10 Reasons Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box

June 28, 2013

10 Reasons Your Cat is Peeing Outside the Litter BoxDealing with a cat who is peeing on the floor, bed or anyplace other than the litter box absolutely sucks. Ugh. It’s frustrating, maddening and confusing when the sweet baby you love so much is driving you to the loony bin.

The good news is that, according to behaviorists I’ve interviewed, a cat peeing outside the litter box is actually not one of the worst problems a cat owner might have to deal with. In fact, many cat pee problems can be solved if you can get to the root of the issue. Here are 10 reasons your sweetie might be missing the litter box and what you can do about them.

1. Medical issues
There are a variety of medical reasons why your cat might be peeing on the carpet. These can range from a urinary tract infection to, as one reader shared, a bad case of the fleas! Get your baby to the vet for a thorough check up to rule out any medical problems.

2. Number of Litter Boxes
Obviously there’s always going to be exceptions, but most experts agree that a good rule of thumb for number of litter boxes is one box for each cat plus one extra.  Finding places for multiple boxes can be challenging in many homes and especially in small spaces. But if your cat is peeing outside the box, figure out a way. And, it’s important that you put the boxes in different locations. Twenty-seven boxes lined up in a row in one room isn’t going to help matters.

3. Location of Litter Boxes
That leads me to location. If you’re cat is peeing outside the box, consider the location of the boxes. Think like your cat and where you might prefer to do your biz. Is the box in a heavily trafficked area? Is it next to a noisy washing machine or furnace? Is it in a location where the DOG likes to hang out? You might be surprised and have a major “A ha!” moment once you take some time to think about this.

4. Type of Kitty Litter
Your cat might not love your cat litter choice. Generally, cats don’t like scented litters and what might be a light scent to you is a very heavy scent to your sensitive-nosed cat. Some cats prefer a different litter material. Try different types of litters and consider creating a litter box buffet to see which litter your cat prefers. For this short term exercise fill 2-3 boxes with different types of litter and place them side by side. Leave them there for a few days to see which litter(s) your cat prefers. Often, one is a clear winner.

5. Depth of Kitty Litter
When I first learned about this reason I was surprised, but it makes sense. Some cats are sensitive to the depth of the litter in the box. When cats pee or poop in litter, they have to grab the litter with their paws to hang on, right? Super deep litter might prove difficult to grip for some cats, particularly older cats who might suffer from arthritis. Also, some cats don’t like the feel of the litter grazing against their nether regions while they’re “occupied.”

6. Type of Litter Box
If you are using a covered box, remove the cover and see if that helps solve the problem. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that’s all it took and voila! the cat was back in the box. The most prevalent theory as to why cats may not like covered boxes is that cats feel “trapped” inside during their vulnerable moments. Also, if you’re using an self-scooping box, try a normal litter box for a bit. Your kitty might be freaked out by the mechanism.

7. Size of Litter Box
The size of your Litter Boxes can also play into this. Many standard boxes are just too small and not comfortable. Try some bigger boxes. I like large under bed plastic storage boxes. Some people even use baby swimming pools!

On the flip side, if your cat is older and suffers from arthritis, for example, a high sided box might be hard and painful for him to get into. Try something with lower sides or and an easy entry box. Or, for you DIY types, with a box cutter, cut on side lower than the rest (be sure to sand the edges after you cut so kitty doesn’t get cut!) so he can get in and out more easily.

8. Litter Box Liners
There are a lot of cats who just don’t like litter box liners. They may be convenient for you but imagine how it must be for your cat. His claws can easily get stuck in the liner, especially if he’s a digger. This makes the liner move around and bunch up and be very awkward in the box. Personally I think they create more of a mess.

9. Cleaning Products
Back to the smell issue…..cats have much more sensitive noses than we do. Harsh cleaning products you use to scrub out the box can annoy your cat. I recommend mild, all natural and unscented cleaners and hot water. Scrub the heck out of that box and you should be fine. And don’t forget to completely replace the litter boxes periodically.

10. Stress
Lots of things can throw a kitty’s psyche out of whack: Moving, new furniture, house guests, a new baby, a new cat, etc. Give your cat some time to adjust to the new situation. Practice patience and, above all, don’t give up on him! When he’s stressed out, your cat needs you more than ever. If you do have a new situation, consider consulting with a behaviorist like one of our fave experts, Marilyn Krieger. Behaviorists can give you great insight into your particular situation and lots of ideas for how to remedy the problem.

11. Dirty Box
Yes, I know I said 10. But think of this as a bonus. SCOOP THE BOX DAILY. Cats may avoid a dirty litter box (wouldn’t you?).

Believe me, I know how disgusting cat pee smell is. And I know it can drive you crazy trying to solve your cat’s problem. But please don’t give up on your cat and please don’t relinquish him to a shelter. What do you think is going to happen to a cat in a shelter who has a pee problem? Right. You owe it to him to work through it.

We’re starting a reader Q&A feature. If you have a problem, please email us at caroline (at) highpaw (dot) com with the headline “Litter Box Question” and we’ll try to answer your questions.

AND don’t forget to sign up to receive updates in your in box (see upper right corner). You never know what great tip you learn here!

Meow for now….

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon November 9, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Nothing has changed around my cat’s litter box, even brought in a second one and she is still peeing by the litter box. Has been checked by a vet and no medical issues. She is a tiny Persian cat about 7 yrs old and just a sweet heart and I am about ready to pull my hair out as I don’t know what to do to stop this problem. She is very laid back and not under any stress. This started about a month ago.

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Carol January 5, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I have 7 cats and one that pees and poops outside the litter box and I have tried everything except pellet litter. I am now using Precious Cat litter that is formulated by a Vet. This cat belonged to my husband before he passed so I inherited her, her sister and an adult male cat. My husband and I had a commuter marriage so the cats were living in a different place. He had the sisters since they were kittens and the one had always done this. I will try some other kinds of litter to see if this works.I have litter boxes all over the house some covered and some not so I dont think that is the reason for the behavior. She is a maincoon if that has any barring on this issue. She is also very laid back.

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