What to Do When Your Cat Urinates Outside the Litterbox

Find out what a vet recommends to stop your cat from urinating outside the litterbox.

By Elaine Wexler-Mitchell, DVM

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Q. My cat started urinating outside the litterbox. What can I do?

Elaine Wexler-Mitchell names potential factors as to why your cat is urinating outside the litterboxElaine Wexler-Mitchell, DVM, says: Urinating outside the litterbox and spraying are two different problems. Cats urinate outside the litterbox onto horizontal surfaces, such as the floor, not onto vertical surfaces as in spraying. Inappropriate elimination is either caused by urinary tract disease or behavioral problems. Behavioral problems that may cause inappropriate elimination are difficult to determine because situations that create stress or anxiety for your cat may not be apparent to you.

Make sure that you are keeping your cat's litterbox as clean as possible by scooping it twice daily. If you changed the type of litter you use in the litterbox, your cat may not like it; cats have preferences for certain types of litter. If there are no obvious litterbox factors, have your cat examined and her urine analyzed. If urinalysis and examination uncover a medical problem, your veterinarian will make treatment recommendations.

If there are no obvious medical problems, you need to work with your veterinarian or a behaviorist to identify the factors triggering the inappropriate elimination behavior. As with other behavior problems, the best chance for stopping inappropriate elimination is with early intervention. It is unrealistic to think that a behavior pattern that has been in existence for more than a couple of weeks can be turned around within a few days, so be patient and compliant with your vet's recommendation. You will achieve the best results with a combination of behavior modification and antianxiety drug therapy. Give your cat plenty of attention and set aside at least five minutes twice a day to play with your cat to decrease stress and boredom and create a new behavior pattern.

You will need to remove urine stains and odors so that your cat is not attracted back to the same spot. Avoid cleaners with ammonia as they intensify the smell of urine and make your cat want to eliminate in the same area. In addition to cleaners, you can create an obstruction or spray a repellant on the affected area. To create an obstruction, simply close the door to the affected room, place an additional litterbox on the area, put a plastic carpet runner placed upside down on the area, lay down aluminum foil, or play with and feed your cat at the site. Repel your cat from affected areas using solid air fresheners with a fruity or flowery scent. Cats do not like fruity or flowery scents; they only like their own. There are numerous brands available in grocery and drug stores.

If these steps are not successful, you can also use herbal calming remedies and antianxiety medications along with behavior modification to treat inappropriate elimination caused by behavioral problems. Some of the prescription drugs used are amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Clomicalm), buspirone (BusPar), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluoxetine hydrochloride (Prozac). Some cats can be weaned off the medication eventually, but others need long-term treatment to keep their behavior under control. You should avoid hormone therapy for inappropriate elimination due to the potential for side effects, such as diabetes mellitus or mammary cancer. Curing an inappropriate elimination problem requires early recognition, owner commitment, and patience.

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Reprinted from Ask the Vet About Cats © 2003. Permission granted by BowTie Press.

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Reader Comments

Sara    Baxter, MN

3/30/2014 2:52:22 AM

My 3 year old cat Kevin has been peeing on the floor. This has been going on for a couple months now and it's really starting or drive me crazy. I have tried everything. First let me give you the back story. Kevin is three and I have had him since he was a kitten. I also have another cat named Doug, he is 6 and I have had since he was a baby as we'll. Both cats are neutered. We live with my grandma and have for a couple years. I would think that there is really anything new to be stressed out about in the house. I have tried so many different things. I have brought him to the vet ( they didn't really see anything) I feed him the special food for cats with urine problems, I have added another litter box, I have changed to cat litter a few times to see if he liked on of those. I have moved the litter box to a different room. Actually the only thing that did help for a little bit was laying a dog potty pad next to his cat box. It worked for a while but now he is back to peeing. Any advice? I use and enzyme cleaner on the sprot, he wears one of those collars like felliway and I have put aluminum foil down on the spots. That does deter him but he just finds a new spot. Please help

Jay    Bellevue, WA

12/7/2013 1:12:30 AM

Just checking in to see if anyone has any last advice before I take my peeing kitty to my taxidermist friend who has agreed to make a nice ornament out of her. She started peeing in a single spot on the wood floor a few months ago due to a UTI. Unfortunately she formed a habit. I've tried everything following the antibiotic treatment from new vet recommended diet to training her to pee in her box on demand on a two hour schedule. (which works if i stay endlessly on top of it. Little change twice per day, new littler brands, thorough cleaning of the area, and only in the past few days, physical punishment. (didn't work of course, now i feel like a complete jerk) Anyhow, see is now frightened of me, and very sick of being locked in the bathroom many hours a day while I'm at work. She can't go outside with the coyotes, and I can't imagine giving her away, especially since she pees. I will entertain any idea, no matter how extreme to save her life for the next week, then it's time to end her suffering. Sounds mean perhaps, but I promise, she isn't happy at this point anyhow. Some more facts: 8 year old bengal, fixed years ago, no previous issues prior to uti, regular vet visits, no neglect or abuse (until recently) no other obvious stress factors, tried moving box, tried new open box. Basically just formed a habit. Hoe do I get across to her that peeing outside box will result in termination. (btw/ there will be no more physical abuse, and if it comes to termination, it will be done by my vet in a humane way) I expect to be attacked for posting this, but that won't save the kitty. Please Help!!!

Apryl    Corona, CA

7/6/2013 11:22:48 AM

I have a cat that is about 10 years of age, we've had her for about that long as well. Up until a few weeks ago we've never had a problem with her using the litter box, now she goes everywhere. She urinates (not sprays) outside all along the hallway in front of my room, and has just now started to urinate in my room. The only thing is there is no apparent odor coming from half the stains at all. I've tried moving her food and water and litter box up into my room and sort of keeping her there to see if that would entice her to use the litter box since she sleeps in my room every night. I've tried using feliway spray and a calming collar with little to no affect. I've had her checked by a veterinarian who did examine her urine and said nothing was wrong. We've used enzymatic cleaners and those aren't helping and in order to stick tinfoil down we'd pretty much have to cover the entire carpet. I don't know what to do anymore as there are no new animals in the house or outside, and she is strictly an indoor cat and has always hated going outside. No change in her day to day routine (other than that brief couple days where we kept her near the litter box at all times) and her actual behavior has stayed the same the entire time, she still acts as she always has. It seems that there are no more solutions and I would greatly appreciate any other insight that could possibly be offered as it seems like we've tried absolutely every possible with no success.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

6/6/2013 9:08:21 AM

Jenny -- That was very kind and responsible of you to take in the pregnant cat. Were you also able to get her to the vet for spay surgery? That might be tough, but if she grew comfortable enough around you during the time she was in your house, she might let you bring her to the vet. See if there is a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area for the procedure, or whether your vet would give you a discount; this is almost a public health matter and your vet and you would be doing a good deed.

Regarding your own cats, it's understandable that they would feel threatened and thereby mark territory. Make sure any trace of Chloe is completely eliminated from the house; the scent will cause your cats to mark. Also, clean up the markings your cats have made; smelling them makes your cats think that's where they should go.

Be sure to have two litterboxes in the house for them, and give them plenty of high places to perch to establish a hierarchy. Two spayed cats can get along well in a house, and once your place is cat-pee free it should go back to normal.

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