Does Rubbing a Cat’s Nose in Pee Really Stop Bad Behavior?


Cats have a natural instinct to eliminate in loose, sandy soil. This instinct makes litter box training fairly straightforward in most cases. Kittens will often learn to use the litter box simply by observing their mother. Adult cats generally pick it up quickly when shown a litter box filled with an appropriate substrate. With positive reinforcement and an adequately clean litter box, most cats will happily use their litter box consistently.

However, problems can occur if a cat’s needs are not being met. Inappropriate urination or defecation outside the litter box is the most common behavioral problem reported by cat owners. There are various medical and behavioral causes, and rubbing a cat’s nose in urine is not an effective solution. Instead, understanding why the problem is occurring and making appropriate changes is key.

Does It Work?

According to experts, rubbing a cat’s nose in pee does not work and can actually make litter box problems worse. The ASPCA states that “rubbing your cat’s nose in urine or feces, or yelling at her, will only make her afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence” ( Cats don’t understand punishment after the fact, they only associate the punishment with you. This can cause anxiety and make the problem worse.

Veterinarian Dr. Justine Lee confirms that rubbing a cat’s nose in urine teaches them nothing. Cats don’t generalize like humans, so they won’t connect the punishment with peeing outside the box ( The only thing the cat will learn is to fear their owner.

Instead of punishment, the key is rewarding good litter box habits. Give your cat treats and praise when they use the box properly. This positive reinforcement is much more effective at encouraging desired behavior.

Why Cats Pee Outside the Box

There are several common reasons why cats may urinate outside of their litter box:

Medical Reasons

Cats with medical issues like urinary tract infections, kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism may begin peeing outside the litter box. These conditions can cause increased urination, painful urination, or difficulty controlling the urge to pee (Source). A vet check can diagnose and treat any underlying medical problems.


Stress from changes in their home environment, relationships with humans or other pets, or new experiences can lead cats to stop using the litter box. Reducing stressors in the home whenever possible can help (Source).

Marking Territory

Unneutered male cats and some neutered males will spray urine to mark territory and attract mates. Spaying or neutering typically resolves this cause of peeing outside the litter box.

Effective Alternatives

There are several effective alternatives to punishing or rubbing a cat’s nose in urine that should be tried first. The key is positive reinforcement and creating an environment that encourages your cat to use its litterbox.

Adding more litter boxes can help, especially if you have multiple cats. Cats are territorial and may avoid a litter box that smells like another cat. Having multiple, clean litter boxes in different areas creates more bathroom options. Immediately clean any accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle to completely eliminate odors. This removes any trace of urine that could attract the cat back to the same spot.

Try placing calming scents like lavender or lemongrass oil around litter boxes and pee spots. Some cats don’t like citrus or mint scents. Essential oils may help deter cats from inappropriate peeing spots.

Reward your cat with treats when they use the litter box. Positive reinforcement helps build the habit of using their litterbox. Be patient and consistent.

Create a Routine

Cats thrive on consistency and feel most comfortable when their daily activities occur at regular times. According to veterinary experts, establishing a daily routine for feeding, playing, and other activities can significantly reduce a cat’s stress levels and minimize undesirable behaviors like inappropriate urination (Source: The Importance of Establishing a Routine for Your Cat or Dog).

Try to feed your cat and provide active playtime at the same times each day. For example, you might feed your cat when you first wake up in the morning and again in the evening. Schedule interactive play sessions before mealtimes to help satisfy your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Keeping a consistent routine will create positive associations with you while meeting your cat’s needs for activity and stimulation.

In addition to designated feeding and play times, incorporate other regular activities like brushing, petting, or clicker training. Maintaining a steady routine makes cats feel secure and provides mental enrichment. It also helps prevent boredom and destructive behaviors from emerging. When it comes to your cat’s bathroom habits, a predictable routine of scooping litter, cleaning boxes, and providing fresh litter can promote proper elimination.

Litterbox Setup

When setting up the litterbox, it is crucial to ensure that it is conveniently located with open, easy access for your cat. The litterbox should be placed in a low-traffic area that is quiet and private, allowing the cat comfort when using it. This often means placing it away from noisy appliances and avoiding high traffic areas like hallways or the center of a room. Many cats prefer a location with an escape route so they do not feel cornered. Easy access also means the sides of a covered litterbox are low enough for an older or disabled cat to enter and leave without difficulty.

Keeping the litterbox clean is one of the most important factors in encouraging proper litterbox usage. Cats like to use a clean litterbox and can develop aversions when it becomes too dirty, leading to accidents outside the box. Experts recommend scooping the litterbox at least once per day, and emptying the litter completely to wash the box every 1-2 weeks. Use gentle, unscented soap and hot water when cleaning, rinsing thoroughly to remove any residue. Allow the box to dry fully before refilling with fresh litter. Maintaining this cleaning routine helps promote appropriate litterbox habits for a healthy, happy cat.

Reduce Stress

Stress is a major cause of inappropriate elimination outside the litter box for cats. There are several ways you can help reduce your cat’s stress levels:

Provide enrichment through interactive toys, scratching posts, cat trees, and window perches so your cat can observe outside activity. A stimulating home environment helps relieve boredom and stress. (Keeping your cat stress-free – Humane Society)

Catify your home by providing multiple resting spots around the house and ensuring your cat has an area they can retreat to. Cats feel more secure when they have safe spots to sleep and hide. (5 tips for reducing your cat’s stress – Cats Protection)

Consider using synthetic pheromones like Feliway to help relieve anxiety. Pheromones can create a comforting environment and provide a sense of familiarity.

By enriching their environment, creating a cat-friendly home, and using pheromones, you can significantly reduce stress levels for your cat.

See a Vet

If your cat is peeing outside the litter box, it’s crucial to rule out any underlying medical issues that could be causing the behavior. A urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney disease, diabetes, or other conditions can all lead to peeing outside the litter box due to discomfort, increased urination, or inability to hold urine properly.

According to PetMD, “This behavior could be the result of a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes.” They recommend always having your vet examine your cat and run tests if they start peeing outside the litter box.

A vet will check for signs of infection or crystals in the urine, examine kidney function, and look for other clinical symptoms that could point to an underlying cause. Treating the medical issue first is key before trying to re-train litter box habits.

If your cat gets a clean bill of health, then you can look into behavioral factors. But it’s imperative to involve your vet early on so any sickness or pain can be properly diagnosed and treated. Your cat may then happily return to using the litter box once feeling better.

Be Patient

Litter training takes time and patience. Cats, especially kittens and older cats, cannot be expected to learn new habits overnight. According to Here’s How to Litter Train a Kitten, most kittens take around 4 weeks to be fully litter trained, though some may take longer. Kittens under 12 weeks may need to be placed in the litter box every time after eating, napping, and playing until they learn.

For adult cats or cats adopted from shelters, be prepared for litter training to take 4-6 weeks of being consistent and patient, as noted by How to litter train a cat and why it’s never too late. It takes time and repetition for a cat to form a habit. Never scold or punish your cat for accidents. This will only cause stress and delay training. Simply be consistent in gently returning your cat to the litter box and rewarding successes.

With a routine of rewards, patience, and removing stressors, even senior cats can be litter trained. It just takes time for new habits to stick. Understanding your cat’s needs and sticking to a plan is key.

When to Seek Help

If your cat continues having accidents outside the litter box despite trying the techniques mentioned in this article, it’s important to seek professional help from your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist. As mentioned in the articles from WebMD and PDSA, ongoing urinary issues or inappropriate elimination can be signs of underlying medical conditions that require treatment.

A vet can run tests to check for infections, kidney disease, diabetes or other problems that could cause changes in urination habits. Treatment of the underlying condition along with behavior modification techniques may be needed to fully resolve the problem.

If medical causes are ruled out, consulting an animal behaviorist can provide deeper insight into environmental, social or behavioral factors contributing to litter box avoidance. The behaviorist will evaluate all aspects of your cat’s routine, home environment and interactions to develop an appropriate behavior modification plan. This could involve adjusting litter box numbers, types, location and cleaning schedules, using techniques like positive reinforcement and prescribed medications if necessary.

While addressing inappropriate urination issues takes time and patience, seeking professional help is key if you’ve diligently tried these techniques with no improvement in your cat’s litter box habits. With the right medical treatment, behavior modification plan, and your loving persistence, your cat can get back to regularly using the litter box again.

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