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Having your cat urinate outside the litter box is one of the most challenging behavioral issues a cat owner can face. Not only can it be expensive to clean and/or replace your furniture or carpet, it can create a big rift between you and your cat.

There are many reasons your cat might stop using the litter box, some which you may not have even thought of. Though this list is by no means all-inclusive, here are five of the common reasons a cat will pee outside the box.

Health Issues

The first thing you should rule out when your cat stops using the litter box is a health issue. Things like a bladder infection, UTI, or struvite crystals often cause a cat to stop using the box. When the cat strains to urinate and it is painful, they may develop an association between the litter box and pain. You may find your cat urinating on smooth surfaces such as in your bathtub, on your linoleum, or in your laundry basket. The cat perceives these smooth surfaces as a more comfortable place to urinate. Taking your cat in to the vet as soon as you notice these symptoms is very important; fortunately, most infections can be easily treated with antiobiotics and the litter box avoidance issues should resolve on their own.

Fine grained cat litter is the most accepted litter
Photo Credit: pets.webmd.com
Type of Cat Litter

The type of cat litter you use may not seem like a big deal, but it is to your cat! One common mistake cat owners make is buying heavily scented cat litter. Most commercial litters are scented to cover up odors; this may be good for the owner, but it’s not good for the cat. Cats have a much keener sense of smell than humans, and perfumed cat litter can be absolutely overwhelming to their sensitive noses. That alone can be enough to make a cat avoid the litter box! Consider purchasing unscented cat litter for your cat’s box.

The texture of the cat litter can also be very important to your cat. Out in “the wild”, cats bury their waste in sand or another finely grained substrate. Some commercial cat litters are made of larger, hard chunks of clay that can be painful to the feet of sensitive cats. Many cats simply will not like the texture. In general, cats prefer a finely milled clay litter.  

Type of Litter Box

Many times when we choose the cat’s litter box, we choose what is convenient for our home. We fail to take into account the cat’s psychological and physiological requirements. If you notice urine or feces directly outside the litter box, do not automatically assume your cat is not using the box. They may just be using the *wrong* box for them! It is not uncommon for cats to “do their business” at the very back or very front of their litter box, thereby hanging their back end over the side of the box and missing it entirely. Sometimes this can happen due to their litter box being too small, but sometimes it can just be due to the way your cat likes to “go”.

A Rubbermaid tote litter box
Photo Credit: paws-and-effect.com
As a general rule, the bigger the litter box the better. Many owners will make their own cat box out of a Rubbermaid tote, and cut an entrance for the cat in the front. This is a good-sized container, and also can help to eliminate the problem of the cat overshooting the box. For cats that tend to overshoot, a high-walled box is best (or even a covered litter box if the cat will tolerate it.) Another general rule of thumb is that you should have as many litter boxes as you have cats, plus one. In other words, if you have two cats you should have three boxes. If you have one cat, you should have 2 boxes. And so on and so forth.

Speaking of covered litter boxes, these can also be a common reason for a cat to urinate inappropriately. In a multi-cat household, a covered litter box can make a cat feel trapped while they potty and make them feel susceptible to ambush. Rather than put themselves in perceived danger, they may just stop using the litter box altogether and find a more open place to urinate. A covered litter box can also be problematic in a single-cat household. Though we humans like the idea of keeping the cat’s waste out of sight, we must again take into account the cat’s keen sense of smell. A covered box tends to trap in odors, particularly the ammonia from urine. This can easily become overwhelming for a cat and cause them to avoid the litter box entirely. If a covered box is absolutely necessary, it should be cleaned on a daily basis and sanitized once weekly to keep odors at bay.  

Location of Litter Box

You like privacy, and so does your cat! Your cat’s litter box should always be placed in a quiet, low-traffic area of the house. Many people choose the basement, laundry room or bathroom. You should never place the cat’s litter box in a busy area of the house like a child’s playroom, and the cat should never have to cross a very busy area to get to their litter box. The box should be placed in an area where the cat can keep a lookout while he does his business. Though they’ve been domesticated for a very long time, cats still have strong survival instincts and need to be on the lookout for “predators” while they are in a place as vulnerable as their litter box. As such, the box shouldn’t be tucked away behind a curtain or in a hideaway if possible.

Homes with multiple litter boxes should also strategically place them throughout the home, on different levels and in different rooms. It may seem easiest to place several litter boxes next to each other, but doesn’t that just defeat the purpose of having multiple boxes? Many cats prefer to urinate in one box, and defecate in another. You may find that your cat likes to urinate in the litter box upstairs, while she prefers to defecate in the box in the basement. Cats like options!

It is also important to note that cats do not like to defecate in the area where they eat. Therefore, the litter box should never be placed in the same room as the food and water dishes.

Litter Box Hygiene

Thanks for keeping my potty clean!
Photo credit: consciouscat.net

Cats are impeccably clean creatures. The litter box is no exception! As a rule of thumb, a cat’s litter box should be cleaned once per day. Imagine how you would feel if you entered a restroom only to find the toilet covered with urine or overflowing with feces. You’d probably run the other way, and that’s exactly how your cat feels when the litter box gets out of hand. Your cat’s sense of smell comes into play again also, and a smelly litter box can literally make your cat turn tail and walk the other way…directly onto your carpet or couch. It’s far easier to maintain a clean litter box than to remove the smell of urine from fabric!

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