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  • Molly Weinfurter

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside The Litter Box?

Updated: Jun 12

Many cats use litter boxes without needing to be taught, so accidents are rare in most households. Thus, a cat peeing outside the litter box is a serious concern for most cat parents. In some cases, this behavior can be related to a medical concern, but in other instances, it may not be as serious. Figuring out the root of the problem can help you address it. When in doubt, you should always contact your veterinarian.

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Why is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box?

There are lots of reasons for a cat urinating outside the litter box. If you’re unable to find the root of the problem on your own, it’s best to talk to a vet.

When your cat has an accident, don’t yell at them or rub their nose in it. That will only annoy them and/or stress them out more, which will likely lead to more accidents instead of fixing the problem. Instead, consider the following reasons so you can act accordingly to fix the issue.

tiny kitten in litter box

Changes in Environment or Routine

When cats are stressed or anxious, they’re more likely to pee or poop outside of their litter box. Changes in their environment or routine are often to blame for a cat’s stress. For example, if you recently moved to a new house or if you introduced a new animal or human to your household, your cat may express their worries by urinating in unusual spots. This could be to express their disappointment or because they don’t feel safe going in the litter box.

Some cats get overwhelmed more easily than others, so for some felines, a new meal time or furniture getting rearranged is all it takes to stress them out. If your cat gets anxious easily, make lifestyle changes as gradually as possible to avoid unwanted behaviors. I know some of my friends' cats have experienced this when moving to a new house. Once they got settled in their new home, they stopped.

Territorial Marking

If a cat is spraying urine outside of the litter box instead of just having an accident, they may be trying to tell you something. This usually occurs if there are other cats in the house as a way for your cat to mark their territory. If they’re not spayed/neutered, they may spray as a way to let other cats know they’re ready to mate.

To prevent territorial marking, gradually introduce your cat to any new pets. Play with your cat and give them treats in areas that they usually mark so they'll be less likely to urinate there. If they urinate on certain items, like guests' shoes or purses, keep those items out of reach. For mating-related marking, consider getting your cat spayed or neutered.

Separation Anxiety

If your cat is specifically peeing on things that smell like you, such as your bed or clothes, when you’re away, they’re likely dealing with separation anxiety. Talk to a vet or cat behavior specialist to tackle behaviors related to separation anxiety. You may need to try medication or routine changes. 

If you ever leave your cat alone with a sitter when you’re on vacation, make sure the sitter keeps up with your cat’s normal routine to reduce the risk of accidents.

Dirty Litter Box

Most cats don’t feel comfortable urinating in an unclean litter box. They have a strong sense of smell and are easily deterred from litter boxes with too much urine and feces. Most litter should be changed every 2-3 weeks, but the poop should be scooped more frequently. If your cat is peeing outside their litter box, consider changing their litter more often.

Self-cleaning litter boxes can make it easier for pet parents to stay on top of litter box cleaning. However, some cats get scared of the sounds self-cleaning litter boxes make, which may make them reluctant to use them. When first introducing a self-cleaning litter box, keep it turned off so your cat can get used to the litter box before it starts making sounds.

The Amztoy Self Cleaning Litter Box and the PetSafe ScoopFree Litter Box are two examples of litter boxes that can make cleaning up after your cat easy.

Cat leaving litter box

Not Enough Litter Boxes

As a general rule of thumb, you should have one litter box for every cat in your home plus one extra. However, some cats like to have even more options than that to ensure that they have plenty of space to themselves when they have to go. 

If you have a big house, adding more litter boxes than you need can ensure that your cat doesn’t have to travel far to do their business. There should be at least one litter box on every floor of your house. Make sure all litter boxes are easily accessible to your furry friends.

Changes in the Litter or Litter Box

If you recently switched to a new type of litter or a new litter box style, your cat may not feel comfortable urinating in it. With new litter, they may not associate the new texture with a spot that’s acceptable to go to the bathroom. To help them get used to it, you may need to start by mixing some of their old litter with their new litter.

Many cat parents like covered litter boxes because they give their cats privacy, but some cats don’t like how dark they are or how much they trap in odors. If the size of the litter box is too small, they may also be reluctant to use it. If you’re unsure what style of litter box your cat prefers, set up several different options throughout the house and pay attention to which one they use the most.

Certain Smells

Since cats have sensitive noses, they may urinate outside the litter box as a way to let you know that a certain smell bothers them, such as the smell of new carpet or an air freshener. Many cats are also more likely to pee outside of the litter box if they’ve peed in that spot before. Thus, make sure you thoroughly clean any accidents so cats can’t smell urine on the floor.

Underlying Medical Concerns

Unfortunately, cats peeing outside the litter box could indicate a health problem. If none of the above explanations make sense for your cat, visit your vet to find out if an underlying medical concern is to blame.

If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, here are some potential causes:

  • Urinary tract infections

  • Bladder stones

  • Idiopathic cystitis (inflammation of the bladder)

  • Kidney disease

  • Arthritis

  • Cancer

If your cat is pooping outside the litter box, here are some potential causes:

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Inflammatory bowel disease

  • Arthritis

  • Cancer

For pet parents who want to stay on top of their feline’s health, there are special litters, such as PrettyLitter, that can monitor your cat’s health. The litter changes colors to notify you of health concerns so you can visit the vet before that condition worsens. I've written about PrettyLitter in the past and I have a friend who uses it, so I've heard lots of positive things about it.

Cat looking out window

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is My Cat Not Using the Litter Box?

There are many reasons cats might not use the litter box. The litter box could be too dirty, your cat could be stressed, there might not be enough litter boxes, or they could have an underlying medical concern. It’s best to talk to your vet first to rule out any health problems.

How Often Should I Clean My Cat’s Litter Box?

You should replace cat litter about every two weeks, but that can vary depending on the type of litter. Then, scoop the poop whenever you see it. If you notice strong odors, replace the litter sooner than you normally would.

Where Should I Put a Cat Litter Box?

Put the litter box somewhere that’s easy for your cat to access. If your home has several stories, put a litter box on every floor. A covered litter box or hidden litter box is a great way to keep your cat’s litter accessible without it being easily visible.

Should I Use a Covered or Uncovered Litter Box?

It depends on your cat’s preferences. Some cats like the privacy of a covered litter box while others are deterred by the darkness and odors. If you’re unsure what your cat likes, get a covered and uncovered litter box and see which one they use more.

Can Cats Share a Litter Box?

Cats can share multiple litter boxes, but multiple cats should never share one litter box. You should have at least one litter box per cat plus one extra. Not having enough litter boxes could lead to cats peeing outside the litter box.

Can Cat Litter Boxes Make You Sick?

Breathing in cat urine and being near infected feces can make humans sick. So, make sure you clean your cat’s litter box regularly to keep everyone in your home safe.

Keep Your Cat Healthy

There are many reasons why cats pee beside the litter box instead of inside it. It’s up to you to pay attention to your cat’s behavior to figure out what the cause is. If there haven’t been any significant changes in their life, then a medical concern could be to blame. So, when in doubt, visit your vet to rule out any underlying health concerns. It’s always better to be safe than sorry with your feline friend’s health.


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