For pet parents, there’s nothing more distressing than having your cat suddenly adopt destructive behaviors and not know why. Litterbox problems are at the top of the list for reasons people re-home cats because they are hard to diagnose and fix.
That’s why in this article, we’ll be talking about why your cat may start peeing outside his litterbox, and what you can do to stop this behavior for good.
1. Fear and Anxiety
If your pet is suddenly displaying an undesirable behavior, there’s a pretty good chance it’s related to fear or anxiety. So, this is the first thing you should be looking at.
Have you recently made a big change in your life? Maybe you’ve moved into a new house, or maybe somebody else has moved in? Maybe you’ve gotten a new animal in the home?
These changes are confusing and scary for animals, and it could be the reason your cat is peeing where they should not be!
If your cat is peeing in a secluded area of the house, like closets or tucked away corners – it’s likely they are afraid and trying to find a more secure area. Cats feel very vulnerable when they use the litter box and often seek safety to relieve themselves.
If this is the case, chances are, you’ll find some pee spots you didn’t even know about behind furniture, in tucked away closets, or other areas of seclusion in your home.
What should you do? Start by trying to move the litter box! Moving it closer to where your cat has chosen to relieve himself is a good bet.
But, if it’s not reasonable to put it exactly where they’ve been going – a place as close as you can will likely be accepted by them. Just make sure it’s out of the way of foot traffic and away from loud noises, or shared walls with neighbors if you live in an apartment.
If you’ve recently gotten another cat, it’s possible that one cat does not like sharing the litterbox! This is often called “resource” guarding, and while the term is often used in regards to food, it can very much apply to other things animals want or need too.
Cats can be very territorial, and if they perceive that box is “theirs”, then they may attack another cat they see using it. (They may also be keeping the other cat from eating, so watch their food and water intake as well!)
What should you do? Start by getting more litterboxes. Put them far away from each other and try to give the cats their own space.
It may also be necessary to separate the cats for a while and introduce them to one another more slowly. This can sometimes allow them to get more comfortable with each other without feeling as threatened.
You should also keep in mind that it can take a long time for cats to get used to each other – maybe even as long as 8 months! So, be patient with them.
3. Medical Issues
Some cats may avoid the litterbox if they have an underlying medical issue, like a painful urinary tract disorder. Cats don’t understand why this is happening to them, so they may associate the litterbox with pain and stop using it.
If you’ve noticed your cat straining when peeing, or if they can’t seem to produce much urine, a trip to the vet is recommended for their safety.
What should you do? If you’ve observed the symptoms above, go to the vet right away. A urinary tract issue like this can quickly become deadly if it gets severe. The vet can help, and your litter box issues will likely be gone as well when your cat’s pain stops.
4. Not Enough Boxes/Cleanliness
Some cats are very particular about cleanliness. If they don’t feel there is enough room to “do their business” they will pick a new spot – usually your carpet!
In other cases, cats may not like peeing and pooping in the same box. Some of them like having a separate area to do this. Why? Animals are individuals just like people, and they have their own preferences that we need to be aware of to make them comfortable sometimes.
What should you do? Add a second litter box somewhere in your home. This gives your cat more options if you are, for example, at work and can’t clean the box right away.
You should also start trying to scoop the box more regularly. A couple of times per day at least to make sure the facilities are always ready for your feline friend to use them.
Or, you can look into getting a “self-cleaning” litterbox if you can’t be around to scoop it as much as you should be due to your schedule.
5. You’ve Changed the Litter Box
Have you recently changed anything about the box? Did you buy a different litter brand? Did you remove or add a lid to it? Did you move it to a new location?
Some cats are very sensitive to these changes. If they don’t like the litter, they could suddenly decide to not use the box at all. If they are a larger cat, then a lid, or a box too close to the wall could make it hard for them to use it comfortably.
What should you do? Change it back! If what you were doing before was working, see if switching back will make your cat more comfortable. It may fix the problem.
PS. You should also keep in mind that cats are BIG on daily routines. This means that even if you fix all of the above issues, they may STILL go in the same, undesirable spot. If your whole house smells like cat urine, take steps to clean the mess or they may repeat the pattern.
The above link details the methods and products I used to clean up our cat’s messes when he adopted bad litter box habits after our move. His issue was related to cause #1, fear. Which I think is the most common cause for most people.
(In case you’re wondering, I fixed his issue by adding more litter boxes in different areas of the house. He can now pick the one where he’s most comfortable, and this approach seems to have worked out for us and him).
Cat Peeing Photo by Kerri Lee Smith – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0