Hi there fellow cat pee detectives! Skye Blake here, ready to help you figure out the meaning of those pee pattern clues you’ve 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.
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- 3 Main Patterns
- PEE PATTERN CLUE #1: MEDICAL PROBLEMS
- PEE PATTERN CLUE #2: LITTER BOX AVOIDANCE
- Your Cat Feels the Litter Box is Hurting Him
- Do You Have Enough Boxes?
- The Boxes Aren't Comfortable for Him
- Is It Easy to Get in and Out?
- Litter Box Liners – Convenience or Nuisance?
- New Litter
- The Litter Bothers His Paws
- Signs of Uncomfortable Litter
- The Right Amount of Litter
- Litter Texture
- The Box is Too Dirty
- The Boxes are in the Wrong Locations
- Litter Box Attacks – Fur-Raising!
- Covered vs. Open Boxes
- The Outhouse Effect
- Other Negative Litter Box Associations
- How to Fix the Problem
- CONTINUING ON…
- PEE PROBLEM CLUE #3: TERRITORIAL INSECURITY
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
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
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
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…
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.
Tell your vet about the pee patterns you’ve seen… if you’ve got pictures, that’s even better.
This can help determine a diagnosis. Your vet will also do blood and urine tests and possibly others they believe is appropriate.
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.
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. If it’s a blockage, emergency surgery may be required to save his life.
Discover more at “Symptoms of Illness In Your Cat“…
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.
Cats hide illness well (a survival instinct), so by the time they show discomfort it could be too late.
Your vet will do tests to see if there’s an underlying medical problem.
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!
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.
No attempts to change his behavior will work until you deal with medical issues first, including spaying or neutering.
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.
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 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
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?“
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.
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?
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? 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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?”
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
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
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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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.
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!
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 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!
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 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
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.
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.
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
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”.
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
There are other ways a kitty may think of the litter box as a negative thing.
- Have you 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, 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?
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.
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…
- 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 the largest cat’s body length, not including his tail)
- a type of box your cat is comfortable using
- 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
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.
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“
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.
Discover what you need to know to help your cats feel they own their territory at “Cat Pee Problems – How to Fix Them“.
Here are some helpful 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
“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
“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 September 18, 2023