What to Do If Your Cat Is Peeing Outside the Litter Box

The causes could be medical or behavioral

Cat peeing everywhere in your house
Allen Enriquez / Stocksy United

Is your cat peeing all over your house and not in the litter boxUrinary issues are very common in cats. Inappropriate urination can be so frustrating to cat owners that it leads some to consider rehoming their cats. Before you go down this road, you should know that there is hope. Learn how to deal with urinary problems in cats. Even better, find out how you can prevent some cat urinary problems in the first place.

Why Do Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box?

There are several reasons why cats experience urinary issues. Before you can begin to correct the problem, it's important to understand why your cat is peeing inappropriately. A cat will pee outside the litter box for one of two general reasons: a medical problem or a behavioral issue.

illustration of what to do if your cat pees outside the litter box
Illustration: Lisa Fasol. © The Spruce, 2018 

Medical Causes of Inappropriate Urination in Cats

If your cat is peeing inappropriately, the first step is to visit your veterinarian. The vet will do a physical examination of your cat and check a urine sample. Based on the results, the vet will recommend treatment. The following are some common urinary medical issues seen in cats:

  • Urinary Tract Infection: Bacteria in the urine causes an inflammatory response in the urinary tract. Antibiotics are used to treat a urinary tract infection. Your vet will likely recommend follow-up testing after antibiotics are finished to make sure the infection is gone.
  • Crystalluria: Crystals form in the urine, causing irritation to the urinary tract. Crystalluria may or may not accompany a UTI. Crystals develop when the pH of the cat's urine is too high or low. The most common types of crystals in cats are struvite crystals. A slightly less common type is called calcium oxalate. Treatment of crystals in the urine generally involves changing to a special diet and possibly anti-inflammatory medication. Your vet will also prescribe antibiotics if a secondary infection is present.
  • Bladder Stones: Some cats develop actual stones in the bladder that cause irritation and even blockage. Crystals may accompany bladder stones or be a precursor to stone formation. If your vet suspects bladder stones, radiographs will be needed to determine the size and quantity of the stones. Smaller bladder stones might be dissolved with a special diet, but larger stones often need to be removed surgically (cystotomy). It is common for a cat with bladder stones to also have a UTI. If so, antibiotic treatment is necessary. 
  • Idiopathic Cystitis: The term "cystitis" means inflammation of the bladder. "Idiopathic" means the cause is unknown. Cats with cystitis often have hematuria (blood in the urine). Testing a urine sample is essential because the blood may only be detected microscopically. If your vet determines that the urine contains blood, but there are no crystals, bacteria or stones, the likely diagnosis will be idiopathic cystitis.  

When one or more of the above urinary issues are chronic, the condition is typically called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, or FLUTD. If your cat is diagnosed with FLUTD, your vet may recommend a special urinary diet and/or supplements to support the urinary tract.

Urinary problems can lead to a serious urinary obstruction, especially in male cats. If your cat is experiencing urinary issues, do not delay the trip to the vet. If your cat is posturing to urinate and little or no urine is coming out, your cat might be blocked or partially obstructed. You should get to a vet immediately.

In some cases, inappropriate urination occurs when a cat has a non-urinary health problem. Your cat may be peeing outside the box because of pain or discomfort elsewhere in the body. It's a good idea to have your vet run comprehensive lab work to look for a health issue if none is found on the exam or urinalysis. Lab work can reveal serious health problems like diabetes or kidney disease, allowing your vet to begin treatment immediately.

Behavioral Reasons 

If no medical cause is found for your cat's inappropriate urination, then it is important to determine what factors are causing your cat to behave this way.

Dirty Litter Box

Cats are particular about their toilets. The litter box may simply be too dirty for your cat. Or, it may be perfectly clean but otherwise uncomfortable to use. The box may be too small for your cat to use comfortably. It may be a location that your cat does not like. If it is covered, this may bother your cat. Perhaps the litter has a strong scent or an annoying feel on your cat's paws.

Stress

 You cat may be trying to tell you it is stressed out at home. It may be unhappy with another animal in the home and is marking its territory to send a message to the other animal. Or, your cat may feel it's too dangerous to access the litter box if the other animal is out and about. Your cat may also "act out" if there is a new human in the home.

Cats are sensitive to the smallest of changes in their environments. No matter the source of the stress, make sure your cat has a quiet place where it can get away. The new animal or human should not have access to this place of refuge.

Make sure your home is a happy place for cats. Add plenty of vertical space and feline enrichment to make your cat's environment optimal. Remember to play with your cat and provide toys. If environmental changes are not effective, your vet may recommend a supplement or prescription medication to reduce stress and anxiety in your cat. 

Old Urine Smells

If your cat has peed in an area and you clean it up, the smell might remain. A cat's sense of smell is much better than yours. If old urine odors remain in your home, there is a very good chance your cat is returning to the area because of the smell. It will continue to pee in an area that smells like urine. That's why it is essential that you thoroughly clean any areas where a cat has urinated using a special cleaner.

How to Stop Your Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box

Perhaps the most common reason cats urinate inappropriately is that they dislike the litter box. If your cat is peeing everywhere and you have ruled out medical issues, then it's time to reassess your litter boxes. 

  • Begin by making sure your cat's litter boxes are as desirable as possible. Choose the largest litter boxes possible and try to keep them uncovered. Your cat may feel cramped inside a covered box, especially if it is a large or fluffy cat.
  • Place litter boxes in a quiet yet accessible area of the home. Make sure they are not placed in the area where your cat eats. For your cat's privacy and your own decor, consider a decorative screen to separate the cat litter box area from other areas.
  • If your cat is older or has trouble with stairs, make sure the is a box on each level of your home. The litter box should be easy for your senior cat to get into. Consider getting a shallow cat box or placing a ramp at the entrance of the box. 
  • Find a good cat litter that your cat likes. Ideally, choose an unscented scoopable litter that cats love, such as Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract
  • Many veterinarians recommend having one litter box per cat, plus one extra. This means having two litter boxes even in a one-cat household. One reason for this is that some cats like to use one box for urine and the other for stool. The other reason for this is to prevent competition between cats for litter box time.

    In general, the key to stopping inappropriate urination in cats or avoiding it altogether is as simple as being a responsible and attentive cat owner. Keep your cat healthy, visiting the vet for routine care and when issues crop up. Minimize stress in your cat's environment and try to keep your home cat-friendly.