Not all cats like all types of litter boxes (or litters, or locations), no matter how convenient they are for the owners.

I posted previously about one specific reason that indoor house cats might urinate on surfaces other than the litter box. But, I still get many questions about cats peeing where they shouldn’t. So, this is part 2, if you will. For background information and specifics on feline idiopathic cystitis, please read my previous post.

So, you’ve been finding pee outside the litter box. You’ve taking the kitty (or kitties) to the vet to rule out infection, cancer, etc. What now? First, you’ll need to determine:

Is He Urinating or Spraying?

Urinating outside the litter box and spray/urine marking are two distinctly different problems with different causes and different treatments. So, to treat him effectively, we need to know for sure whether the kitty is peeing or spraying.

If you see it happen, this is an easy one: is he backing his little rear up to a wall or other vertical surface, twitching his tail, and leaving urine running down that surface? If so, he’s almost certainly spraying. If he’s marching over to the corner of the rug (or onto a pile of clothes, or 6 inches from the litter box, etc.), squatting nicely, and leaving a large volume of urine behind, he’s likely peeing.

What if you never see it happen? You can still make an educated guess about whether it’s spraying or peeing.

Spraying is most often reserved for vertical surfaces and is usually in small amounts. It often happens near doorways, under windows, or by stairs; unfortunately, it can also be aimed at new household items, electrical appliances, and other items of interest to the cat. Spray marking is a message left by one cat for other cats; so those socially significant, high-traffic areas are the best places to broadcast the message.

In contrast, urination is aimed at emptying the bladder fully and, if the cat is not painful or arthritic, is performed in a squatting position. This leaves all of the urine on the floor/carpet/pile of clothes. Often, the location will be a low-traffic area and a soft substrate. The message here is not to other cats, but to you: He no longer wishes to use his litter box. Now, you must find out why.

What if He’s Spraying?

Urine marking is a normal activity in wild and domesticated felines. But, it is not desirable indoor behavior. Whether indoors or out, it’s done as a signal to other cats; and this cat’s relationship to those other cats is key to diagnosis and early treatment. It is important to note that, contrary to what many people believe, females and neutered males can participate in urine marking.

Treatment for Spraying:

First, clean up all urine with a GOOD enzymatic cleaner. My personal favorite for urine is Anti-Icky-Poo.

Next, determine whether your other cats or outdoor cats (strays, ferals, neighbors, etc.) are stressing the spraying cat. If outdoor cats are annoying him (he’s spraying mainly around exterior passage ways or sits in the window, growling), there are two good options. You can block his visual access to these other cats by using an opaque window film.  You can also keep these cats out of your yard by using a remote animal repellent device, like the Scarecrow by Contech or Spray Away by Havahart.

If your other cats are the big stressors, there are ways you can help everyone get along. First, create a “house of plenty,” in which each cat has free access to food and water dishes, litter boxes, perching spaces, hiding spots, and any other valuable resource. The goal is to prevent any bully cats from keeping other cats from the resources they need or desire.

What if “other cats” is not the problem? Determine what other things may have caused this stress: new pet, missing pet, new baby, new home, new roommates (or roommates leaving), new furniture, etc. can all cause stress in a sensitive cat. If you can determine the problem, talk to your vet about ways to address it.

If you make these changes and do not see any reduction in spraying frequency, you can discuss medications with your vet. There are a few medications that have showed improvement in spraying when combined with the plans presented above.

What if He’s Urinating?

There are several reasons a cat may vacate the litter box in search of another potty location: aversion to or preference for a specific location, substrate, or type of box; problems with litter box cleanliness; or extreme anxiety or physical pain causing problems getting to the existing boxes. To find out which cause (or causes) applies to your cat, you need to do some homework and be creative about solving the problem.

First, you must determine whether the cat is avoiding the box because he does not like its size, shape, location, litter, cleanliness, etc., or because he has developed a preference for a new location or the substrate he has begun using (carpet and clothes are the most common). Please remember that many litters and boxes are designed and marketed for the convenience of the owner, not because they are the most desirable for the cats that use them (or don’t).

Take a Good Look at Your Current Litter Box(es):

Start by taking a good look at his litter box choices:

  • Size: Most cats prefer large, uncovered boxes; if the box is too tiny or the cover prevents the cat from keeping tabs on those who might be stalking him, it is less desirable. You cat does not care that this designer box looks far better to you than the big, open box he craves.
  • Litter: Cats generally like boxes filled with a couple of inches of unscented clumping litter. Crystals or other hard substrates can be a problem for those with sensitive feet. Litters with perfumes or those that smell too much of their source materials when wet, can be less desirable, even if they mask the urine smell better than unscented.
  • Cleanliness: Cats like clean boxes; ideally, they should be scooped daily and cleaned completely with dish soap and water every week or two.
  • Location: Cats prefer someplace with good ventilation, on the quiet side, and convenient to your cat. He would probably prefer that you not put any of his litter boxes in a closet (where you will forget to clean it), beside the noisy washing machine, in the darkest corner of the basement (where you don’t even like to go), or in the kids’ bathroom (where the comings and goings are far too unpredictable). Your older, arthritic cat would like a box on each level of your home, and one especially close to the place she sleeps most of the time.

So, how do your litter boxes compare? To tell the truth, one of ours is in the kids’ bathroom; but all of our cats (even the 23 ½ year old arthritic one) would die before they would “go” outside the litter box.

Maybe Litter Isn’t What He Wants

If you check out on all of the above, maybe your cat has developed a “substrate preference,” meaning that he simply prefers peeing in the rug/fabric/potting soil he has started using. To find out, give him three identical litter boxes. Fill one with the litter you already use. Fill the second with unscented clumping litter (unless that would be the same as box one). Fill the remaining box(es) with pieces of the substrate he is currently using. Yes, I am suggesting you put a carpet remnant, your pajamas, or potting soil in those remaining boxes. Then see what he uses. You may want to confine him to a smaller space, like a bathroom or bedroom, to force him to select from among these choices. If he chooses something other than the litter, you can “convert” him to litter by putting that item on top of litter and gradually removing it.

If he chooses litter, reassess the locations and cleanliness of the boxes he usually has access to.

Maybe He Doesn’t Like Where You Put the Boxes

Really, the only way to know is to try other locations. Start by putting one where he is already urinating. I’m sure you’re thinking that the location he’s chosen would be a terrible place for a litter box. But I hate to break it to you: as far as your cat is concerned, you already have one there. So, you may as well make it official. If he starts using the box in the new location, you may choose to reassess your aversion to having a box in the formal dining room/entry way/master bedroom. Alternatively, you can try to convince him that a similar location that you find more pleasing should be just as nice for him.

The Treatment for Litter Box Avoidance.

Clean the soiled area very well. Again, an enzymatic cleaner works best. Also, try Febreeze Pet Odor Eliminator for the area around the carpet that may have absorbed the smell.

Make area less desirable by putting food, a cat bed, or plant in each place your cat has chosen to urinate. Cats do not like to eliminate when they eat, sleep, or play. Alternatively, as noted above, you can give in and put a litter box there.

If none of these things works, see your veterinarian for more suggestions and to look again for medical explanations for the problem.

There is a great resource for cat and dog owners: This site focuses on understanding the particular issues that arise from keeping bright, active, and interactive pets inside our homes for extended periods of time. The suggestions for environment and behavioral enrichment are wonderful. Enjoy!