Deciphering Cat Pee Patterns - Cat Info Detective

Deciphering Cat Pee Patterns

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Hi there fellow cat pee detectives! Skye Blake here, ready to help you figure out the meaning of those pee patterns you’ve discovered in your house.

If you haven’t yet found them, go now to “Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?“, then come back and follow the trails here.

paw prints coming in from a distance

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

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.

Sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.

3 Main Patterns

sphynx cat looking in litter box-silica

There are three main types of pee patterns given below along with their most likely cause.

Often more than one of these will apply to your situation. They are…

  • Medical Problems
  • Litter Box Avoidance
  • Territorial Insecurity (Territoriality)

PEE PATTERN CLUE #1: MEDICAL PROBLEMS

vet check for medical pee problems

Are there dribbles or puddles around the litter box, in the bathtub or sink?

Is there blood in it? Is your kitty straining to go whether in or out of the box?

If so, get your kitty to the vet immediately!

Go sign/button

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!

It doesn’t matter if you just had him there last week. This is a specific condition that needs immediate care.

veterinarian listening to a cat's heart

Tell your vet about the pee patterns you’ve seen, along with any unusual behavior changes.

Good examples of medical signals are… the pee patterns you found, crying, diet changes, unusual eating habits, or lethargy (having no energy).

cat at vet in cage

If you’ve got pictures or video, that’s even better to help determine a diagnosis.

Your vet will do blood and urine tests and possibly others they believe are appropriate.

Possible problems are Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), urinary tract infection, blockage of the urethra, or interstitial cystitis.

veterinarian, anesthesiologist

Only your vet can determine the problem and treat it. If it’s a blockage, emergency surgery may be required to save his life.

Discover more at “Symptoms of Illness In Your Cat“…

“Your Cat is Sending You Warning Signs – Don’t Ignore Them!”, Jackson Galaxy, March 19, 2022

Get a Checkup Anyway

vet removing cat from carrier

Even if it’s not an emergency situation, you should make an appointment to get him in for a checkup as soon as possible.

Cats hide illness well (a survival instinct), so by the time they show discomfort it could be too late.

Monitoring your cat’s potty habits, following any pee patterns in or out of the litter box, can save your cat’s life.

grey cat looking at camera startled

Diabetes or cystitis are examples of on-going conditions that you’ll need to monitor.

Your feline friend is depending on you to be his litter box health detective.

Spay/Neuter

surgery on a cat; spay/neuter

If your male cat isn’t neutered or female spayed, set up an appointment right away.

This will help tremendously with any spraying problems since marking territory is part of the reproductive drive for all intact cats.

The pee patterns that show this are usually at cat height on furniture, walls, etc.

No attempts to change his behavior will work until you deal with medical issues first, including spaying or neutering.

How to Fix the Problem

person holding white kitten; find pee clues

Fixing a medical problem depends on what your vet discovers. Work with your vet as a partner.

Follow all instructions and give medications properly to successfully manage a chronic disease or other condition.

If it’s something like a urinary tract infection (UTI), it can be cleared up and kitty can get back to normal, possibly with a different diet.

sad calico cat; sickness can cause pee problems

Conditions like diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or overactive thyroid require monitoring for the rest of the cat’s life.

Once your cat’s on medication, a special diet, or the condition is cleared up, he may go right back to using the litter boxes without any further help. Yay!

cat sniffing dropper - alternative vet medicine

If he still avoids the box he’s probably associating pain he had with the box… especially with constipation or urinary problems.

Which brings us to the next pee pattern clue…

PEE PATTERN CLUE #2: LITTER BOX AVOIDANCE

Cats have to like the litter box

This is when your cat feels…

  • the box will hurt him
  • the box isn’t comfortable for him
  • the litter bothers his paws
Black cat paw/toes-litter box sensitivity
  • the box is too dirty to use
  • boxes are in the wrong locations
  • vulnerable to attack by other cats, dogs or children (box has no escape routes)
  • other negative litter box associations

Your Cat Feels the Litter Box is Hurting Him

cat yawning, angry or in pain; pee or poop problems can cause pain
OUCH!

If it’s a medical problem causing him pain when he pees or poops, your cat associates the box with pain.

He thinks the box is hurting him and it won’t hurt if he goes somewhere else.

Or he holds it so long because of the pain that he can’t make it to the box in time.

This type of pee pattern is usually when you see puddles or poop near the box. He knows he goes there but is afraid to go in.

Pain association often happens with constipation. Discover more at “Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Box?

dark tabby cat lounging on small sofa-sleeping

Once your kitty has a clean bill of health from the vet, if he still has trouble using the same box, answer the questions below to create a litter box setup he can’t resist.

Think of it as creating the spa bathroom you’d love but made for kitties!

If you give him boxes, litter and locations he loves, he’ll get interested again… and you’ll be happy too!

kitten pooping in litter box

Make sure you do a thorough cleaning of all pee marks or he’ll go back to them instead.

Use the pee pattern markers you made to find all the spots to clean.

A good enzyme cleaner is the only way to deal with the chemicals in cat pee.

Go to “Cleaning Cat Urine” for more…

Do You Have Enough Boxes?

numbers/counting; have enough litter boxes to prevent pee problems

How many litter boxes do you have for your feline friend?

Always have one for each cat plus an extra. Does he prefer to pee in one and poop in another?

If you have multiple cats, some won’t use a box others use, so learn their habits and provide enough boxes.

The Boxes Aren’t Comfortable for Him

Grey tabby cat hanging out in a litter box

Are the boxes large enough for him to turn around in? Most regular litter boxes are too small for adult cats.

They should all be at least 1.5 times the body length of the largest cat (nose to base of tail).

He should be able to turn around comfortably and dig without his whiskers touching the sides.

black cat using litter box, pee patterns

Many cats don’t like having their fur or whiskers touching the sides of the box or litter.

Long haired cats can be particularly sensitive and will avoid using a box if it bothers them too much.

If that’s the case, try low plastic under-bed storage containers (some are even on wheels).

Is It Easy to Get in and Out?

Cat on litter box; some cats won't use covered boxes, check pee patterns

Some cats, especially kittens and older, arthritic cats, can’t easily climb or jump over the sides of most boxes.

Do the boxes you’re using have high or low sides?

Are you asking your kitty to scale a skyscraper to get into her box?

cat sniffing silica litter in box, pee patterns

Kittens less than 3 months old need very shallow trays with soft litter.

Adult cats usually need boxes at least 5″ tall, but you can cut one side lower to create an easy opening.

This works well when you need high sides for a cat who stands to pee or is a mad litter flinger.

graphic of storage box, pee patterns

The clear container boxes work best because she can still see her surroundings even in a box with high sides.

They’re available at container stores, Walmart, Target, online, and many other places.

Discover more at “What’s the Best Cat Litter Box?”

Litter Box Liners – Convenience or Nuisance?

trash bag or litter liner

Are you using a liner in the bottom? Get rid of it.

Many cats don’t like them because their claws get caught while trying to dig and it feels weird.

Many people don’t like them either since they get shredded and pee goes underneath, making an extra mess.

Follow this trail for more about litter boxes… “What’s the Best Cat Litter Box?”

New Litter

kitten in litter box, pee patterns

Have you changed to a new litter lately?

A sudden change of litter can upset a cat… it’s something foreign and suspicious, especially if it’s a completely different texture or has a strong odor.

Your cat might completely reject the new litter unless you gradually introduce it into the old litter until he’s comfortable with it.

The Litter Bothers His Paws

pee patterns can show a cat doesn't like the litter

Sometimes a cat won’t use a box because of something distasteful about the litter.

Cats need to be able to dig and cover waste but not sink down into the litter.

Many also prefer the feel of something softer than hard pellets or rocks.

Signs of Uncomfortable Litter

tuxedo cat sleeping on blanket with paws over eyes

If your cat is doing any of these behaviors, she probably wants to use the box but finds the litter uncomfortable.

Some of these can have an underlying medical cause, which is why it’s important to rule them out first.

  • Trying to use the box without putting her feet in it
cat peeking with paw from underneath
  • Standing with two paws on the side
  • Not digging or covering waste
  • Running out of the box as if her tail is on fire

The Right Amount of Litter

dog's paw in person's hand - animal rescue, shelter

Having the right amount of litter in the box makes it more comfortable for cats to use.

Think “Goldilocks”… not too much, not too little, but juust right!

We like having enough for digging and covering while having something solid under our feet.

Tabby cat paws crossed

It’s also easier for people to scoop, empty and clean the boxes.

Usually 2-4″ is plenty. Using less litter will cut down on litter being tracked outside the box and save you money.

This is a general guideline and will also depend on the type of litter you use.

Litter Texture

closeup of grey, blue paw

The other litter issue is the texture. What kind of litter are you using?

Is it sharp, smooth, hard, soft, crumbly, clay, or pellets? Which would you prefer to step on?

If your sensitive, older or declawed (toe amputated) kitty has trouble stepping on hard, sharp litter, he won’t want to use it.

siamese cat licking front paw

There are plenty of soft, crumble types of litter available both in pet stores and online suppliers like Amazon and Chewy.

It might take some experimenting to find the one both you and your cat like.

You can also use “retraining litter” or cat attractant to get his interest.

Check this out for more info… “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”

The Box is Too Dirty

Cat with stinky litter box

Be brutally honest with yourself… How often do you clean the boxes?

I’ll bet not often enough.

Think about it… Do you want to use a toilet that hasn’t been flushed in days?

cat figurine sitting on toilet

I certainly don’t and neither does your cat!

The waste in all boxes should be scooped out twice a day and periodically replaced.

The box should be washed with unscented mild dishwasher soap weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on how quickly it gets dirty.

clump of green litter in scoop

If you insist on using bleach, use a very diluted solution and rinse, rinse, rinse! Then rinse again…

Cats won’t use a box with bleach odor since it’s too strong for their delicate noses.

Plastic boxes will eventually have to be replaced because they get scratched and the plastic absorbs odors and bacteria.

Videos About Cleaning Litter Boxes

Since a picture’s worth 1,000 words, here are some helpful videos about litter and cleaning your boxes.

“How To Keep Your Litter Box From Stinking Up Your House!! Control Litter Box Odors”, MyHecticLifePets, Oct 9, 2018
“How to Clean Your Cat’s Litter Box (Everything You Need to Know)”, Cats.com, August 6, 2021

The Boxes are in the Wrong Locations

no escape routes from box can cause problems

Where do you have the boxes located?

Make them easy for her to find and use and she’ll appreciate it… so will you!

We felines see our box location the same way you see yours.

Isn’t your bathroom basically a human litter box? Where do you locate them?

silver tabby kitten on a bed

Near bedrooms, living rooms, near the back door, anywhere convenient.

All we cats ask is the same convenience, especially when we’re old and grey.

We can’t always get to the box in time if it’s too far away.

cat on a bookshelf

Box location is also very important to us of the feline persuasion because litter boxes are strong scent markers, which has huge social significance for us.

They’re signs saying “Hey, cats, I’m here! I own this house!” Scent markers help us feel safe and secure.

Discover more about this all-important subject at “The Cat Box…Location, Location, Location”.

Litter Box Attacks – Fur-Raising!

angry cat can spray to protect territory

In multi-cat households it’s common for an insecure bully cat to guard a box, either making it impossible for anyone else to use it or attacking as they exit the box.

There’s also the problem of a nosy, slobbering dog hovering over the box, waiting to eat his poop (a disgusting dog delicacy).

I wouldn’t want to use that box either!

scared kitten meeting dog

Even curious children can upset cats with their noise and motion around the box.

We felines need to see what’s happening on all sides of the litter box for safety.

If anyone scares your furry friend while in or coming out of the box, she won’t use it again. (This includes fancy furniture box units like end tables.)

Do you want to use a bathroom facility if you know somebody’s waiting to beat you up when you come out?

I don’t think so… you’ll find somewhere safer to go.

Covered vs. Open Boxes

litter boxes can show pee problems

Are the boxes covered or open?

Covered boxes can be fine for one cat in a quiet household, but can become battlegrounds in a noisy, dog and cat filled one.

Most cats, especially in multi-cat households, prefer open boxes where they can see potential attackers coming and have escape routes.

persian cat-white facing forward

We felines feel most vulnerable there, so we like to be able to see as many directions as possible while doing our business.

This is a survival instinct in all cats, even your pampered indoor-only Persian!

People like covered boxes because they hide the litter and help keep it from scattering all over the floor, tracking through the house.

bengal-cat-halfway-in-covered-litter-box

Some of us felines love to dig and scatter! You can use an open deep box instead and a mat underneath to help.

Find out more about boxes at “What’s the Best Cat Litter Box?“.

The Outhouse Effect

Mr. Jones relaxing on the sofa

The other problem with covered boxes is odor… ewww!

The cover contains the smell, which you humans think is a great idea, but it concentrates the ammonia and makes the box smell like a port-a-potty at a rock concert… ugh! phew!

If you’ve ever used one in the middle of summer, you know what I mean… it’s the “outhouse effect”.

man-holding-nose-silhouette

Even worse, humans seem to think you don’t have to clean the box if it’s covered… as if it all magically disappears!

If you insist on using covered boxes, you must keep them very clean! This includes “self-cleaning” and robot boxes.

Other Negative Litter Box Associations

man yelling, pee patterns

There are other ways a kitty may think of the litter box as something to avoid.

Have you yelled at or punished him while in or around the box?

He may decide you and the box are scary and find a happier, safer place to go.

tabby cat in open hard carrier
Did a sudden loud noise happen while your cat was in a litter box?

If a washer changed cycles, the garage door opened, or people came loudly crashing through a nearby door, it could have scared him.

Now he thinks the box is scary and causing the noise, so he won’t use it.

Is it too dark near the boxes at night?
grey cat head with one eye showing in dark, pee patterns

Put a nightlight by each box… this is especially helpful for older cats.

Cats see well in low light but not in complete darkness.

You could even have nightlights along the (hopefully short) route she takes to get to the box.

These are all potential causes of litter box avoidance that pee patterns can bring to light.

How to Fix the Problem

Daisies - used in essential oils

Once you understand what the pee patterns are saying, you can begin to fix the problems.

The simple way to fix litter box avoidance is to make all boxes as enticing as possible…

  • Use litter with features you like that your cat will use
tabby cat squatting in litter box, pee patterns
  • Provide the proper number of boxes (one for each cat plus one)
  • Use proper size boxes (at least 1 1/2 times the largest cat’s body length, not including his tail)
  • The type of box your cat uses must be comfortable
  • Put boxes in quiet areas where your cat lives
2 ginger cats - kitten grooming mom
  • Have good litter mats
  • Scoop and clean all boxes regularly
  • Use scoops that work well with the type of litter you use
  • Install a night light near all boxes
woman hugging cat; fix pee problems so you can have a great relationship, patterns

Remember, a little effort here will make litter boxes a happy place for your cat.

The best setup will be decided by both you and your cat.

Find out more about litter boxes at “The Cat Box…Location, Location, Location“, “What’s the Best Cat Litter Box?“, and “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”.

tabby cat on cat tree looking down

When you make the changes he needs and he’s comfortable owning his territory, he won’t need to spray or avoid his litter box.

You’ll both be happy together!

Curious about types of cat litter and boxes? Discover more at “Supplies For Cats

CONTINUING ON…

PEE PROBLEM CLUE #3: TERRITORIAL INSECURITY

graphic of sign Keep Out, pee patterns

If your cat is still unhappy and not using a box, it could be territorial insecurity at the root of the problem.

This is especially true if you have multiple cats that don’t get along well.

There are specific pee patterns that tell you what’s happening.

Discover what you need to know to help your cats feel they own their territory at “Cat Pee Problems – How to Fix Them“.

Videos

Here’s a helpful video…

“YOU’RE DOING CAT LITTER WRONG & Here’s Why!”, Jackson Galaxy, March 24, 2021

Sources

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

“Does Your Cat Need an Extreme Litterbox Setup Makeover?”, by Dr. Marci Koski, Feline Behavior Solutions

“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

YouTube Videos

“How to Clean the Litter Box Video”, Yarimar Padua, April 7, 2015 (clay litter)

“How to Clean Kitty Litter in 10 Seconds”, Michael Harlow, November 25, 2015

“How To Keep Your Litter Box From Stinking Up Your House!! Control Litter Box Odors”, MyHecticLifePets, Oct 9, 2018

“How to Clean Cat Litter Boxes Using Pine Pellets”, m3rma1d, January 8, 2019

Updated April 11, 2023

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