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5 Reasons Your Cat May Be Peeing Outside of the Litter Box – With Solutions

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Here’s why your cat may be peeing where you don’t want them to, and how to bring them back to the litter box.

We recently received a frightening call here at DCSPCA. A veterinarian’s office called to let us know that someone had brought their cat there to have them euthanized. The reason why: she was peeing outside of the litter box. Of course we immediately went to retrieve the cat, who is now safe here at the shelter.

Sadly, this happens all too often. Cats are returned to the shelter, or tragically euthanized, only because they are urinating outside of their litter box. There are a number of reasons why a cat's behavior may shift in this way, and it’s never a reason to give up on them. This is frequently a situation that can be corrected, it just may take a little time to determine the cause of the behavior so you can find a solution.

First, talk to your veterinarian. They can help you figure out if the problem is medical, and offer treatments if it is. They may also have some great recommendations if the issue is being triggered by emotional or environmental factors.

It can be a process to determine the problem and find the solution but whatever happens, peeing outside of the box is NEVER a reason to euthanize a cat. Please, always return them to us (or the no-kill shelter where you live) if you are considering this drastic decision. We will take care of them here until a new guardian can be found.

When your cat does pee outside of the box, be sure to use an enzymatic cleaner when cleaning up–to truly remove the scent of urine. If they smell that they’ve peed somewhere, they are more likely to go in that spot again.

Here are 5 reasons why your cat may be peeing outside of the box and how to help them:

REASON: Illness

SOLUTION: If your cat is peeing outside of the litter box, they might be trying to tell you they are in pain. As it turns out, the cat we recently received had crystals in their urinary tract, which may form due to abnormal urine pH. This is a common condition that may be treated with prescription food. Your veterinarian can detect if your cat is suffering from urinary crystals and help you treat them. If the cause isn’t urinary crystals, it might still be a medical condition. Bladder stones can create an urgency to go, which then leads to peeing where a cat might not usually urinate. If there is a medical condition causing the behavior, your vet can run blood and urine tests to try to figure out the cause.

REASON: Poor mobility

SOLUTION: Do you have an older cat? It’s possible that arthritis is making it hard for them to climb into their kitty litter box. This is something that your veterinarian can detect and advise you on. If poor mobility or another disability is making it difficult for your cat to access the litter box then an easy fix might be purchasing litter boxes with a low entry like this one.

REASON: Stress

SOLUTION: Sometimes a new pet comes into the home or there’s a lot of unusual activity in the house (like packing) that causes a cat to start peeing outside of their litter box. Stress is one of the top reasons that cats pee beyond their boxes. Often adjustments can be implemented at home to make the situation less stressful for the cat, and so they go back to their regular bathroom routine. If another pet, or activity in the house, is causing your cat stress, try to give them safe space where they feel comfortable. This can mean outfitting your home with cat enrichment that goes up your walls, such as catwalks and cat shelves, so that they can go upwards and get away from what is causing them stress. If you have a big enough home, you can also give your cat a room where they are allowed but no other animals are permitted. This can be their sanctuary.

REASON: Litter box conditions

SOLUTION: Just like us, cats want a clean place to go potty. Their solution if it doesn’t meet their standards: go someplace else! If your cat is peeing outside of the box, try cleaning the box more frequently. You’d hope someone would do it for you! If the box is clean but located in a place that’s hard to reach or in a spot that feels unsafe, that may also cause your cat to go elsewhere. The best place for a litter box is one that offers privacy and peace but is also easy to find.

REASON: Litter preference

SOLUTION: Sometimes the answer is as simple as buying a different brand of litter. There are many different types of litter on the market today and you may need to try a few before you find the right one. The best way to do that is to set up a few litter boxes with different types of litter and see which your cat chooses. Then you’ll have your answer!

If you’ve tried everything and your cat is still urinating in places where you’d prefer they didn’t, you can place puppy wee wee pads in their preferred pee spot. This won’t stop the out-of-the-box behavior but can prevent damage to your floor. When cleaning up, you can use products such as Nature’s Miracle to help get out the cat pee smell.

There are many potential solutions to the cat box dilemma. First, speak with your veterinarian, to see if there is a medical condition causing the behavior. If not, there are a number of other fixes you can try. There are solutions out there! Peeing outside of the litter box is never a reason to give up on a cat.

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