Why Is My Cat Peeing Outside The Litter Box? Here’s How To Stop It

Cat really peeing you off? I mean really? Literally, even?

It sucks when your cat doesn’t use the litter box, and if you’ve ever gone through it, you know how stressful and annoying it can be. There are several possible reasons why cats may urinate outside the litter box.

We’ll list them here first, then we’ll go into more detail below, including of course how to fix the problem and get your cat to stop peeing outside the litter box for good!

  1. A medical condition like a bladder infection or urinary tract crystals
  2. Doesn’t like the litter type, where the box is, or is actually afraid of the box
  3. Territorial marking or another behavioral thing like stressed out or fear
  4. If he’s declawed, pain could be making him do it
  5. Your kitten just hasn’t learned about litter boxes

1. Medical Conditions

In most cases when cats are doing their business outside the box, it is because of a medical problem. Although bacterial bladder infections are not common in cats, “idiopathic” urinary tract problems are extremely common. Most often they are caused by a high urine pH level, which leads to the formation of struvite crystals in the urine.

These make tiny cuts in the lining of the urinary tract, resulting in inflammation and a burning sensation.

Can you imagine how this would feel if you had it? Sounds dreadful, right? You would probably be a bit weird, too.

Left untreated, the crystals can form partial or complete blockages, which can quickly lead to death due to toxicity as the urine cannot be eliminated from the body. These conditions are very painful and the cat may avoid the litterbox because he associates it with the pain, and as a cry for help.

Like all medical cases or times when you think something is wrong, you should take the cat to the vet and ask them to run a urinalysis to check for these problems (request a complete urinalysis). They may find that he has a bladder infection and prescribe a course of antibiotics.

small cat sitting in litter box

If left untreated a bladder infection can spread to the kidneys and make her very ill and cause permanent damage to the kidneys. However if bacteria are not present, antibiotics are not necessary and instead the problem is likely idiopathic urinary disorder, and should be treated with the right diet and have the urinary pH monitored regularly and with care.

Many vets will dismiss urinary tract problems for your cat if they don’t find bacteria, because bladder issues are much more prevalent in dogs. But you should keep at them to get a diagnosis and even seek a second opinion if your vet dismisses your cat’s problem as “behavioral” without thoroughly investigating medical problems first.

Intestinal parasites and diarrhea can also lead to urination and/or defecation outside the litterbox. Bring a stool sample to your vet for analysis to be sure. If internal parasites are present, de-worming your cat will be necessary.

Diet

Always feed a premium canned food or a raw diet. These high meat protein, high moisture foods are shown to produce an acidic urine which reduces the incidence or recurrence of bladder infections. Certain dry food can lead to urinary tract problems due to chronic dehydration and the formation of an alkaline urine.

Urinary pH and L-Methionine

If your cat’s urinary pH is above 6.5, you should probably change to a grain free high-meat canned cat food, and consider supplementing with L-methionine, an amino acid that acidifies the urine.

Prescription diets are available, but these are typically over-priced and not particularly good quality cat food with added L-methionine, which you can purchase separately and mix into any canned food.

Check with your vet for dosage, 100 to 250 mg/day is a common starting point.

If you supplement your cat’s diet with L-methionine, test the pee pH at every 2 weeks to make sure it stays in the ideal range of 6.0 – 6.5. If urine pH falls below 5.5, there is a risk of oxalate crystals forming, and you need to reduce the or eliminate dosage of L-methionine.

If the urine pH is still above 6.5, you may need to increase the dosage.

Hydration

Always encourage your cat to drink as much water as possible from her water bowl or fountain.

By drinking plenty of water your cat’s urinary tract will be flushed out, helping reduce the levels of bacteria and reducing the formation of crystals in the urine.

Leave out water every day and make sure it’s either bottled fresh water or filtered water.

Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell and chlorinated tap water may discourage them from drinking. They will only drink the bare minimum of water if they don’t think it tastes/smells right.

Also you can try a cat water fountain if you’d like, cats love fresh aerated water and will drink more.

As mentioned above, canned food is the best, which is helpful because it’s a great way to increase water intake and prevent urinary tract problems. You can also mix extra water into your cat’s canned food if she needs more.

 

Supplements

Cosequin is sold by vets and online as a joint supplement, it contains glucosamine and contrition sulfate, proteoglycans which help repair joints and have an anti-inflammatory action. The lining urinary tract is also made up of proteoglycans, and feeding a joint supplement such as Cosequin can actually aid in rebuilding the lining and reducing inflammation.

All of that makes the pain and burning go away to some degree when urinating.

Herbs that can be beneficial for urinary tract problems is marshmallow root or cornsilk powder sold at health food stores. Give your cat 3-4 tablespoons of either powder daily for 7 – 10 days.

Cranberries have NOT been shown to be effective for urinary problems in cats (many humans swear by this method) and since cats don’t digest fruits well anyway, please do not give them supplements with cranberry (or the fruits themselves).

However, d-mannose, one of the active ingredients in cranberry can be bought as a powder and is very effective in most feline urinary tract infections. It interferes with the ability of pathogenic bacteria to adhere to the urinary tract lining, allowing them to be flushed out with the urine.

Give roughly 1/8 the human dose recommended on the bottle (but talk to your vet first, like usual), and make sure the supplement does not contain other active ingredients.

2. The Litterbox

Your cat may also dislike the type of litter you are using.

All cats are different, but we’ve seen some things occur more frequently than others. If your cat is having trouble and you’re using scented litter, pellet litter, pine litter, or cedar litter, try something totally different.

Something “normal” if you will. Instead stick to plain clumping litter (read our litter recommendations here).

small cat standing in litter box

Keeping the box clean and using the right litter can get your feline friend to pee in the right place again. You should have one litter box for each cat in your home. Unless you can clean a single litter box several times a day, use multiple boxes and clean them at least once per day.

Avoid small boxes or short covered boxes, your cat needs enough room to stand up and turn around comfortably. Cats don’t like to be trapped, so also try not to use one with a door on it, no matter how much it helps keep the smell away.

Location of the box can also make a difference, so experiment. Put it somewhere out of the way, quiet, private, etc., but don’t make it inaccessible. Put a few litter boxes in different areas of your home if you’ve got decent square footage.

Eliminating Traces of Urine Scent that Attract Your Cat

Clean any cat pee that may be hanging around. Really clean it so the cat can’t smell it and be attracted to it. If there’s a scent of pee there, your cat is likely to go there again…and again…and again. It’s safe to give your carpets and furniture a good spray down with some high quality carpet/furniture cleaner if you suspect there have been accidents.

3. Behavior

Perhaps counterintuitive for some of us, you should not punish your cat for going outside of the box, as they don’t respond well to negative reinforcement.

You’ll probably just make the problem worse.

If you see him have an accident, ignore him, clean up the mess immediately and pretend it didn’t happen. Trying to convey your displeasure will not help stop him – he’s not a human, and treating him as such isn’t fair for anyone.

Try to keep your cat’s life predictable and routine so stress doesn’t become a factor. Do everything at the same time every day so a habit can form. The more he feels like his life is orderly and he has control, the less likely he is to feel nervous or stressed.

The most common behavioral reason for urinating outside the litter box is hormonal – cats who are not spayed or neutered are driven to advertise their sexuality by urinating in various places. Un-neutered male cats are especially prone to this kind of territorial marking – but females may also spray.

Unspayed females in heat often urinate frequently in small amounts around the house. The solution is to get your cat spayed or neutered immediately! Preferably, cats should be spayed or neutered before they reach sexual maturity – ie around 4-5 months of age.

Females spayed before their first heat cycle have a much lower incidence of deadly breast cancer, and males neutered before sexual maturity are far less likely to spray.

Stress brought on by changes in your cat’s life, such as introducing a new pet, a new baby, or moving can bring about behavior litter box problems.

Keep in mind that your cat is not doing this to “spite” you or make you angry (remember what we said above – they’re not human and don’t have human emotions that would make them do these types of things), they just feel afraid or stressed out and this is their natural reaction to the stress.

First, try to minimize your cat’s stress by providing a quiet environment for him to relax in, such as a closed off bedroom with his own litter box.

Make transition easy (new pets or new babies…you might even consider short term caging of the new cat (not the baby!) to help this out). Make your cat’s daily schedule as predictable as possible.

In extreme ongoing cases, your cat may require medication prescribed by your vet for stress and anxiety, often referred to as “kitty prozac”.

4. Complications From Declawing

Please do not declaw. However, if you have adopted a cat who has been declawed, it may well be the reason he’s peeing outside the box.

Declawing involves the removal of the last bone in each digit (finger) of the paw. The joint is severed and the claw is removed along with the last bone which it is attached to. This extremely painful operation causes ongoing complications in many cats.

Nerve damage is a common problem and early-onset osteoarthritis is frequent.

Basically, DO NOT DO THIS.

Walking into a litter box that is more grainy and gritty than a pillow, which is I’m sure what he’d want to be walking on in this case, is going to aggravate his recently severed toes and make him hurt. If your cat is declawed and has shown an aversion to the litterbox, bring him to a vet for an exam to detect osteoarthritis, phantom pain, bone regrowths or other problems that can occur days or years after the surgery.

There may be something the vet can do to alleviate or reduce the pain. In addition using a very soft-textured clumping non-clay litter is recommended.

5. Litter-Training Kittens – How To Get Your Kitten To Not Pee Outside The Box

kittens inside the litter box

Most kittens learn from their mother how to use a litterbox. However some kittens taken from the mother early or born outdoors do not figure it out right away.

Luckily it’s much easier to train a kitten to pee in the litter box than it is to train a puppy not to pee all over the house!

  • Confine the kitten(s) in one room with the litterbox
  • Gently place them in the box right after each meal.
  • Use a litterbox they can easily get in and out of, and do not use clumping clay litter for kittens (they can choke on it. Remember, they’re just small and don’t know not to eat it in some cases).
  • If you allow the kitten out into a large area he may get lost and not find his way back to the box in time when nature calls, so gradually allow him out for longer periods once he is using the box.

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Emily Parker
 

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!

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C.A.R.E. - January 15, 2017

Good article. Especially appreciated bringing up the usually taboo subject of declawing and litter box issues.

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