4 reasons why your cat should pee outside the litter box, say vets

As any cat owner knows, it can be impossible to get rid of the smell of cat urine. And if your cat has peed on the floor or furniture, there is a good chance that she will be attracted to doing it in the same place again. It’s often said that cats pee when they’re angry at their owners—maybe they’ve started coming back to the office after a year at home, or maybe they’ve just had a new baby who gets all the attention. But while animals certainly feel stressed and sad, anger is not the reason they commonly have an accident. After speaking to our vets, we learned that there are four main reasons why your cat has urinated outside the litter box. Keep reading to find out what they are, and how you can curb this annoying cat behavior.

Read this next: The 6 best dog breeds that get along with cats, according to experts.


As mentioned, cats can totally sense emotions. However, urinating outside the litter box is rarely done to teach you a lesson, as is usually assumed. It is usually because they feel stressed, and just like humans, they develop nervous habits.

“Cats are sensitive animals that can be easily stressed by changes in their environment,” he explains. Melissa M. Brooke, a certified veterinarian and author on Pango Pets. “Things like moving homes or introducing new pets or furniture can make them feel overwhelmed or even threatened by something they once considered ‘normal.’ This is especially true when it comes to their litter box because it seems like a simple thing – but it actually represents A big problem for some cats!”

according to Mikel Maria DelgadoRover cat behavior expert, once you notice your cat is urinating outside the litter box, assess whether their emotional needs are being met: “Do they have places to feel safe? Do they get along with other animals in the home? Do they have scratching posts?” And things to keep them occupied (like food puzzles, perches, or toys)? Do you give your cat exercise every day through interactive play?” Sometimes all it takes to get things back on track is a little more love and attention.

Gray cat and ginger cat by empty bowls of food in the kitchen.
Anastasia Tsiamnikava / Shutterstock

The main stressors for cats are new family members, such as another pet or a baby. In these cases, cats may engage in what is known as marking. “If you bring a new cat or other animals into the house, and your cat doesn’t quite get along with them, urinating outside the litter box can be a dominant business to establish its territory,” he explains. Jacqueline Kennedyfounder and CEO of PetDT.

If this is the case, Kennedy recommends socializing your cat appropriately. For example, most vets recommend keeping a new cat separate for several days and introducing it gradually. She also suggests giving each cat their own space, so they don’t feel threatened. For male cats, neutering will also reduce their desire to “spray” or mark their space, according to Courtney Jacksona veterinarian and founder of The Pets Digest.

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Two adorable cute cats looking at the litter box
shutterstock / galsand

Humans have a basic desire to use a clean bathroom in privacy – and cats are not much different. “Cats have more olfactory receptors than humans. What might be clean for us isn’t your cat,” he notes. Lea Fronthaus, ABCT, FFCP, cat behavior counselor and trainer at Cat’s Pajamas Consulting. “Try washing a few times a day with a complete litter alternative and wash the bin with mild, unscented soap every two weeks.”

Cats may also be reluctant to go to the litter box another cat has just used. According to Delgado, “You should have at least one box per cat plus one extra box, so if you have one cat, two boxes; if you have two cats, three boxes, etc.”

It may also be that your cat does not like the type of litter you use. This explains that scented or coarse litter can irritate their noses and paws Amanda Takeguchi, veterinarian and founder of Trending Breeds. “Soft, sandy, and odorless litter” is ideal, Delgado says.

Or the problem could be with the box itself. Some cats find their setting too bare, so they prefer a covered litter box, while others like to do their business standing up and find an obstructing lid. Delgado hates “robot” (self-cleaning) litter boxes, “because they don’t provide enough space for cats, and some cats find the mechanism intimidating.”

And, of course, make sure the crate is big enough for your pet to feel comfortable. “The litter box is usually twice as long as your cat,” he advises. Danny JacksonCo-Founder, CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of Pet Lover Guy.

Finally, consider where the box is. “Cats don’t want to do their business in a crowded area of ​​the house. If the litter box is placed somewhere where there is a lot of foot traffic, you might want to try placing it somewhere less prone to a furry friend,” says Danny.

Additionally, Courtney recommends having one litter box on each floor if you have a multi-level home. Sometimes the problem can be as simple as your cat not being able to hold it!

Little orange cat being checked at the vet.

If there is any suspicion that your cat’s litter box problems are not behavioral as described above, make an appointment with your vet right away. according to Jimmy WittenbergThe most common health problems that may cause urination outside the litter box are cystitis, urinary tract infections (UTIs), urethral obstruction, and bladder stones.

“Cystitis is the medical term for cystitis,” Wittenberg explains. “This condition is the number one cause of inappropriate urination that I see in cats in my practice.” Although she notes that vets aren’t sure how cystitis develops, she says stress certainly plays a role. “These cats are often stressed, go to the litter box frequently, have blood in their urine, and urinate outside the litter box, often in sinks, bathtubs, and on clothes,” Wittenberg adds. Treatment includes a diet rich in moisture, special prescribed foods, stress management, and pain relievers.

It is common for urinary tract infections to be the main reason behind this behaviour. But Wittenberg says it’s less common. “Females are at greater risk for having a shorter urethra, but I see many cases of cystitis incorrectly diagnosed as a UTI,” she notes. “A true UTI is caused by bacteria in the bladder.” If the urinalysis shows the presence of bacteria, the vet can simply prescribe antibiotics.

Male cats are more prone to obstructions in the urethra. “Small crystals and mucus formed in the bladder travel into the constricted urethra and block it. A complete blockage will make a cat unable to urinate and is quite a life-threatening emergency. However, partial blockages can be painful and lead to a cat urinating outside their litter box,” he explains. Wittenberg. She cautions that partial obstructions can complete quickly, so feel free to make an appointment with your vet.

Crystals in urine can “collect and form stones in the bladder,” she says. “The stones irritate the bladder walls and cause discomfort and urgency. These cats frequently urinate outside their litter boxes.” Not only is this painful for your cat, but it can lead to urethral obstruction and even death. “If bladder stones are seen on an X-ray or ultrasound, your vet will obtain a urine sample to determine the type of stone. Some stones can be dissolved with special diets, while others will require surgical removal,” Wittenberg adds.

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