Health & Care
A kitten outside the litter box, looking embarrassed and ashamed.

How to Deal With a Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box

Is your cat peeing outside the litter box? Whether it’s due to a medical issue, stress or human error, here’s how to fix the issue at hand.

Denise LeBeau  |  Apr 4th 2019


It is no surprise that cats are the most popular companion animal in America. There are approximately 30 million felines living as family members. Dismally, around 3.2 million cats enter the shelter system each year. More alarming, approximately 860,000 of them are dying in the shelters, as reported by the ASPCA. Litter box issues are often cited among the reasons for owner relinquishment of cats to shelters. Let’s explore how to deal with a cat peeing outside the litter box — it’s an issue that can often be easily remedied and keep families together!

Help! My cat is peeing outside the litter box

A cat staring down into a litter box.

Is your cat peeing outside the litter box? Here’s what’s at play — and how to help her! Photography ©w-ings | Getty Images.

For a few years, I worked in the Animal Help department for the largest no-kill companion animal sanctuary in America. Working in Animal Help meant fielding all the public calls from desperate people who wanted to surrender animals to the facility. Most of the calls included behavior issues. The top cat behavior problem I encountered from frustrated feline guardians was a cat peeing outside the litter box.

Because we received thousands of calls monthly, sharing resources and providing coaching was required before making an admission appeal to the cat department. So, I worked closely with individuals who were ready to throw in the towel on their tabbies. I quickly learned that if people took the proper steps, permanently fixing the issue was quite doable. Another big revelation was that being proactive about determining the reasons behind a cat peeing outside the litter box issue was the key to solving the issue!

4 common reasons a cat peeing outside the litter box:

  1. Intact cats. Unfixed cats are prone to marking and they are leaving their scent on every horizontal and vertical surface they can take aim at — especially that new sofa!
  2. Underlying medical issues. Cats can’t verbally tell you what’s wrong. So, if their behavior suddenly changes, the culprit is often health problems. Everything from urinary tract infections (UTI) to kidney stones can mean a cat peeing outside the litter box.
  3. Stress, anxiety and fear. Maybe you’ve innocuously added a new coffee table from eBay to your apartment. Or perhaps you just adopted that adorable tiny tabby. Or you’ve rushed the cat introduction process … Guess what? Now you’ve got a new furry family member and litter box issues!
  4. Litter, the litter box and location, location, location. Did you change your brand or type of litter? Are you not scooping it enough? Are there not enough boxes for your multi-cat home? Did you move the litter box and/or is it easily accessible? Cats can be finicky about everything regarding proper elimination.

Dealing with a cat peeing outside the litter box

Since a cat peeing outside the litter box can’t tell you why he’s doing it, it’s your job to get to the bottom of the stinky situation. Discovering the reasons behind a cat peeing outside the litter box requires a multi-pronged approach.

5 steps for handling a cat peeing outside the litter box

  1. If he or she is intact — get him or her spayed or neutered immediately. Pro-tip: there are many low cost spay/neuter programs available if funding is an issue.
  2. Take your cat to the veterinarian for a checkup. Bring a fresh urine and stool sample. (Click here for low-cost veterinary services and find other tips on how to afford the vet here).
  3. Investigate what could be causing stress or anxiety in your cat. The disturbance could be easily fixed by removing any new threatening items. If the stress is caused by a rushed cat introduction, start over using the proper protocols. Perhaps the anxiety was created by moving. Also look at outside influences, sometimes a new kitty might be hanging out on your property — an investment in blackout drapes or preventing your cat from reaching certain vantage points during the day might help. Or it might be an emotional malaise of unknown origins — here are some general pointers on alleviating it.
  4. If you moved the litter box from its usual location, put it back. Maybe the litter box itself is not working anymore — maybe the sides are too high and your cat is getting older. Try another lower-sided litter box. Did you recently get an automated self-cleaning litter box? Get rid of it. Clean it regularly. And remember — have at least one litter box per cat per household, plus one more.
  5. Litter! The type of litter can be an issue — try different kinds and brands.

The bottom line on what to do about a cat peeing outside the litter box

While a cat peeing outside the litter box could signal a single problem, it could also indicate a combination of issues. Being patient, observant and diligent is paramount in stopping a cat from peeing outside the litter box! Of course, for new cats, prevention is best, so introduce litter box training the right way from the start.

Thumbnail: Photography ©ysbrandcosijn | Getty Images.

About the author

Denise LeBeau is a writer, editor and photographer with almost 20 years of experience of creating content for animal-related issues, endeavors and events. She worked at Best Friends Animal Society for 12 years where she had two columns in the Best Friends Magazine, and held multiple content creation roles including web managing editor and outreach campaign editor. Denise has been an ongoing contributor to Catster since 2014, writing for the magazine and website. The self-professed poet laureate of the pet set is currently the manager of development for an animal welfare agency, where she works with a team to create content across media platforms. She lives in Hampton Bays with her two rescue Siamese mixes – Flipper and Slayer, and her LBD (little brown dog), Zephyrella.

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