Deciphering Cat Pee Patterns

Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, facing left

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…

Paw prints coming forward

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

Keep following the trails and you’ll get where you want to go! The goal is to make the litter box a happy place for all your kitties…

PEE PATTERN CLUE #1: MEDICAL 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 quicklyDON’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. 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. If it’s a blockage, emergency surgery may be required to save his life.

vet check for medical pee problems

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. 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.

Get a Checkup Anyway

Even if it’s not an emergency situation, you should make an appointment to get him in for a checkup as soon as possible. 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. Cats hide illness well (a survival instinct), so by the time they show discomfort it could be too late.

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.

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

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.

litter boxes can show 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!

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…

PEE PATTERN CLUE #2: LITTER BOX AVOIDANCE

This is when your cat feels…

  • the box will hurt him
  • the box isn’t comfortable for him
  • the litter bothers his paws
  • the box is so dirty he doesn’t want to use it
  • boxes are in the wrong locations
  • vulnerable to attack by other cats, dogs or children while in a box with no escape routes
  • other negative litter box associations

YOUR CAT FEELS THE LITTER BOX IS HURTING HIM

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.

Cats have to like the litter box

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

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

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.

Grey tabby cat hanging out in a 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). 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 scattercats). 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?

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 Type of Cat Litter Box?” for more on this…

Litter Box Liners – Convenience or Nuisance?

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 Type of 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 also will find it easier to deal with scooping, emptying and cleaning boxes with the right amount of litter. Usually 2-4″ is plenty…that’ll save you money too, if you’ve been keeping it too full. It also will cut down on litter being tracked outside the box.

If your sensitive, older or declawed (toe amputated) kitty has trouble stepping onto 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

  • 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

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 of it this way…do you leave your own toilet unflushed? No, you want it clean for when you use it next. So does your cat!

Cat with stinky litter box

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 (some say use diluted bleach if you must use it) weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on how quickly it gets dirty. Plastic boxes will eventually have to be replaced.

Think about it…Do you want to use a toilet that hasn’t been flushed in days? I certainly don’t and neither does your cat!

Here are some helpful YouTube videos about cleaning litter boxes…

“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

Where do you have the boxes located? Make them easy for her to find and use and she’ll appreciate it…so will you!

no escape routes from box can cause problems

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? 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.

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!” Scent markers help us feel safe and secure.

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

YOUR CAT FEELS VULNERABLE TO ATTACK IN THE BOX

This is a big issue when you have more than one cat, dogs or small children.

Covered vs. Open Boxes

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!

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 Type of 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.

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

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.

angry cat can spray to protect territory

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.

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

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? 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. Cat’s 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

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

  • a type of litter with features you like that your cat will use
  • set up the proper number of boxes (one for each cat plus one)
  • have the proper size boxes (at least 1+1/2 times the body length of your largest cat…not including his tail)
  • have the type of box your cat is comfortable using (usually open, not covered; not self-cleaning)
  • locate boxes in quiet areas where your cat lives
  • put down good litter mats
  • boxes that are kept scooped and cleaned
  • use scoops that work well with the type of litter you use (small or large holes or slots)
  • a night light if it’s too dark

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 “Location, Location, Location…the Box”, “What’s the Best Type of Cat Litter Box?“, and “What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?”.

PEE PATTERN CLUE #3: TERRITORIAL UPSET

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. Their 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. 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

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?

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?

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

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. It’s all normal to you but to him it’s a threat. 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?

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?

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

pee pattern can be evidence of a cat fight

Is there a pee and/or poop trail, possibly with fur tufts and blood from a fight? If he was under attack in a fight, he couldn’t hold it in. If things have gotten to this point, learn more about cat behavior or consider hiring a feline behaviorist.

How to Fix the Problem

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. 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!

The books I have listed at the bottom of this page are excellent guides for dealing with problem feline behavior. Here are links to some of their authors…

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. 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.

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!

cat watching other cat in litter box

RELATED PAGES OF INTEREST

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?Cleaning Cat Urine
Location, Location, Location…the Box?Symptoms of Illness in Your Cat
The Territorial CatWhat’s the Best Type of Cat Litter Box?
What Are the Best Types of Cat Litter?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

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

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