Litter Box Blues. Why Your Cat May Be Peeing Outside The Box

Why Cats May Urinate Outside the Litter Box

There are several common reasons why cats may start urinating outside of their litter box, even if they have consistently used the box in the past. Understanding the potential causes can help identify solutions to this undesirable behavior.

One reason is territorial marking. Cats use urine to mark areas they consider their territory. If your cat feels threatened by other animals inside or outside the home, they may begin marking territory outside the litter box. Introducing a new pet or moving to a new home can trigger this behavior.

Various medical conditions may also lead to a cat peeing outside the litter box. Issues like urinary tract infections, kidney disease, diabetes, arthritis and other conditions that make it difficult or painful to use the litter box could be factors. In these cases, a vet checkup is recommended.

Stress can likewise cause litter box problems. Changes to the cat’s routine, home environment, relationships with humans or other pets, or new sources of stress may lead to urinating elsewhere. Identifying and reducing stressors, when possible, can help.

While there could be other reasons cats fail to use the litter box, territorial marking, medical problems and stress are among the most common causes according to pet experts (PetMD, The Spruce Pets). Understanding the root cause will make it easier to correct undesirable urination issues.

Dirty Litter Box Can Be a Factor

Cats have a strong preference for a clean litter box and a dirty one can often deter them from using it. As urine accumulates in the litter box, it generates a strong ammonia odor that cats find unpleasant and may cause them to avoid the box.

According to the ASPCA, most cats prefer their litter boxes to be scooped at least once a day [1]. Allowing waste to build up causes an ammonia smell that can be offensive and stressful to cats. A dirty litter box does not provide them the comfort and security they seek.

Cats have a highly developed sense of smell, far stronger than humans. The powerful ammonia scent from a dirty litter box can easily overwhelm their senses. This alone may deter a cat from wanting to use the litter box.

Keeping your cat’s litter box clean is an easy way to encourage continued use. Scoop solid waste daily and change the litter completely every 1-2 weeks. This maintains a pleasant environment that cats are more likely to keep using.

How Often to Scoop Litter Box

It is generally recommended to scoop your cat’s litter box at least once per day. According to cat care experts, scooping daily helps remove urine clumps and soiled litter before the smells become overpowering (

When scooping the litter box, be sure to remove all solid wastes and clumped urine. Scooping out these soiled areas on a daily basis helps keep the litter box clean and prevent odors. Allowing wastes to accumulate can be unhygienic and cause your cat to start eliminating outside of the litter box.

In addition to daily scooping, it is recommended to do a full litter change 1-2 times per week. This involves dumping out all of the old litter and replacing it with fresh litter. Doing a full change weekly or bi-weekly will help control odors and give your cat a clean slate.

Deep Clean the Litter Box

It’s advisable to give your cat’s litter box a deep clean at least once a month to help keep odors and bacteria at bay. Start by removing all of the litter and emptying out any solid waste. Then, use a scrub brush and a mild soap or detergent along with hot water to thoroughly wash and disinfect the litter box. Allow it to soak for 30 minutes up to an hour before scrubbing and rinsing clean. According to Pet Partners, “Squirt a small amount of unscented liquid dish soap in the box and fill with hot water. Soak for 30 minutes to an hour.”

For extra odor elimination, you can create a cleaning solution using one part vinegar and two parts water. Spray or wipe this solution in the litter box and let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing. The vinegar will help break down stubborn urine stains and neutralize lingering odors. As Tuft + Paw advises, “For stubborn stains and odors, hot water with a bit of vinegar or hydrogen peroxide can be sprayed or wiped inside the litter box.”

Be sure to fully dry the litter box before refilling it with fresh litter. Leaving moisture inside can encourage bacterial growth. You may want to place the litter box outside in the sun or use a hairdryer to speed up drying time.

Litter Box Location Matters

The location of your cat’s litter box is an important factor that can influence whether they urinate outside of it. Cats prefer their litter box to be placed in a quiet, low-traffic area of the home. Avoid placing it near noisy appliances, next to washing machines or dryers, or close to high activity areas. The litter box should not be situated near your cat’s food and water bowls, as cats don’t like their elimination area to be too close to where they eat and drink. Make sure your cat can easily access their litter box without obstacles or closed doors in their way. The litter box should be on the same floor your cat spends most of their time.

Some good spots to place your cat’s litter box include a spare bathroom, laundry room, basement, or closet. If you keep it in a closet, make sure the door is wedged open so your cat doesn’t get locked out. Find a low-traffic corner out of the way. Ultimately you want to make the litter box location convenient for your cat to use while still keeping it tucked away out of sight.


Litter Box Size Considerations

When choosing a litter box for your cat, it’s important to select one that is an adequate size. The general recommendation is to get a litter box that is at least 1.5 times the length of your cat. This allows them enough room to turn around comfortably and fully cover their waste after using the litter box.

You’ll also want to make sure the litter box has tall enough sides, usually around 5-7 inches high. This gives your cat sufficient space to dig and cover their feces and urine without kicking litter outside of the box.

Ideally, the litter box should be large enough that your cat can enter, exit, turn around, and dig/cover waste without feeling cramped or touching the sides of the box. If the box is too small, your cat may refuse to use it or start urinating just outside the box.

Some good guidelines are getting a litter box that’s at least 24″ x 18″ for an average sized cat. Larger cats or homes with multiple cats may need even bigger boxes, like a 28″ x 20″ size. Just make sure there is ample room for your cat to comfortably move around and fully bury their waste. This can help prevent them from peeing outside the litter box.

Litter Type Preferences

The type of litter used in your cat’s box plays an important role in whether they will want to use it consistently. There are a few key factors to consider when choosing a litter type:

Clumping vs. Non-Clumping

Clumping litters form solid clumps when wet, which makes cleaning the box easier. The clumps can be scooped out, leaving clean litter behind. Non-clumping litters absorb moisture but do not form clumps. Many cats prefer clumping litter as the box stays cleaner between full cleanings.

Scented vs. Unscented

Scented litters contain fragrances to help control odor. However, some cats dislike the artificial scents and may avoid using the litter box. Unscented litters allow the cat’s own scent to remain in the box, which can encourage use. If your cat stops using its litter box after switching to a scented type, go back to unscented.

Fine vs. Coarse Texture

Fine, lightweight litters are softer on paws but may produce more dust. Coarse litters don’t track as easily out of the box and may do a better job containing odors. Kittens and cats with sensitive paws may prefer a finer texture. Offer different litters to see which texture your cat likes best.

When choosing a litter, observe your cat’s preferences. Look for signs of dissatisfaction like avoiding the box. Switching litter types may resolve litter box problems. Unscented, clumping litters with a comfortable texture work well for many cats.

When to See the Vet

If your cat suddenly stops using the litter box, it’s important to take them to the vet. A change in litter box habits can signal an underlying medical issue. According to The Spruce Pets, some signs it’s time to see the vet include:

  • Sudden change in litter box habits after consistently using the box
  • Straining or crying when trying to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent trips to the litter box with little urine passed

After ruling out factors like a dirty litter box, inappropriate location, or preference for a different litter, a vet visit can determine if your cat has a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, or other medical issues leading to inappropriate urination. Catching these conditions early is important to treat the underlying cause and help get your cat comfortably using the litter box again.

Tips to Re-train Cat to Use Litter Box

If your cat has started urinating outside the litter box, there are several tips that can help re-train them to use the box properly again:

Place extra litter boxes in the areas where your cat has been urinating. Cats don’t like to urinate where they eat and sleep, so having a litter box nearby can help redirect them [1].

Try using a cat attractant litter that contains herbs or synthetic pheromones. These can lure your cat back to the litter box [2].

Use positive reinforcement by praising your cat or giving a treat when they use the litter box. This helps reinforce the desired behavior [3].

Preventative Litter Box Maintenance

Keeping your cat’s litter box clean on a daily basis is the best way to prevent issues like inappropriate urination outside the box. According to The Spruce Pets, the litter box should be scooped at least twice per day, and more often if needed. This frequent scooping and removal of waste helps control odors and provides your cat with a consistently clean place to relieve themselves.

In addition to daily scooping, litter boxes themselves should be dumped, washed, and fully replaced with fresh litter about once per week. This weekly deep clean helps prevent the build up of odors and bacteria over time. Replacing the litter box entirely every year is also recommended, as boxes can get scratched and worn down with regular use. Having extra boxes on hand for multi-cat households can help facilitate quick swaps and washing.

With diligent daily scooping, weekly washing, and annual replacement of litter boxes, you can proactively maintain a clean litter box environment for your cat. This preventative maintenance helps avoid scenarios where a dirty box prompts inappropriate urination around the home.

Scroll to Top