We’ve all heard horror stories of Fido the dog peeing on the carpet, but for some reason, there isn’t as much public discussion of Fluffy the cat urinating outside the litter box.
Despite this, a cat peeing outside its designated spot could be a sign that something is wrong. Inverse breaks down the reasons why your cat might be displaying this behavior and how to help your feline pee in peace.
Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box?
“There are so many different reasons for why a cat may eliminate outside of the litter box,” Katherine Pankratz, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, tells Inverse.
One reason could be obvious: A medical ailment is preventing your cat from peeing properly in the litter box or causing them to urinate uncontrollably. Common medical issues affecting urination in cats include:
- Bladder stones or inflammation
- Urinary tract infections
- Thyroid disease
If your cat has an undiagnosed medical condition, you may notice them “straining to pee or trying to pee frequently with very little output,” says Bonk. Their pee may also appear cloudy or bloody or smell strange. Either way, you should consult a veterinarian immediately.
“Once a cat is reliably going in the litter, then any change in that behavior indicates an issue,” Molly DeVoss, a certified feline training specialist who runs the nonprofit Cat Behavior Solutions, tells Inverse.
“To rule out a health condition, the first thing to do is visit your veterinarian for a physical exam and urine test,” Lindsay Butzer, a veterinarian affiliated with pet company Zesty Paws, tells Inverse.
If your veterinarian is able to rule out physical ailments, then the cause of your cat’s unusual urination may be rooted in behavioral issues. An untidy litter box (skip ahead to the end of this article for more information), moving to a new house, or introducing other pets into the home can all be triggers for this behavior.
“Cats are most comfortable when there is routine in the home. When things are not as they should be, cats may express their concern by urinating outside the litter box,” DeVoss says.
Bonk says that stressors can “make a cat ‘act out’ and pee elsewhere to try to get the owner’s attention.”
Is my cat trying to mark its territory by peeing?
There’s another reason why your cat might be peeing outside the litter box: territorial insecurity. When cohabitating with other cats, or even seeing other felines out the window, your pet might display territorial behavior such as peeing.
“It’s important to deter community cats from crossing your yard where your cat can see them,” DeVoss says.
If you have more than one cat at home, make sure you have more than one more litter box. For a multi-cat household, DeVoss also suggests keeping uncovered litter boxes spread throughout the home, with no opportunities for other pets to obstruct them.
“In your home, if there is one cat subtly bulling the other, he won’t want to go into a box where he is trapped and vulnerable for an ambush,” DeVoss says.
Why is my cat peeing on the bed?
One common place where cats will pee is on the bed. According to DeVoss, peeing on the bed could be a sign of separation anxiety.
“Cats will urinate on objects that smell like you (bed, clothes, shoes) in an attempt to bond with you,” DeVoss adds. Other issues that could lead to urinating on the bed include an unclean litter box or another bullying cat in the home, leading your frightened pet to pee in the safest and easiest place: your bed.
How can I get my cat to stop peeing everywhere?
Since there’s no single reason why cats might be exhibiting this behavior, you should consult with your veterinarian once you notice it to troubleshoot potential solutions.
Pankratz also recommends picking up the book Decoding Your Cat by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists for additional tips.
“The first step should be to consult with your primary veterinarian to ensure or rule out any potential underlying health reasons for this behavior and to diagnose the underlying cause for why your cat is eliminating outside her litter box,” Pankratz says.
Why is my cat avoiding the litter box?
Unlike other species, cats don’t typically need potty training.
“Kittens naturally begin to use the litter box once they are weaned; there shouldn’t be much training to it,” DeVoss says.
It’s important that you find a litter box that meets your cat’s highly specific preferences, including box size, litter type, placement, and accessibility. Some cats may want more room to turn around, so consider investing in a bigger litter box with some privacy.
Pankratz suggests placing multiple litter boxes in separate rooms and on each floor of the house, but don’t put them in places where your cat never visits or in busy areas. If you have an older cat, make sure they can get over the sides of the litter box. Make sure that a door isn’t obstructing the entrance to the litter box.
“In general, cats prefer larger, uncovered litter boxes placed in quiet places away from their food and water,” Butzer says.
If your cat is avoiding the litter box, you may also want to try swapping out the litter for another.
According to Bonk, if your cat is peeing in potted plants, they may be signaling you should buy litter with a dirt-like consistency.
“Some cats are very picky about the texture, size, weight, or smell of their litter,” Bonk says.
Bonk adds you can also try sprinkling catnip or various cat attractant products to make the litter box more appealing. Meanwhile, Pankratz suggests that most cats prefer unscented granular litter, but there’s less consensus on whether felines like open or covered litter boxes. In the end, try various options to see what suits your pet best.
“Many cats find litter liners a deterrent to the box as it feels unusual to their paws and may snag their claws so avoid litter liners,” Pankratz
It’s also possible your feline is avoiding the litter box because of your poor housekeeping. Pankratz says you should be refreshing the litter monthly and scooping the box clean daily.
Bonk suggests pet owners try cleaning the litter box more frequently or disinfecting the entire box rather than just scooping out the droppings. DeVoss adds that it may be helpful to keep a very small amount of waste in the box so your cat can smell the litter box and know where to do its business.
“Cats like to keep their spaces tidy, and if their box isn't cleared of waste often enough, they may opt to go elsewhere,” Butzer says.