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.

A kitten outside the litter box, looking embarrassed and ashamed.
A kitten outside the litter box, looking embarrassed and ashamed. Photography ©ysbrandcosijn | Getty Images.

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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18 thoughts on “How to Deal With a Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box”

  1. I have a tabby that has had her physical and everything is fine but she does not use the litter box. She was using the box but when I got a new adult male she soon stopped using the litter box. Now three years later, the tabby and the male get along ok, they tolerate each other and occupy the same spaces, she still does not use the litter box. I have set up many boxes and I think what is happening is that the male claims all the boxes for himself and the tabby does not use them. I have tried everything including a box just for her, but the male again claims the box. Does anyone have any suggestions? She goes on the rugged room, the only rug she has access to and I have tried pee pads, scaring away the male, cleaned the carpet so many times with special animal soaps. Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can get her to start using the litter box again.

  2. Pingback: Diabetes in Cats — Who’s at Risk, Symptoms & How to Treat It – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

  3. I have a 5 cats all approx. the same age. One of my fixed females keeps peeing on the couches and corners of the house.

    She uses the litter box sometimes to urinate and always goes #2 in the box.
    Why is she so inconsistent? I am getting so frustrated with her!

    Sometimes I even catch her rolling around in a clean litter box?

    Please Help!

    1. Hi Paige,
      We’re so sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this issue. These articles might help to provide some further insight and we also suggest talking to a vet / behaviorist:

  4. I have two cats a male, max and a female, Theo. A few monthes ago Theo started too go into heat what felt like every weekend when my boyfriend came over. This caused my male cat to start hissing at her or overall scare her away. This was also the time Theo started to spray my couch. Yes spray, tail up in the air trembling and jetting urine all over my white couch. It was also the time i noticed she had been pooping in the cornors upstaires. Her spraying went on for about two weeks until I was able to get her to a vet to be fixed. Everything seemed normal but then she started to pee on the couch. At the time i had two litterboxes But recently upgraded to three boxes. One upstaires and two down stairs. This seemed to help and i clean them about once a week. The problem is if i dont keep my couch covered she pees on it when im not watching. As im typing this I just finishd cleaning up her most recent spot. She wasnt alone but five minutes before i returned. The two cats play all the time amd get along really well. I dont hear hissing anymore. Ive washed my couch many times and even use and enzyme cleaner. Shes also been ruled healthy by the vet. Im at my wits end and have no idea what to do anymore. Any suggustions? Thank you!

    1. Once a week!! The litter boxes need to be cleaned EVERYDAY! I clean my 3 boxes about 3-4 times a day. Try cleaning the boxes out everyday, not just once a week. This may help.

  5. Yes, I have adopted the litterbox lined with squares of old terry towelling. One of my cats, a senior who is quite set in his ways, is the prime user of this and it has stopped his out of box peeing- he also uses the actual litter for #2… go figure. The terry towelling squares are re-usable – soaked and laundered the usual way as baby diapers.

  6. Mellie adopted me in December, 2018. Found her at 10-12 weeks old.

    Rushed to the store for litter box, litter and scooper. Poured litter in the box and she smelled it and turned away. Lined litter box with some flannel blankets. She did go but with supervision.

    Finally—the solution: A regular litter box lined with kitchen paper-towels sheets. She finds them flat enough, wrinkles them in the “burial” process and I flip the little tootsie rolls in the toilet and flush. She does the same for #1. So easy! Give it a try!

    1. Yes, I have adopted the litterbox lined with squares of old terry towelling. One of my cats, a senior who is quite set in his ways, is the prime user of this and it has stopped his out of box peeing- he also uses the actual litter for #2… go figure. The terry towelling squares are re-usable – soaked and laundered the usual way as baby diapers.

  7. The dog pee pads is a great idea from previous comment. So if butt is sticking out over the side will help catch the pee especially for the boys. And put one in front of box or on bathroom or laundry room floor, that way, if they just refuse to use the litter box but are willing to use a dog pee pad, like a carpet, easy to roll up and throw out. Others I read said they use a thick microfiber towel under the litter box and one on the side, in case the cat just does not want to get the litter on their toes. A microfiber towel is very absorbent and easy to throw in the wash and reuse, so may be cheaper than a dog pee pad. If they poop, just dump it in the toilet. I think the issue I had with my cat, was that he just absolutely hated litter on his toes or between his toes. We tried numerous litter, but I could tell he hated particles between his toes, so preferred to pee on newspaper, or a carpet. So for a cat that just hates the particles of the litter on or in between the toes, I would try putting a dog pee pad in the litter box, and just roll up and throw out everytime it is used. Just have to buy dog pee pads in bulk or wholesale. Or use microfiber towel and throw in the wash after each use. Maybe keep a bucket with a lid for soiled microfiber towels, then wash all the cat soiled towels twice a week, and obviously throw the cat poop in the toilet. Some cats just hate all cat litter, so it is a battle to keep them using the litterbox, so have to eventually be flexible and find alternatives that they prefer.

  8. I had this problem with a rescue cat. We did all the things listed but didn’t work. I finally found by removing all carpets was very helpful. Or leave a small carpet by the litterbox, and if he refused to use the litterbox but would use the cheap small bathroom carpet, just throw in the wash to solve the issue. We scooped the litterbox after every use, replaced the litter with clean litter every month, but still hated the litter. Tried different litters, but he hated the particles between his toes. Then after he would eat, drink, I would pick him up and take him and gently put him in the litterbox and say GO PEE. I would stand there calmly till he would pee, then it was good boy, lots of praise and he was allowed to exit the box. This worked really well, once he was in the box and had the litter on his toes, he decided he might as well use the litterbox. When he was elderly, I carried him to his box every two hours, as he had to go. Eventually I had to get a very low sided tray as he was too wobbly to step into a litter box, and I filled it with torn newspaper, which he preferred to litter. As he became very elderly, we just put torn paper or sections of paper right by his bed so he could step off his bed and pee on the paper, then get back on his cushion and sleep. He was very elderly but he so wanted to live, even though he slept most the time. He was a rescue survivor. He made it to 19 going on 20 with feline aids the entire time. The vets were clueless on how to care for cat with feline aids, but I learned along the way to make it work for him. We found cat aids forums with others going thru the same issues and the many solutions to try to make it work. Actually vets joined to learn about cats with feline aids, because they had patients and didn’t know how to help them. We had pet insurance right away so that could pay for any emergencies, as with feline aids, they get sick really fast but with pet insurance to help, it made it possible.

  9. Try using a dog pee mat that is disposable. I have a large sized one outside the entrance to my litter box in case of accidents (not having butt in far enough to pee in the box) or wherever an accident occurs. This helps tremendously.

  10. I think that all of the points you make to solve the cat peeing issue are reasonable and easily applied and don’t see any excuse for not taking action. It’s an appalling statistic that 3.2m cat are given up to shelters and one of the common reasons is your cat peeing outside the litter box.

    1. I know Terry….I start crying when i think about giving up my problem kitty. These suggestions are all great. I’m going to put down a thick micro-fiber “rag” next to the box. For some reason my girl cat has started to not use the litter box. At first she was defecating outside of it. That was resolved quickly. But now she is URINATING just outside of the box!!! I would rather she defecate outside of the box as this was easy to clean up. The urine is another thing. I love these cats, but i have chronic hip pain where i need surgery and i live alone. So, this is very hard on me.

  11. My cat always pees on the bathroom rug if I have one or if a towel is left on the floor. No matter how clean the litter box is. She wont pee on anything else or any other time as long as the box is clean but any time I have a bathroom mat she will go straight for it and only the bathroom one or a towel. Whats up with that and how do I stop her so I can have a mat outside my shower again?

    1. Ssi had the same problem initially and googled it . All I received it is not uncommon but they don’t know why it does that. I also found my ct peeing on vynal and found it has something to do with pheromones

    2. Eileen P Patten

      Sorry that I don’t have a solution. I have had the same problem with girl for 15 years and finally gave up. I just keep my bathroom rug over the side of the tub and put it down when I take a shower and immediately take it up after the shower. She does the same thing if I try to use and litter mats. I think she is just a minimalist, LOL.

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