilities.
Enriching a cat’s environment in various ways can go a long way toward creating a peaceful, caring, and safe situation for everyone.
One way of doing this is to give your cat a way of getting around a room without having to be on the floor.
Being off the ground on furniture, cat trees and shelves that create a kitty highway around the room gives your cat a way to feel safe, have escape routes, and own vertical territory.
He can watch the activity below and children can enjoy talking to him and playing without overstimulating or scaring him.
This is a great way to eliminate many kinds of behavioral issues for your cat, including pee problems.
Discover more at “Environmental Enrichment for Cats“.
If a dog is harassing your cat, even in play, whether in the litter box or on the way to it, try relocating the box to an area where the dog isn’t allowed.
Dogs are notorious for eating delicious fresh cat poop, so relocating the box to a place where your cat feels safe yet within his living area, will be better for both of them.
Some people put baby gates in doorways so the cat can go through, but the dog can’t.
Training your dog to leave both the cat and the box alone is the best way to fix this pee (or poop) problem… and well worth the effort.
If it’s a matter of the dog making it difficult to get to a litter box, try setting up a vertical cat highway so your cat can get to the litter box and the dog can’t get to the cat along the way.
To discover more about dog and cat relationships, I highly recommend you read pages 224-229 in this very helpful book, “Think Like a Cat”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant
It’s available at bookstores and online. (Any products or brands I mention on this page are for your information and convenience only. I make no money from them.)
If it’s another cat, first check your litterbox setup…
Spreading them out makes it easier for everyone to use them. If one cat’s guarding a box, the other can safely use a different box.
Discover more at “The Cat Box… Location, Location, Location“.
Check the Pee Patterns
If this alone doesn’t fix the cat pee problems, check the patterns you found.
Many of them happen in multi-cat households where the cats aren’t getting along.
Territorial insecurity can show itself in different ways, one of which is bullying and intimidating other cats.
Ever had a cat give you “the stare”? Pretty intimidating isn’t it!
Here are some examples of pee patterns that indicate a bullying situation…
Puddles on the Floor & Up High
- Are there pee puddles out in the open or underneath a table, chairs or other furniture?
- Are they in the middle of a room? Somewhere higher… off the floor?
Tables, refrigerator, shelves, cabinets, or counters, even appliances like stoves, washers or dryers can be targets of pee puddles.
The bullying victim is peeing or pooping from fear for his life or couldn’t make it to the box.
Around Inside Doorways
- Is there pee around inside doorways that connect rooms and hallways, like bedrooms, bathrooms, and basements?
At least one of your cats doesn’t have enough safe spots or escape routes either getting to something in a room (like a bed or litter box) or going down a hallway.
Doorways and hallways are prime attack spots… they become the tunnel of death!
Ever had somebody jump out from behind a door and scare you?
Yeah, your cat might not be the only one with pee problems then!
Cat Wars – The Furry Battle
- Is there a pee and/or poop trail, possibly with fur tufts and blood from a fight?
Any cat under attack is going to have a hard time holding it in, and at this point the pee problems are only part of a greater issue.
If blood is being drawn, you’ll have to keep them separated while you find and clean all pee spots and begin the process of reintroducing them.
Products and brands mentioned on this page are for your information and convenience only. I make no money from them.
Fixing the Problem
The best way to fix territorial insecurity is to discover who’s bullying whom, then help each one individually to become confident in their ownership of the territory.
Finally, reintroduce them slowly and carefully, using positive methods that help them reassociate each other and former pee spots.
The goal is to have every cat in your house confident in his ownership of territory and able to use the litter boxes without feeling threatened.
Once they realize there are no more threats, your cats can accept each other… et voila! no more pee problems!
Be patient! Move at a pace that works for your cats… and don’t force it just because you want a quick fix.
Some cats adjust quickly, and others take weeks or months… we’re all individuals!
Separation, reassociation, and gradual reintroduction are very important in this situation, but it can be a challenge without some guidance.
Discover more with this great book… “Think Like a Cat”, by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, especially chapters 7, 8, & 11.
The Medication Option
A word about medications… there are rare cases where a cat needs medication to help them calm down and function normally.
In this case, your cat’s pee problems are part of a larger problem where the chemicals in his brain might not be working right.
Some people want to medicate any cat that has “behavior problems”, but this should be a last resort, rather than an easy out.
Others will try holistic remedies (along with everything we’ve discussed) with no improvement but feel ashamed to try regular medications.
No matter what, meds may be the answer for your cat, just don’t attempt this without a thorough checkup and discussion with your vet.
You must understand how it all works, any side effects, risks, and what monitoring you need to do.
If the vet recommends a medicine, she will prescribe the correct type and proper dosage for your cat’s individual needs.
Finally Getting Your Cat Back In the Box!
You’ve done your detective work, deciphered the pee patterns in your house, and determined whether they’re medical, territorial, litter box avoidance, or a combination thereof.
Dealing with cat pee problems can be challenging, so work with what you’ve learned and have your family members get involved too.
Be encouraged that making the changes he needs and helping him become comfortable owning his territory will be well worth the time and effort for everyone.
Here are some excellent videos…
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
“Decoding Your Cat”, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Editors: Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVB, Debra F. Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Carlo Siracusa, DVM, PhD, DACVB, DECAWBM, pp. 165-189
“The Cat Whisperer”, by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.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
“Total Cat Mojo”, by Jackson Galaxy with Mikel Delgado, PhD, Tarcher Perigree, Penguin Random House, LLC, New York, NY, 2017
Dr. Marci L. Koski, Feline Behavior Solutions
Updated September 19, 2023