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Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box? 9 Vet-Reviewed Reasons

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By Misty Layne

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore

BVMS, MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Felines are amazing because unlike dogs, we don’t have to potty train them; they just know to use the litter box. Cats are wired to want to cover up their waste, so the litter box is the obvious place for them to go to the bathroom. But what if your cat is suddenly not using the litter box and is instead peeing outside it? Why would they do that?

There are many possible reasons that your cat is peeing outside the litter box. Some of these reasons are easily fixed, and others will require a visit to the vet and possibly a behaviorist. But once you’ve figured out which reason applies to your kitty, you can work toward fixing the problem.

If your cat is suddenly urinating outside the litter box and is showing signs of illness, such as passing small amounts of urine frequently, blood in the urine, pain, or lethargy, you should contact your veterinary clinic straight away for an appointment.

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The 9 Possible Reasons Your Cat Is Peeing Outside the Litter Box

1. Dislike of Current Litter

One of the more common reasons cats begin peeing outside the litter box is that they aren’t big fans of whichever litter you’re giving them. You might love the litter you’ve been using because it clumps better or cleans easier, but that doesn’t mean your kitty enjoys it. Your cat might hate how the litter feels on their paws or dislike how it smells; there are plenty of reasons your pet might hate the current litter.

Cats can have strong texture preferences when it comes to cat litter. If you have recently changed litter or have just rehomed a cat and they won’t use the litter box, this could be the reason. But if this is why your pet is urinating outside the litter box, it’s an easy fix: Just switch to a new litter! You may go through a few types in your quest to find what your cat likes best, but once you have it, your kitty should start using the litter box again.

Adorable cat near litter tray indoors
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

2. Different Issue With the Litter Box

Your kitty could have an issue with the litter box that has nothing to do with litter. Felines are particular about things, so a problem with an aspect of the litter box isn’t uncommon. It could be that the box is too big or too small or that it is open sided or closed. Or perhaps the location of the litter box isn’t working for the kitty. Maybe the sides of the litter box are too high to be stepped over. It could even be that the litter box isn’t getting cleaned often or well enough.

Litter boxes should be positioned in a quiet area of the house away from electrical appliances, traffic, and food and water bowls. So many litter box reasons can lead your pet to urinate outside the box.


3. Dislike of Sharing the Litter Box

Do you have more than one feline in your home? Then you need more than one litter box. If you have multiple cats but only a single litter box, your cat might be peeing outside the box because they don’t like sharing with the others. They could be feeling bullied by the other kitties or just be in a dispute with one of the others. Either way, the result is your pet not wanting to use the litter box.

You can fix the situation by having one litter box per feline in your home and one extra, each placed in a different area. Cleaning out multiple litter boxes makes more work for you, but it sure beats eliminating urine stains and odors elsewhere!

two cats on sniffing litter
Image Credit: Zoran Photographer, Shutterstock

4. Lack of Safety

Occasionally, a kitty simply doesn’t feel safe using the litter box. For one thing, they could be getting bullied by the other cats in the home. Some felines just get nervous when in the litter box, and if another cat is pushing them around (or even staring at them), it could be enough for the cat to not use it. When going to the toilet, cats are more vulnerable than usual, as they cannot get away. It might not even be another cat that’s making them so nervous while in the litter box; there might also be a dog, a noisy electrical appliance, or even a child’s presence unsettling them while they’re in there.

Sometimes cats don’t feel safe because the litter box is too low to the ground. This makes them seek out a higher area to toilet in, such as plant pots, so they can see any “threats” that may be approaching. These include a rambunctious child, another animal, or even an appliance near the litter box that sounds frightening to them.

Multiple litter boxes for multiple cats can help, as can placing the litter box in a higher area that feels safer for your pet.


5. Territorial

Have you adopted a new animal recently? If so, your cat might be urinating outside the litter box to mark what they consider their territory. Usually, this is differentiated as spraying urine rather than regular urination. If this is happening with your kitty, you can look at using cat pheromone products and speak to your veterinarian for advice. In the meantime, one thing that you can try is adding more territory to the home that’s just for your kitty. Add vertical territory in the form of scratching posts or cat trees, and make sure the cats don’t need to share resources, such as food bowls and beds.

cat sitting near pee spot on the couch
Image Credit: Creative Cat Studio, Shutterstock

6. Separation Anxiety

Felines may come off as solitary and aloof at times, but they’re actually pretty social and can form close bonds with their families. If you and your kitty are close, it makes sense that they may get a bit anxious when you leave the house for extended periods (like when you go to work). That anxiety over being separated can result in your cat peeing outside the litter box.

You can help your kitty with their separation anxiety by making and sticking to a daily routine, as well as ensuring that your cat has plenty of mental stimulation while you’re away from the house. A consultation with a feline-accredited behaviorist may be needed too.


7. Stress

It isn’t just separation anxiety that can leave kitty feeling stressed. Our feline friends are big fans of routine, and if their routine is interrupted for any reason, it can make them incredibly stressed out, which could lead to inappropriate elimination. It can be difficult to pinpoint whether stress is the culprit behind your cat urinating outside the litter box, but look around and see if there have been any disruptions or changes lately. Perhaps you’ve recently moved, a new baby has joined the household, or your neighbor has a new cat. These can all be stressors for your kitty.

Unfortunately, stress isn’t as easy to remedy as other reasons. This is another time when discussing the situation with your veterinarian is important so they can help.

cat pee in bed
Image Credit: cunaplus, Shutterstock

8. Medical Problems

Unfortunately, sometimes when a cat urinates outside the litter box, it’s due to a medical problem. If everything has been fine up till now and there haven’t been changes to your kitty’s routine that could be stressing them out, you should check to see if there’s a medical problem. Several can result in urination outside the litter box, such as feline lower urinary tract disease, bladder stones, and arthritis. If you think this could be causing the issue, take your cat to the vet to find out if anything is going on.


9. Cognitive Dysfunction

Finally, if you have a senior feline, your pet might be suffering from cognitive dysfunction. Much like humans, cats can be susceptible to age-related diseases and related behavioral issues, including peeing outside the litter box. If this is why your pet is eliminating inappropriately, you’ll also see other signs, such as sleeping more, little interest in playing, staring blankly at walls, and loud vocalizations in the middle of the night.

There’s no cure for cognitive dysfunction, but there are treatments available, so speak with your vet about your options if you believe this is the issue.

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Conclusion

If your cat has begun peeing outside the litter box, there are many possible reasons. Many require fairly easy fixes that should eliminate the problem in no time, but a few are more complicated and will require patience or a trip to the vet. Once you’ve figured out which reason it is, though, you can start working on getting your cat back into the litter box and away from urinating elsewhere!

 

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