Cat peeing outside the box

Why is my cat inappropriately eliminating (not using the litter box)?

The text in italics is from my (Rebecca, cat trainer) personal experiences with my cats over the years. 

First things first, contrary to popular belief cats do NOT pee on your things out of spite.

  • Rule out a medical explanation. Time to go to the vet!

The first thing to always rule out is a medical explanation. Any number of medical issues can cause a cat to not want to use their litter box. Urinary tract infections and blockages can make it hurt to go, and cats learn to associate that pain with the litter box. Vets also can offer advice if it turns out to be a behavioral issue. 

*Urinary blockages are an EMERGENCY! This is not something that can wait until Monday or even wait until the morning. They need to be seen immediately or they could die.  

I noticed blood in my girl Chi’s pee. I rushed her to the vet and it turns out she had cystitis or what they sometimes call angry bladder. This tends to be caused by stress. We had just gotten rid of her favorite scratching post, and we hadn’t replaced it yet, and it turns out as soon as we got her a bunch of scratching posts, she was back to her normal self! Cystitis can also be a cause of cats not using the litter box.

My boy Zuni was peeing in random places. I’ve never had this issue with him before. I got him a vet appointment ASAP, and it turns out he had a urinary tract infection. He was treated for that and he went right back to using his box.

My boy Knuckles started using a random corner of the living room as his litter box. He then started just going wherever he was at the time. Unfortunately, my blind, old, declawed (before I got him), broken-jawed (hit by a car and unable to be fixed also before I got him) boy was at the end of his life. We think he might have had a stroke or something because he just wasn’t himself anymore.  

  • Are they peeing or are they spraying?

Both are gross when they aren’t in the litter box, but determining this can really help figure out why they are doing it. Peeing involves squatting. This is how cats normally relieve themselves. Spraying they are standing up backed up to the thing they are spraying, tail upright and often twitching, and they spray a stream of urine. Peeing is relieving themselves or potentially marking an item as theirs. Spraying is always a cat marking something as theirs. 

I’ve seen cats spray at the shelter many times before, especially shortly after their neuter. It takes about a month for their hormone levels to come down, so when fixed as an adult, some still have that sassy dominant male need to mark things as theirs. Remember when you get your cat fixed, it will take some time for their hormones to level out. 

  • What is causing the behavior?

There are a lot of reasons why a cat might not be using their litter box. 

Intact cats

Cats that aren’t spayed or neutered are MUCH more likely to spray, because they are much more territorial. Spay/neuter offers a lot of medical benefits as well. Please spay/neuter your cat! Animal overpopulation is also a HUGE issue! Again, remember it will take some time for their hormones to level off, so you might not see an immediate change after they are spayed/neutered, but in time it should help.

Declawed cats

One of the many reasons why we discourage declawing cats aside from it only having negative effects on the cat is that it makes them twice as likely to have litter box issues. Their feet are always more sensitive, thus you have to be very conscious of that when picking what kind of litter to use. Something softer tends to be their preference. 

Unhappy with the litter box

Cats can be very particular about their litter boxes. One sign your cat might not be happy with the type of litter or how clean the litter box is, is going near but not in the box. 

*Bear in mind, all cats are different. Some might be fine with an automatic or a small litter box. Some might be fine with only one litter box. These are just some tips for what cats commonly prefer. 

Some common problems:

  • The box is too small. The litter box should be 1.5x the length of the cat. If the box is too small, they may overshoot or be uncomfortable using it. 
  • They don’t like a lid on the box. Some cats do not like feeling so confined and only having one exit to their litter box. Lids can also contribute to respiratory issues with the dust being so contained. 
  • You changed something with their litter box. Whether it’s the box, the type of litter, or the location of the box (more on this later), making changes can cause your cat to not want to use the box. Use what your cat prefers.
  • Automatic scooping litter box scared them. Most cat trainers highly recommend against automatic litter boxes. If it goes off while the cat is in it, that can traumatize them. The noises they make can also scare them away. (Not to mention they are really difficult to clean, which can result in disease). 
  • Not enough litter boxes. The typical rule is one litter box per cat +1. E.g. 2 cats means 3 litter boxes. No matter how often you scoop the box, if one cat has to go and the other is in the box, what are they supposed to do? This also helps with any sort of territorial issues. There should also be at least one litter box per floor. Some cats are fine with their box in the basement, but expecting them to go from the third floor to the basement to use the box is unrealistic.
  • Dirty box. If your cat is not happy with how often the box is cleaned, they may choose to go elsewhere. 

Location of the litter box

The location of the litter box is extremely important. They need to be in places that are convenient for the cat. 


  • Put the litter box somewhere where the cat is not comfortable, such as:
    • High traffic areas 
    • Places where other pets and young children can bother them when they are trying to use it
    • Somewhere very out of the way (like a basement) 
    • Places where they could easily be cornered


  • Have litter boxes in multiple places
  • Have litter boxes in/near places where the cat spends a lot of time
  • Have litter boxes in places where other pets and small kids can’t bother them
  • Pay attention to your cat’s preference for size and type of litter box, type of litter, and location preferences. Each cat may have different preferences. 


A note on toilet training cats: don’t! The majority of cats IF they are open to training get to the last phase then stop using it all together. It is also extremely unnatural for cats to perch on the edge of a toilet, and it can be very difficult for cats as they get older. This also puts them at risk of falling in which is extremely traumatic, and will typically result in them no longer using it. If you have a cat, you need to accept that they need a litter box. 

Common causes for behavioral issues

Change in the household. 

Is there a new person in the household? Be it a new baby or adult, changes in the home can be stressful for cats. Here is a great article on preparing ahead of time to bring home your new baby. Slow introductions between your cat and your new baby are extremely important. Never force your cat to be around your baby, and always give your cat a place to get away from them if they want to. Cats and babies/young children should never be left alone together until the child is old enough to understand and respect the cat’s boundaries and body language.

If you are planning to have a child or adult move in, if possible bring an item of theirs like a shirt they have worn ahead of time to help allow the cat to get used to their scent before they are living with them. 

If you are having litter box issues after a new person moves into the home, the best thing you can do is create a positive association with the new person. Doing things like having them feed or play with the cat if possible can help a ton if the cat is comfortable with that. Allowing the cat to come to them is very important. You should never force interaction with your cat. 

(See below for more information about potential stress from bringing a new animal into the house)

Moving/going to a new home

Sometimes the stress of moving or going to a new home (e.g. after adoption or being purchased from a breeder) can cause a cat a lot of stress, which can result in inappropriate elimination. This is why it is always a good idea to keep your cat confined to a smaller space when you first move/take them home. Here you can find a blog post with some tips on first bringing home a new cat, which also applies to moving.

More troubleshooting

  • If they have a spot they commonly use, try putting a litter box there, then slowly move it to a more convenient location.
  • Try Cat Attract Litter or something else that entices the cat to use the litter box. 
  • Play therapy – Cats greatly benefit from dedicated playtime each day. It depends on the cat how much play they require in a day, but one to two 15 minute play sessions per day is usually a good bet. Young kittens and energetic breeds like Bengals may need more. These play sessions should keep your cat engaged and can include something like playing with a wand toy, laser pointer, or chasing toys around. Part of the point is you are spending time dedicated just to them. A tired cat who has spent a good amount of time with their owner tends to be much better behaved than a bored and lonely cat. 

Territorial issues – in house (multiple boxes, separate bowls to reduce competition) & outside (feral or wildlife)

Even spayed or neutered, some animals will mark their territory with urine if they feel their territory is threatened. This can be because of a new animal in the house or a new animal outside. 

Bringing home a new pet (even if they have lived together previously) can also be a source of stress for your cat. A slow introduction or reintroduction can work wonders. Here you can find a blog post with more information about introducing/reintroducing both cats and dogs to your cat. Never force interactions between your pets. They should be allowed to get to know each other at a pace they are both comfortable with, and they should be given a safe space to retire to if they get too stressed. 

Wildlife and feral or stray cats near your home can also be a source of stress for your cat. Peeing near doors or windows could be a sign that something outside is what has your cat worked up. Especially if they are not fixed, a neighborhood cat could be bothering your cat even if they are strictly indoors. If the cat is a stray and you have the means to catch them, contact CCHS to see if we have space to take them. Please do not trap cats if you do not have somewhere you know they can go. It is unfair for the poor cat to be stuck in a live trap for an extended period of time. In order to discourage wildlife from hanging out near your home, make sure garbage is in secure bins. Covering any spaces like under porches to prevent wildlife from making homes there can help as well. Covering windows can be beneficial while trying to deal with the problem animal outside, but bear in mind cats have extremely sensitive noses, and they might still know there is something outside. 

If you need additional advice, feel free to contact me, Rebecca! My email is asstmanager@cchumane society, and my work cell number (text only) is 906-901-4510

Author: Rebecca Brink, CCHS assistant manager and ABC Certified Cat Trainer