Like finding poop outside the litter box, discovering cat pee where it’s not supposed to can be baffling, frustrating, or worrisome for any cat parent. Rest assured your cat isn’t doing this out of spite. When you encounter pee outside the box, this is a sign to pay closer attention to your cat’s health or behavior.
About 10% of all cats will pee outside their litter box at some point during their lives. When this happens, it’s important to pay attention. Your cat might not feel well, is stressed, or something in the environment isn’t meeting their needs. A cat peeing outside of the box usually points to stress or an environmental need, like needing the box to be scooped more frequently. In some cases, it could indicate a medical condition, ranging from urinary tract infections (UTI) to arthritis.
Let’s explore the common reasons why your cat is peeing everywhere except their litter box. If your cat is experiencing any pain, loss of appetite, or other changes in behavior, it’s best to schedule a trip to the vet.
Your Cat Has A Medical Problem
If peeing outside the litter box suddenly begins with no other changes at home or is accompanied by loss of appetite, vomiting, or signs of discomfort—a trip to the vet is due. Your cat could be peeing in your house because they’re experiencing pain while urinating. They might associate pain with their litter box and seek out other places to pee—especially cool, smooth surfaces like a tile floor or the bathtub.
Here are the most common medical reasons that might cause your cat to suddenly urinate outside of their litter box.
Problems with their bladder/urine
- Crystalluria: “A high urine pH can lead to the development of crystals in the bladder,” Gina Ushi, DVM, tells The Dog People. Signs of crystal formation include painful urination and urinating small amounts often.
- Bladder stones: If your cat has crystals, they can clump together and form stones, Dr. Ushi explains. When this happens, your cat is at risk of a UTI or urinary blockage. Like crystalluria, early signs of stone formation include painful urination and urinating small amounts often. If your cat is experiencing a blockage, the condition becomes very painful, and they won’t be able to pass urine. Medical attention is needed right away for a urinary blockage.
- UTIs: Changes in bathroom habits like frequent urination, urinating outside of the litter box, or blood in the urine can all be cat UTI symptoms, Dr. Ushi says. But, Blue Pearl Vet adds, be careful not to chalk up all urinary issues as a UTI, they’re pretty uncommon in cats under 10.
- Feline lower urinary tract disease: Feline lower urinary tract disease (LUTD) describes abnormalities in the lower urinary tract including the bladder and urethra. It’s a general term versus a specific diagnosis and includes symptoms like peeing outside of the litter box, excess licking of the genital region, and blood in the urine. Infections, inflammation, diet, behavioral changes, or a combination of these things can cause LUTD.
- Feline idiopathic cystitis: You can think of feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) as a catch-all term for conditions in the bladder, a more specific diagnosis under LUTD. “Idiopathic” literally means the cause of the disease is unknown, while “cystitis” means inflammation of the bladder. Because the cause isn’t well understood, your vet may take a multi-faceted approach to FIC treatment including reduction of stress, change in diet, and medications.
Non-urine medical problems
- Feline diabetes: Cats are susceptible to developing diabetes, with Type II diabetes being more common among felines. In both types, pet parents typically notice symptoms including weight loss despite a normal appetite and increased thirst and urination.
- Arthritis: Difficulty getting up after resting, soreness after play, or the inability to enter the litter box can all be signs of arthritis in cats.
- Obesity: If your cat is overweight or obese, they may not be able to enter the litter box and choose to pee elsewhere.
- Kidney disease: Three out of 10 geriatric cats (age 15 or older) will receive a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease. Symptoms of kidney disease includes increased thirst, frequent urination (inside or out of the box), normal appetite with weight loss, lack of energy, and poor grooming habits.
- Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism in cats can be hard to spot with symptoms that look a lot like other medical conditions. If your cat is showing unusual behaviors like inappropriate urination, restlessness at night, and a lack of grooming accompanied by unexplained weight loss—ask your vet if hyperthyroidism could be to blame.
Resolving the medical condition causing the pain and inappropriate urination is the first step, but your cat might need extra help in resolving their fears of the box.
Behavioral Reasons for Peeing Outside the Box
Peeing outside the litter box is a surefire sign your cat is seeking human assistance. If you want your cat to stop peeing everywhere, Rita Reimers and Linda Hall of Cat Behavior Alliance say to consider these likely behavioral culprits:
- Bad litter box location: Litter boxes should be placed in low-traffic areas away from your cat’s food and water. If your home has multiple floors, the experts at Cat Behavior Alliance say to place a box on each one.
- Wrong type of litter: Cats may avoid the litter box if it’s harsh on their paws or nose.
- Unreachable litter box: Cats with arthritis don’t want to use top entrance litter boxes. If a cat can’t enter a box because it’s painful on their joints or they’re too small to climb in, they’ll find another place to go.
- Dirty litter box: “Every litter box should be scooped one to two times a day,” Dr. Delgado says. “Cats are very clean and prefer a box free of “obstacles” such as pee clumps and poop.”
- Multiple cats in the home: Multi-cat households can put extra stress on bathroom time, especially if one cat is dominant over the other or there aren’t enough litter boxes for the whole clowder.
- Stress: Cats thrive on routine. Any changes like a move or a new family member can cause your cat stress and a change in behavior—including peeing on the floor.
- Separation anxiety: Inappropriate urination is the most common sign of separation anxiety in cats. Some cats experiencing separation anxiety will seek out belongings that smell like their human to do their business on, says Dr. Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior consultant.
Getting to the root of behavioral issues isn’t always easy and might take some trial and error. Plus, says Dr. Delgado, the unwanted behaviors could be happening while you’re not home. So, consider setting up a pet cam to capture any distress.
How Do I Get My Cat to Pee in the Box?
If your cat is peeing outside of the litter box or pooping on the floor, schedule a visit with your vet to rule out any underlying health concerns.
Once medical conditions are ruled out, then it’s time to make some changes at home:
|New litter box location||Using positive associations and rewards, encourage your cat to use the litter in the new location.|
|Litter box is in a noisy area||Move the litter box to a different location away from high-traffic areas, their food, or water.|
|Dirty litter box||Scoop the litter box at least once a day. Some cats (mine) prefer a fresh layer of substrate after scooping. Too busy to scoop? Try one of these no-scoop litter boxes.|
|Wrong type of litter||Cats have sensitive noses and toes beans, making coarse, dusty, or scented litters less than desirable. Next time you’re at the store, reach for low-dust, non-scented litters, or litters as close to sand consistency as possible.|
|Unreachable litter box||Move the litter box to a more accessible location, especially if you have senior cats or small kittens. Choose a litter box that is appropriately sized with sides that can be easily stepped over and enough room to squat and turn around in.|
|Multiple cats in the home||Place more litter boxes around your house, including on every floor. A good rule of thumb is one box for every cat plus an extra just in case. If your litter boxes are covered, swap a few for open boxes.|
|Stress||Add plenty of extra playtime, toys, vertical towers, and bonding time to help your cat destress.|
|Separation anxiety||Talk with a cat behavior expert or vet to come up with ways to make your cat feel more secure when you’re away. Solo toys including puzzles or hiring a cat sitter for long days alone could be a solution.|
|Marking territory||Spraying in cats is most common in unneutered male cats, but female and fixed males might also spray. Spraying is different than peeing outside of the litter box—it’s typically done on vertical surfaces while standing (not squatting) and will be a small amount of urine. Fixing your cat or reducing stress will typically stop spraying behaviors.|
Do Cats Pee Out of Spite?
No, cats don’t pee out of spite. “Misbehaviors almost always have a basis in anxiety or a problem in the environment,” Dr. Delgado says. “We don’t know if cats experience emotions like jealousy in the same way we do, but cats can get stressed and anxious, which we might interpret as jealousy or a similar feeling.”
You’ll want to clean up the urine right away though. Areas that smell like your cat’s urine might encourage them to continue to pee in the same place. “You need an effective enzyme cleaner that can remove the odor, not just cover it,” Dr. Delgado says. “My favorite product is Mister Max Anti Icky Poo Unscented.”
Peeing outside of the litter box isn’t fun for anyone. If your cat is experiencing bathroom troubles, it’s time for extra love and a trip to the vet. While the situation can be stressful, try your best to reduce extra stress for your feline BFF. Stick to a routine and provide a calm, clean environment.
If your cat is prone to urinary issues that cause inappropriate urination, get one step ahead of it with a Rover-reviewed pH-changing litter. Plus, ask your vet if urinary supplements can help keep your cat’s pH in a healthy range. If behavioral issues are to blame for your cat suddenly peeing everywhere, we’ve also rounded up the best litter boxes for finicky felines.
With a clean bill of health and a revamped litter box set-up, your cat will be back to snuggling your favorite sweater rather than urinating on it.