How to stop a cat from peeing outside of the litter box

Cat peeing out of the box“My cat pees outside of his litter box!” This is one of the most common complaints of pet parents. Many of these pet parents do not know that the solution might be simpler than they thought, even if their cat has urinated out of the box for almost his entire life. In this article, you are going to learn how to stop a cat from peeing in the house.

1. Check your cat for medical problems.

Before you even start dealing with your cat’s problem, you must check whether he is okay, in medical terms. Even if your cat looks fine, sometimes only an extensive veterinary examination can reveal the full picture. Why is this important if your cat is eliminating out of the box?

Peeing out of the box is one of the most common medical signs of trouble in cats. In most cases, it happens due to painful urination, too-frequent urination, or urinary incontinence, and a veterinary visit should be made before attempting to correct your cat’s behavioral problem.

That, of course, does not mean that you cannot improve your cat’s litter box habits or switch the litter type to a more accepted one, but if you are able to diagnose the true cause of your cat’s litter box problems, you will also be able to escape a ton of misery and frustration.

Visit a veterinarian, regardless of whether your cat has suddenly developed litter box avoidance or has avoided the litter box since the beginning of time. Be especially attentive if your older cat starts peeing everywhere.

2. Find the true cause of your cat’s litter box avoidance and solve it.

After you rule out medical problems, it’s necessary to find out why your cat is eliminating outside of the litter box. Only then will you be able to solve the problem.

Bad kitty peeing out of box
Cats never pee out of the box because they are bad. There’s always a logical explanation.

The most common possible reasons why cats urinate out of the litter box are:

  • Medical. We mentioned this cause above.
  • Untidy litter box. Scoop at least twice daily.
  • Bad litter box location. The box may be too distant or too inaccessible, or there may be too few boxes in the house.
  • Territorial issues. Problems often arise when there are too few boxes in the house. Make sure to have as many boxes as possible in different parts of your house.
  • Problems with the litter type. Suspect this cause if your cat pees right next to the litter box or steps inside it with his front paws only. See our comparison of the most common cat litter types.
  • Stress. Read more about possible stressors here.

We have tried to give some instructions on how to fix issues that cause your cat to urinate outside of the litter box. However, you should be aware that this is the moment when you have to do some thinking on your own, because we cannot describe each scenario. If you want to find out more about possible causes of litter box avoidance, click here.

After you have solved the cause, it’s highly likely that your cat will stop urinating outside of the litter box. If that does not happen, there are two possibilities:

  1. Something else is causing your cat to pee everywhere. Review possible causes again.
  2. Your cat is peeing on your carpet out of habit. Continue reading below.

3. Properly clean the locations where your cat has urinated.

Cats naturally have several reasons for using the same toileting location over and over again. One of the most prominent is that it helps to keep most of the other areas clean. Kittens usually learn to use the litter box as young as three weeks of age—as soon as their sense of smell has developed enough to sense the elimination site.

That’s right. Cats in nature, like house cats, have “litter boxes,” or elimination sites where they go almost every time. They find these sites with the help of their nose. If it smells like pee, it’s a good place to pee.

We hope you get the connection, because this is what makes your cat choose the same corner to pee in over and over again.

To stop your cat from peeing outside of the litter box, you have to remove the urine smell.

How do you clean cat urine? Unfortunately, cleaning the floor or the furniture with water and soap, or even bleach, may not be enough.

Household detergents will not eliminate cat urine odor completely.

These products may get rid of dirt, grime, and grease in just minutes, and they will also smell nice, but your cat will not agree.

Your cat’s nose is way stronger than yours, and even if a tiny molecule of cat urine is left in the carpet, your cat will sense it. Remember, a cat’s urine is made to mark territory; it smells strong, and it lasts long.

Instead, you will need a cleaner that is intended to eliminate pet urine odor. Such cleaners are usually sold in pet stores.

Pet urine odor removers do not overwhelm scents, like most household cleaners do. Your cat would be able to detect the scent anyway, as we already mentioned above. Most of these products use compounds that break down the scent-causing molecules, thereby actually cleaning your carpet and not just making it smell nice.

Most of these products need to be sprayed on the contaminated area. Enzymes or bacteria present in the detergent will break down molecules that cause the odor. However, with whatever product you choose, be sure to read the instructions on the label carefully.

You can find more information about cleaning cat’s urine stains here.

But how do you know where to clean?

If you are dealing with a fresh urine spot, it’s easy. But did you notice we said that a cat’s urine lasts a long time? A cat’s urine can actually last for several months after the elimination, therefore reinforcing the purpose of this specific location to your cat. Unfortunately, this means that you will need to clean all locations where your cat has eliminated in the past several months.

How you do that? Your memory may not be good enough to remember every location. And you can’t see your cat’s urine glowing in the dark, can you? Well, actually, you can!

LED UV lamp
LED UV lights are ideal for finding even old cat urine stains.

Your cat’s urine contain compounds that glow under a black light, also known as UV light. This type of light is used by crime scene investigators to locate blood, semen, and other body fluids. Black light is also widely used to prevent money counterfeiting and is used in the medical field as a disinfectant.

Nowadays black light LED lamps are widespread, affordable and work well, but pay attention to the mentioned wavelength, expressed in nanometers. What you need is a black light with a wavelength of 365 nanometers, which is a proper UV light.

We won’t go into much detail here. Using a UV lamp to find your cat’s urine stains is as easy as point-and-see. You can find more information about black lights here. All you need to know is that your cat’s urine will glow a yellowish color. The fresher the stain, the brighter the color.

After you have found the locations that still contain your cat’s urine, you have to clean them properly, as described above. Or, if using a black light reveals too much, simply make a decision to replace the carpet.

The takeaway is, your house should not smell like cat pee so as to stop your cat from peeing everywhere.

4. Create a new association in your cats mind with the location previously peed on.

Now that the older location is clean, your cat will no longer identify it as a litter box by smell. That’s good, but that is not all. Out of habit, your cat also knows it’s a great location for elimination. How do you change that?

You have to erase your cat’s memory. (Just kidding!) So how do you make your cat forget what purpose this location used to serve in the past? By assigning this location a new purpose—a better one that conflicts with the previous purpose.

There are several places where a cat would not pee in the wild:

  • Where he or she sleeps, because it’s unhygienic and because the urine smell will attract predators such as wolves, foxes, and others that cats are afraid of
  • Where he or she drinks, because drinking urine is not healthy
  • Where he or she hunts or eats, because the urine scent will scare the prey away

You can move your cat’s bed or drinking station to the place where he previously eliminated, but nothing works as well as turning that site into a hunting ground. No, you don’t have to bring mice home, but some toys that look like mice will be good.

The real benefit lies in playing and feeding. Remember, playing is hunting!

Cat playing
Play with your cat in locations where he used to pee, and you’ll see a decrease in this behavior.

If you are able to get your cat to pounce on, catch, and bite the toy in the location previously used as a toilet, you are making your cat think, “Hey, here are some mice. Maybe this is not a good place to leave my urine scent.”

So how do you play with your cat? You will need an interactive toy, which is a fishing pole type or a “toy on a stick.” Try to move it like real prey would move: slide it across the floor, make slow movements, and stop every now and then. Always move the toy away from or along your cat, but not toward him. It’s a stupid mouse that runs toward a cat, and evolution has long since wiped those out.

Very important: let your cat gaze at the toy, jump on it, and bite it. This is the sweet sound of success in your cat’s head. He or she jumped on something that was moving. In order to not scare that thing’s “friends” away, peeing should not be done here.

Follow this action with a treat. You can go with your cat’s regular food or an additional treat. Just remember to decrease the amount of your cat’s daily food intake accordingly.

How often should you play with your cat? As always, we must say that the more the better, but try to make it at least daily for fifteen minutes. Or three times a day for five minutes (yes, even if you are busy, five minutes is better than nothing).

If, for some reason, you see that your cat is reluctant to play in the specific location, initiate the play somewhere else. Then, over time, move closer to that spot. Check here for other tips that will make even the laziest cat get crazy for toys.

5. Make your cat’s litter box more desirable.

Even if your cat now uses the litter box after implementing the above steps, there are still some things you can do to make his experience in there nicer. These measures will not only make your cat less stressed or more comfortable, but they will also ensure that out-of-the-box incidents do not happen again.

The best things you can do are to clean the box twice daily and keep it clean (see here to make scoooping less frustrating), have more than one box (especially if you have more than one cat), and remove the hood if your cat’s box has one. Besides that, there are some more tweaks you can do to make your cat’s toilet visits more pleasurable and prevent him from urinating outside the litter box.

This article is a part of a series about cat litter box problems.