One of the most common questions asked among cat owners is why is my cat peeing outside the litter box? This is also known as house soiling, or by its technical term, feline inappropriate elimination. If your cat is urinating in places around your house other than the litter box, it quickly becomes an enormous problem. Cat urine is notoriously pungent. The smell of it around the house can be overwhelming and cause immediate distress. It will be absolutely necessary to figure out the cause of the behavior and fix it so that both you and your cat can happily coexist.
There are many reasons your cat could be urinating outside their litter box. Issues range from medical (like a UTI or kidney disease) to not having a properly cleaned litter box, to territorial. When in doubt, it’s advised to first take your cat to the vet to eliminate any underlying medical causes. It’s quite likely an issue that can be fixed!
The reasons behind inappropriate elimination are either medical or emotional/behavioral
The first step to take to figure out the cause of house-soiling is to determine whether the root cause is medical or emotional (or behavioral.) I’d advise taking your cat to the vet for a checkup as a first step.
Some of the medical reasons a cat might urinate outside of the litter box include:
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Kidney disease
- Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis)
- Bladder stones
Another possibility, especially in older cats, is that they are suffering from arthritis and find it too painful to climb in and out of the litter box. For these cats, a special litter box with a low side will need to be purchased. Any medical condition in your cat will require a trip to the vet’s office for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Emotional or behavioral reasons
Once medical reasons have been ruled out, it’s time to figure out exactly what is causing your cat to house soil. Unfortunately, our feline friends can’t verbalize to us exactly what is wrong. But if you pay attention to the signs, and are mindful of the environment that your cat is experiencing, it’s actually not a difficult as you might think to figure it out.
One common explanation for house soiling is that your cat is spraying. This is a term used to describe cat peeing in small amounts, especially around perimeter areas. This is typical cat behavior. They do it to mark their territory, or if they are feeling anxious or threatened. Cats usually spray onto vertical surfaces, but they also sometimes spray small amounts on flat surfaces.
Spraying is a problem that I’ve had off and on with my cat Bear. I live in a neighborhood with lots of outdoor cats and stray cats. Whenever Bear sees another cat outside the window he completely flips out, running back and forth between windows, tail bushed out to the max. Then sometimes I notice splashes of cat pee on the front door or the front rug. This is his way of telling strange cats that this is HIS territory, and to stay away.
Wanting to go outside
I think another reason Bear sprays by the front door (also the back garage door) is that he wants to go outside. Maybe he wants to do his spraying around the outside of the house. Whatever the reason, I’ve started letting him outside occasionally and that seemed to solve the spraying problem.
Dirty litter box or not enough litter boxes
Another reason cats might not want to use their litter boxes is that they aren’t clean enough. Cats really do like their litter boxes to be clean in order for them to feel comfortable using them for such an intimate activity. One of the most important parts of being a cat parent is to clean out the litter box regularly and make sure it feels safe for your kitty.
It’s also critical to have multiple litter boxes. You should have one litter box for every cat in the household, plus one extra. This means having two litter boxes, even in a one cat household. Cats like to have options and they may feel comfortable using one for urine and one for stool. Put them in a place that isn’t out in the open but that is also easy for your cat to access. Having one on each level of the house is also recommended. I have one in my basement, one in the attached garage that’s adjacent to the kitchen, and one in the upstairs bathroom closet.
Stress or anxiety
Cats might pee outside of the litter box because they are feeling stressed or anxious. This, of course, could be due to a number of reasons. The possible stressors could include:
- Conflict with another pet in the house
- Moving to another residence
- A new person or pet in the home
- Change in daily routine
- Loud noises
- Stranger cats hanging around outside the house
Lingering urine smells
If your cat has urinated someplace other than the litter box, and the area wasn’t cleaned up properly, they may think it’s okay to keep peeing there. This is a very common cat behavior, so it’s critical to make sure you eliminate all old urine smells with specially formulated cleaners. Nature’s Miracle was what my vet recommended.
How can I tell which cat is house soiling if I have more than one cat?
This can be a tricky one. For me, I knew that it was Bear who was the culprit because I actually SAW him do it one time. Very often however, you’ll never actually be able to catch your cat in the act.
The best way to figure out which cat is eliminating inappropriately is to place a camera in the area. Once you see for yourself which cat is having the problem, you can focus your energies on trying to make it better.
How to get your cat to stop urinating outside of the litter box
Things you can try:
- First, take your cat to the vet for a checkup. Make sure that the root cause of the problem isn’t medical.
- Thoroughly clean all old urine smells. If a cat sprays in an area (such as near doors) and it isn’t cleaned properly, they will be able to smell their lingering urine odor and likely think they should keep going there. Nature’s Miracle is a product that works well.
- Clean your litter boxes every day. Change the litter out completely and wash the box itself from time to time. I’ve heard that you’re supposed to do it once a week but that seems like overkill to me. I try to do mine maybe once a month or so.
- Have multiple litter boxes and locations. Give your cat options for places to go and make sure they are in locations that are easy for them to access, and places that they feel safe and protected.
- Do what you can to relieve stress and anxiety. Solutions for this will depend on the situation. It might mean separating cats from other household pets that they feel threatened by or scared of. It could also mean maintaining a calm environment for your cat, minimizing his interaction with loud or aggressive people and sounds. You could also try a product called a pheromone diffuser. These emit a spray into the air which is supposed to be soothing to cats, and help relieve anxiety. You can find these on Amazon or your local pet shop.
If none of these methods work for you, ask your vet what she or he would advise next for your particular cat and situation. In extreme cases it may be necessary to limit your cat’s living space only to certain areas of the house. I wouldn’t try this until all other options have been exhausted, as cats love to move about freely and explore their surroundings to the fullest.