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 what the pee pattern clues mean that you discovered in your house.

If you haven’t yet found the pee patterns, 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 given at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.

3 Main Clue Patterns

There are three main clue patterns given below with answers to what’s most likely causing them.

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

  • Medical Problems
  • Litter Box Avoidance
  • Territorial Upset


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


Go sign/button

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

Tell your vet about the pee patterns you’ve seen. This can help determine a diagnosis.

Your vet should do blood and urine tests as well.

veterinarian listening to a cat's heart

If it’s a blockage, emergency surgery may be required to save his life.

Discuss with your vet any unusual signs or changes in your cat.

The pee patterns you found, crying, diet changes, unusual eating habits, or lethargy (having no energy) are good examples.

cat at vet in cage

Mention anything else you can think of that might be a clue.

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

Only your vet can determine the problem and treat it.

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

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.

The pee patterns you notice can help the vet identify certain conditions.

Your vet will do tests to see if there’s an underlying medical problem.


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.

grey cat looking at camera startled

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

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.

That box is a treasure chest of clues to your cat’s health and happiness!

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 be successful at managing a chronic disease or other condition.

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

sad calico cat; sickness can cause pee problems

Your kitty could have diabetes, liver, kidney, or thyroid problems, or any of a number of other diseases or conditions.

They have to be dealt with in partnership with your veterinarian, often for the rest of your buddy’s life (just like people).

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 clue…


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

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.

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 when finding all the spots when cleaning.

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?

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

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.

Most regular litter boxes are too small for adult cats.

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

cat sniffing silica litter in box

You can cut down one side of a deeper box to create an easy opening.

This works well when you need the higher sides for a cat who pees higher up or scatters a lot of litter (try using less litter for notorious scatter cats).

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

You can get these at container stores, Walmart, Target, or many other places.

Is It Easy to Get in and Out?

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

Do the boxes have high or low sides? Are you asking your kitty to scale a skyscraper to get to her box?

Kittens and older, arthritic cats can’t easily climb over the sides of most boxes.

Young kittens (less than 3 months old) need very shallow trays with soft litter.

See “What’s the Best Cat Litter Box?” for more on this.

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.

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

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

The Litter Bothers His Paws

pee patterns can show a cat doesn't like the litter
Do You Have Too Much or Too Little Litter?

He needs to be able to dig and cover his waste but not sink down into the litter (which we cats don’t like).

You’ll find it’s easier to deal with scooping, emptying and cleaning boxes with the right amount of litter.

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

Tabby cat paws crossed

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

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

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?”

Signs He Doesn’t Like the Litter

"no" sign; pee patterns are clues on what not to do
  • Trying to use the box without putting his feet in it
  • Standing with two paws on the side
  • Not digging or covering his waste
  • Running out of the box as if his tail is on fire

The Box is Too Dirty for Your Cat to Use

Cat with stinky litter box

Be brutally honest with yourself…

What kind of litter are you using? Have you changed to a new litter lately?

And here’s the big one… 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

Plastic boxes will eventually have to be replaced.

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

YouTube Videos About Cleaning Litter Boxes

go pro video camera, computer laptop

“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

Follow this trail for more on cat litter… “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”

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 they’re strong scent markers, which has huge social significance for us.

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

Follow the trail further at “The Cat Box…Location, Location, Location” for more on this all-important subject.

Your Cat Feels Vulnerable to Attack in the Box

litter boxes can show pee problems

This is a big issue when you have more than one cat, dogs or small children. Covered boxes can be a source of problems if a cat feels threatened.

Covered vs. Open Boxes

think differently sign

Are the boxes covered or open?

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

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!

persian cat-white facing forward

People like covered boxes because they help keep litter from scattering all over the floor and tracking throughout the house.

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?“.

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

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.


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.

If you see a pee pattern around the box and you don’t clean it much, that’s a big clue!

When it comes to litter, out of sight can’t be out of mind!

Litter Box Attacks – Fur-Raising Events

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!

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

scared kitten meeting dog

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.)

Would you want to use a bathroom facility if you know somebody’s waiting to beat you up you every time you come out?

You’d find somewhere safer to go.

Other Negative Litter Box Associations

man yelling

There are other ways your kitty may think of the litter box as a negative thing.

One possibility is if you’ve yelled at or punished him in some way while in or around the box.

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

Is it possible a sudden loud noise happened while your cat was in his litter box?

tabby cat in open hard carrier

If a washer changed cycles, the garage door opened, 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 won’t use it.

Is it too dark near the boxes at night? Put a nightlight by each box.

grey cat head with one eye showing in dark

Cats see well in low light but not in complete darkness. This is especially helpful for older cats.

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

How to Fix the Problem

Daisies - used in essential oils

The simple answer to fixing avoidance of the box is to make all boxes as enticing as possible. Provide her with…

  • litter with features you like that your cat will use
  • proper number of boxes (one for each cat plus one)
  • proper size boxes – at least 1 1/2 times largest cat’s body length, not including his tail)
  • a type of box your cat is comfortable using
2 ginger cats - kitten grooming mom
  • boxes in quiet areas where your cat lives
  • good litter mats
  • boxes that are kept scooped and cleaned
  • scoops that work well with the type of litter you use
  • a night light if it’s too dark
woman hugging cat; fix pee problems so you can have a great relationship

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?”.


sphynx cat

We cats are very sensitive about our territory. If you’d like to know more about that, follow this trail… “The Territorial Cat“.

All of the following pee patterns are signals that one or more of your cats are insecure about their territory.

Something (or someone) is making them feel they’re losing ownership of their world.

cat looking stern; threats to territory are major causes of pee patterns in the house

The instinct is to mark it with scent to claim it back and feel secure again.

Territorial spraying is a common problem in a house with multiple cats and dogs.

It also happens with new people, new smells and scary movements, such as with young children.

Spraying is much more of a problem in intact (unneutered) male and female cats.

dark tabby cat at rest looking back over shoulder

Be sure to have your felines stay fabulous by getting the males neutered and females spayed.

It’s a routine procedure and they recover quickly.

This is one of the first things you must do when dealing with peeing outside the box (if not already done).

Is the Pee Around the Outside of Your Kitty’s Territory?

Grey/white tabby cat; pee marking, patterns

Is it at outside doors, walls, under windows, by the cat door? Even an indoor-only cat knows by sight or scent that there are enemies invading his territory.

Is There a Pee Pattern Around Doorways Connecting Inside Rooms and Hallways?

graphic of man opening door; pee patterns around inside doors could be a sign of bullying

These would be doorways to bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.

If this pee pattern looks familiar, there aren’t enough safe spots or escape routes either getting to something in a room (like a bed or litter box) or going down a hallway.

Too many places an enemy can spring out and attack him.

Are There Puddles on the Floor in the Middle of Rooms?

person's feet in a puddle; pee puddles on floor are a sign

They can be out in the open or underneath a table, chairs or other furniture. Again, a bully cat is intimidating others.

His victims can’t get to the litter box without being attacked or are too afraid to try.

Are You Finding “Pee Gifts” on Things Belonging to You or Other People?

frustrated lady; pee gifts aren't fun to find!

Ahh…those lovely pee gifts we felines leave in your purses and shoes, and on your clothing, bath towel, mat, baby crib, car seat or stroller!

It makes you love us all the more doesn’t it!!!

These gifts usually mean there’s somebody new with a different scent (a possible attacker!) suddenly invading your buddy’s territory.

Someone new may be normal to you but to him it’s a threat.

siamese, ginger cats fighting (2)

He doesn’t recognize this new scent so feels he must mix his in to be assured he’s safe in his territory.

We cats identify friend or foe primarily by scent.

Think of it this way… would you like it if some stranger suddenly showed up in your bedroom?

Your house is only part of your world, but it’s your kitty’s whole world.

So even small changes are much more upsetting to him than to you.

Are Those “Pee Gifts” Up High?

kitchen where cats like to go; pee gifts up high leave a pattern

They could be on tables, refrigerator, shelves, cabinets, counters, stove, washer, anywhere off the floor.

This is probably another bully situation. His victim feels safer up high and can’t make it to the box.

Are There “Gifts” on Furniture?

graphic of room; pee gifts on furniture or floor are signs of insecure ownership of territory

Prime targets for pee gifts are beds, couches, chairs, cat trees, scratching posts, and perches.

Your buddy might be worried about losing you to somebody else. He feels he has to mix his scent more strongly with yours.

Or he may feel another cat has claimed certain items and has to claim them back.

Cat Wars – The Final Battle

2 cats preparing to fight; territorial disputes create insecure cats who must pee mark to claim ownership

Is there a pee and/or poop trail, possibly with fur tufts and blood from a fight?

If your cat was under attack in a fight, he couldn’t hold it in.

If things have gotten to this point, do more in-depth learning about cat behavior or consider hiring a feline behaviorist.

How to Fix the Problem

Daisies - used in essential oils

Use the same steps as with “Pee Pattern Clue #2: Litter Box Avoidance”. There’s more to it with territorial insecurity however.

Here’s where cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy brings in what he calls “catification” of your home.

That’s when you make your home welcoming for cats along with people.

cat shoppe drawing; give your cat lots of things he loves so he can own territory and stop making pee patterns

Go to Jackson Galaxy’s website, click on “Cat Daddy Tips”, for videos, books and articles about cat behavior and how to catify your home so both of you can be happy.

If you have a bully cat in the house, you’ll need to work with both her and her victims to get them all feeling secure and accepting each other.

It takes some work but is well worth it!

kitten standing on an open book-popular topics; cat behavior books; pee patterns

The books I have listed at the bottom of this page are excellent guides for dealing with problem feline behavior.

For your convenience, here are links to some of their authors (I make no money from these).


cat watching other cat in litter box; getting your cats to pee in the box again; pee patterns

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.

Now you’re able to make changes to stop the behavior you don’t want and give your buddy good reasons to go back to the box.

white cat squatting in litter box

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!


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 (, Garden City Park, NY, 2012, page 60

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

“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,

“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 March 9, 2023

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