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Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box? 7 Possible Vet-Approved Reasons

Written by: Elizabeth Gray

Last Updated on May 11, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

orange cat beside litter box

Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box? 7 Possible Vet-Approved Reasons


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

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

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Cat pee is not a pleasant odor, even when it’s safely contained in a litter box. However, when a cat starts urinating in inappropriate locations, the situation escalates. Inappropriate urination is a common reason that cats are surrendered to animal shelters, so it’s vital to figure out what’s going on fast. Here are seven possible reasons why your cat could be peeing outside the litter box and what you can do to correct the problem.

If your cat is peeing outside of their litter box or they are frequently stepping in and out of the box, straining, crying, passing very little or no urine, or having blood in urine, they need to see the vet urgently, as urinary blockage is possible. This condition can be life-threatening, leading to a bladder rupture or kidney failure.

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The 7 Possible Reasons Your Cat Is Peeing Outside the Litter Box

1. Medical Issues

gray cat peeing on cement floor on the edge of side walk
Image by: SOMRERK WITTHAYANANT, Shutterstock
Problem type Medical
Requires medical treatment Yes, urgently

Many different medical issues can cause your cat to pee outside the litter box. Frequently, peeing outside the box is a sign of urinary problems, including inflammation, infection, bladder crystals and stones, urethral spasms, and more, all known as feline lower urinary tract disease or FLUTD. All of these urinary issues are very painful for your cat and may lead to a urinary blockage, which is fatal if left untreated.

Signs of FLUTD in cats
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Straining to urinate
  • In and out of litter box
  • Meowing in distress
  • Passing very little or no urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Refusing to eat
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Distended painful abdomen
  • Licking genital area frequently

Cats suffering from arthritis or another painful condition may find that they can’t climb into the litter box to pee like they used to. Any disease that causes your cat to drink and urinate excessively may also result in accidents because the kitty can’t get to the box in time. Examples of these conditions include diabetes, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism.

How To Solve The Problem
  • Make an appointment with your veterinarian urgently. Ruling out any medical issues first is essential to solving the problem of peeing outside the litter box. Follow all treatment plans carefully if your cat is diagnosed with a medical problem.
  • If your cat is showing signs of FLUTD or a urinary blockage, they need to see the vet as an emergency, no matter the time of day or night.

2. The Box Is Dirty

dirty cat litter box
Image By: SURKED, Shutterstock
Problem type Behavioral
Requires medical treatment No

Many cats choose to go outside the litter box because they feel it is too dirty. Some cats aren’t as particular about using only a clean litter box, and it can get easy to slack off on cleaning it. Generally, you should aim to scoop the box at least once per day, ideally twice, especially if you have a picky cat. Another option is to invest in a self-cleaning litter box, but make sure it doesn’t make the problem worse by scaring your cat and making them avoid the box even more.

How To Solve The Problem
  • Scoop the litter box thoroughly once per day. Change out the litter frequently and make sure you keep enough litter in the box as well.

3. Dislikes the Litter

cat lying on the wooden floor beside litter box
Image by: Tanya Plotnikova, Shutterstock
Problem type Behavioral
Requires medical treatment No

Cats can also avoid the litter box because they don’t like the texture or smell of the litter itself. Cat litter is available in more types than ever as manufacturers try to balance concerns over dust and allergens with effective odor control. However, the only product reviewer that matters is the cat in this case.

Typically, an unscented, clumping litter is well-tolerated by most cats. Once you find a brand your cat likes, be consistent and stick with it. Sudden litter changes can also resurrect the problem of peeing outside the litter box.

How To Solve The Problem
  • Experiment to find a litter that your cat tolerates and be consistent about using it.

Even the best cat litter can quickly start smelling bad. To avoid the expense and inconvenience of constantly replacing your litter, you can try a great litter additive like Hepper's Advanced Bio-Enzyme Cat Litter Deodorizer, a natural product that uses bio-enzymes to neutralize odors.

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4. Dislikes the Litter Box

cat outside the litter box
Image By: Jennifer McCallum, Shutterstock
Problem type Behavioral
Requires medical treatment No

Cats may urinate outside the litter box because they object to either the location of the box itself. The litter box needs to be large enough for the cat to feel comfortable using it. Some cats don’t like covered boxes, while others don’t mind. The noise and motion of automatic litter boxes may frighten nervous kitties. Cats may also avoid litter boxes placed in high-traffic areas or near noisy appliances such as washing machines.

Others may shun box locations that make them feel trapped when peeing based on their survival instincts.

How To Solve The Problem
  • Place the litter box in a quiet location with enough escape routes that your cat feels safe. If you have an open litter box, try switching to a closed one. Look for a self-cleaning box that delays the scooping process until your cat is away from the location to avoid any fear issues.

5. Territorial Squabbles

black and white cat in litter box
Image Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock
Problem type Behavioral
Requires medical treatment Sometimes

A more complicated reason your cat pees outside the litter box is that they are having territorial clashes with another kitty in the house. Cats are territorial animals by nature, with an instinct to claim property and possessions for their own. If you’ve recently added a new cat to the house, either animal could be peeing outside the box as a signal to the other to stay away.

If one cat has already “claimed” the litter boxes, they may bully the other by leaving their scent and marking, preventing proper use of the box.

How To Solve The Problem
  • Make sure you have enough litter boxes for each cat in the house plus one extra. If possible, place the boxes in different locations, including keeping one on each level of the house, and use cat pheromone products to provide a calming environment. If necessary, see your veterinarian for help. They may prescribe anxiety medications or suggest other solutions.

6. Stress

maine coon cat standing on top of litter box
Image by: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock
Problem type Behavioral
Requires medical treatment Sometimes

A frequent and frustrating cause of peeing outside the litter box is stress. Cats can become stressed for multiple reasons, leading to inappropriate urination. Common stressors include a new person (roommate, baby, significant other) coming to live in the house or the addition of a new pet. Cats may also become stressed by guests, home repairs, stray cats hanging around outside, or loud construction taking place nearby.

Figuring out what is bothering a cat can be complicated and sometimes requires a veterinarian’s help to solve.

How To Solve The Problem
  • There’s usually no one-size-fits-all solution for this due to the many possible causes of stress. If the stress is temporary, such as guests or home improvement, try to provide the cat a safe space to hide away, with their food, bed, and litter box nearby. Introduce new pets slowly. Make sure you continue to give your cat plenty of attention even with a new baby or another person entering the picture. See your vet for assistance with behavioral modification or medications if nothing else seems to be working.

7. Previous Urine Smells

cat with pee stain on carpet
Image by: Africa Studio, Shutterstock
Problem type Behavioral
Requires medical treatment No

Cats have an instinct to urinate in the same place they have previously. If they are peeing outside the box, it could be because they smell old urine left over from a previous accident. It doesn’t have to be their accident, either. If you move into a new home and find that your cat is suddenly peeing outside the box, it could be because they smell odors left by a previous feline inhabitant.

Cats have much more sensitive noses than humans, so just because you can’t smell any urine in the house doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

How To Solve The Problem
  • Clean up any fresh accidents as quickly as possible. Use a product designed to break down and eliminate urine odors, such as Hepper enzymatic cleaner. For old stains, you may need to repeat the process multiple times or try placing the litter box in the area where the cat is choosing to go. They may decide to use the box instead.
  • Placing a food bowl, toys, or a small bed in the area if there is no room for a litter box, while still keeping the box nearby, may also divert the cat to use the litter box instead of the floor, as they will not toilet near their feeding, playing, and resting places. Keep track of litter box locations, and move them around until you find the perfect spot that your cat chooses to use.

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Is Peeing Outside the Box an Emergency Medical Situation?

nebelung cat in vet clinic
Image Credit: Juice Flair, Shutterstock

Sometimes, your cat peeing outside the litter box is a genuine emergency medical situation, particularly if combined with signs of FLUTD we discussed. As we learned from our list, peeing outside the box can also be a sign of stress or a behavioral concern. Some behavioral problems require medical intervention but typically not on an emergency basis.

However, some medical causes of peeing outside the box can result in an emergency if they are not treated promptly. Male cats, especially young ones, can become blocked and unable to urinate at all as a result of a urinary tract condition or even from stress. Not peeing at all is a life-threatening situation that requires immediate veterinary care.

Bladder stones can become lodged in the urinary tract, and they can affect male and female cats. Untreated diabetes can lead to life-threatening chemical imbalances in the cat’s body, and kidney disease can progress to the point that the cat’s kidneys don’t work at all, leading to a build-up of toxins in the body.


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Dealing with a cat urinating outside the litter box can be messy, smelly, and frustrating for us as cat parents, but it is often painful and distressing for your cat as well. Never punish your cat for this behavior, as they are doing it because of an illness, pain, or stress, trying to tell you something is wrong. As we discussed, peeing outside the box can occur from circumstances out of your cat’s control, and punishing them is confusing and unfair. It will also likely damage the bond between you and your cat.

Before your frustrations reach a boiling point, don’t hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist for help. If your cat is showing signs of FLUTD or is unable to pass urine, they need to see the emergency vet immediately.

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Featured Image Credit: jamesjoong, Shutterstock

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