Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box?

It could be due to illness, stress, the litter box itself

While there are endless beautiful benefits to cat ownership, the old litter box is not one of them. It’s the part that you – perhaps literally – hold your nose and power through. As unpleasant as it can be, it’s worth it to have cats in our lives. However, that tedious chore can become too much when your cat starts peeing outside of the litter box. This can come out of nowhere and be confusing, but there are a number of possible explanations for this behavior. There’s also a number of things you can do to both correct and prevent it.


Most concerning of the explanations for peeing outside the box is an illness. If you’ve weighed your options and can’t think of why your cat is now doing this behavior, a vet visit might clear up the situation. If your cat is showing other signs of discomfort, such as weight-loss, excessive thirst, or lethargy, it’s even more important to get him checked out. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common cause for peeing outside of the box. Sometimes these infections are caused by bladder stones or other blockages. Be watchful of how often your cat goes to use the litter box, as frequent attempts to urinate are another symptom of a UTI. With older cats, worsening arthritis can deter them from climbing upstairs to a litter box, or even from climbing into a more difficult one. If you suspect medical issues may be to blame, talk to your vet about your concerns.

Dirty Litter Boxes

As made clear by their frequent self-cleaning, cats love cleanliness. If your cat feels you’re not doing quite a sufficient job of cleaning his litter box, he may protest by going outside of it. Cats don’t like to step in their own waste – in fact, they make an effort to cover it up. Sometimes even the smell of urine on the floor around the box is enough to make a cat utilize the floor instead of the box. This problem is the easiest to fix. Try cleaning your box thoroughly twice a day and scrubbing the area around it. Cleanse everything deeply so that there’s no hint of a smell on the floor. It could be that a more aggressive cleaning routine is all that’s required to fix this pesky problem. It’s also worth noting that many people have two litter boxes per cat, which can decrease the chances of your cat becoming frustrated. With two options instead of one, your cat can always opt for the cleaner box.


If we were able to ask, cats might tell us they hate change as much as they love cleanliness. Due to their strong sensitivity to change, cats can be easily set off by any developments in the house. A new person in the home can be enough to knock your cat off balance, though it’s much more likely that a new animal will do that. Even if your cat feigns indifference to a new pet, he may choose to de-stress by marking outside of the box. If that new pet is a cat, this is another situation in which multiple litter boxes are a good idea. Generally speaking, cats don’t want to share their private box with any fellow felines. Multiple boxes will be absolutely imperative if you notice a confrontation near the litter box. Cats are not going to want to go in the same place where they had an upsetting interaction, whether it was with another cat or not.

The Litter Box Itself

Today there are about a million and one options for litter box designs. As cats have increased in popularity, so have the merchandise choices. Some people even build their own boxes, out of materials as simple as a rubber box. While some of them can be cute or amusing, focus on function over “wow” factor. Consider the personality of your cat as well – some cats may appreciate a closed box with a dome roof, while others prefer full visibility. Although the sides can be raised to help keep the mess in, make sure at least the front entrance has a low enough wall for a cat to easily step inside. Aim for as large of a box as you can conveniently fit in your home. Cats can be deterred by having too small of a space to do their business.

Litter Options

As for the litter itself, there are nearly as many choices for that as there are litter box designs. There are pros and cons to each kind, so the best thing to do is experiment for yourself. Your cat may hate non-clumping clay and only use the box when it’s filled with pine litter. Maybe you prefer walnut shells, but your cat insists upon recycled paper. Try a few different options until you settle on one and be prepared to change it if your cat turns up his nose.


Location is everything. Even if you have the finest litter box available and clean it constantly, your cat won’t want to use one in the wrong place. Place the box in a quiet area of the house. Make sure it’s a location where your cat feels comfortable, or else he will be too nervous to complete the somewhat vulnerable act of relieving himself. Avoid putting it near loud appliances, such as a dishwasher or washing machine. Glass doors and large windows should also be avoided, as the outdoors can be distracting or anxiety-inducing. Even though you want the box to be in an isolated place, make sure that it isn’t too far out of the way. For example, don’t put it on a different level of the house than the cat usually lives. It’s inconvenient to travel too long of a distance. For senior cats, climbing stairs can be downright painful. Additionally, a box kept far out of sight may be easy to forget to clean.

Consider All Your Options

Even though we can now even buy self-cleaning boxes, it’s not uncommon to run into litter box woes. If you’ve explored all of the options and your cat still insists upon peeing outside of the box, it’s time for a vet visit. Even if your cat shows no other symptoms of distress, it’s worth getting the “all-clear” from a professional. After that, if problems persist, you could also ask a cat behaviorist for assistance. An expert can take a look at your home and may be able to notice something you’ve missed.

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