Cat Litter Box Problems

cat looking at camera

By: Dr Sarah-Jane Molier

Toileting outside of the litter box is one of the most common behavioral problems seen in cats. So you are not alone if you are experiencing this! There are many possible reasons that your cat may be soiling the house, instead of using their litter box. There are behavioral causes, but importantly there are also some medical causes. Fortunately, most litter box problems can be resolved, once the cause has been discovered.

Why is my cat peeing outside the litter box?

The underlying reasons for your cat toileting in the house can be broadly separated into medical or behavioral causes.

Medical causes

Any illness which causes your cat to drink, and therefore urinate, more can cause inappropriate toileting. Common examples would be kidney disease or diabetes. Cats will usually only urinate in a clean litter box. So, if they are peeing lots, then finding a clean tray can become tricky.

Cystitis, which means inflammation of the bladder, or a water infection can also be the culprit. If your cat urinates in the litter box and it hurts, they may then develop a negative association with the box.

Digestive issues can cause inappropriate toileting. For example, diarrhea can cause a cat to be caught short! Whereas constipation can be painful and lead to a reluctance to use the litter box, if they remember the pain of toileting in there previously.

Cognitive dysfunction (senility) can cause an elderly cat to forget how to use a litter box, so they toilet wherever takes their fancy.

Arthritis is a common one. If your cat has stiff or painful joints, then they may find it harder to step into some types of litter box. This can also happen with injuries or any condition causing pain.

Behavioral causes

Stress can cause cats to urinate— and sometimes defecate (poo)— around the house. It can also cause them to urine ‘spray’, in order to mark their territory. Stress in cats can be brought on by new furniture, a new addition to the family, or something as simple as a slight change in their routine. In multicat households, competition with another cat can cause great stress.

Litter box issues can cause a cat to toilet elsewhere. Your cat may not like their litter material, for example. Although much more pleasant for us, cats tend to dislike the smell of scented litter. Some cats have their own preference as to the feel of the litter, with many preferring sand. Many cats dislike hooded litter boxes, since it means they cannot see any potential threats approaching.

Not enough choice is another common cause. Cats won’t toilet in a dirty box! So, if you’re out and they’ve already used their only litter box, they are stuck for options.

My cat is toileting in the house: what should I do?

Cats often get a bit of a bad reputation! Firstly, be reassured that your cat is not acting out of spite or being naughty. Never punish your cat or rub their nose in it, this is guaranteed to leave you with a stressed kitty and make the behavior worse.

Try to figure out if your cat is toileting outside of the litter box or urine marking. So, how do you tell the difference? A cat ‘sprays’ urine as a way of marking their territory. The urine will usually be on vertical objects, as the cat will lift their tail and aim the urine backwards. If your cat is urinating and/or defecating on the floor, this is more likely to be inappropriate toileting.

Next, it’s time for a checkup with your veterinarian. They will test your cat’s urine and possibly run some bloods, to rule out medical causes. Clues that your cat may have an underlying medical condition include:

  • Increased drinking and/or urinating (peeing)
  • Needing to urinate more than usual
  • Blood in their urine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy, or sleeping more than usual
  • Weight loss
  • Other symptoms at the same time, such as sickness or diarrhea

Make a note of any changes to their routine and let your veterinarian know at the appointment. If your cat has an underlying medical condition, then treating the condition often resolves the toileting issue.

How can I stop my cat from peeing in the house?

If your cat is urinating or defecating (pooing) in your home, naturally this is frustrating. With time, patience and some help from your veterinarian it is possible to reverse this behavior. So don’t despair!

If your veterinarian has ruled out a medical cause, here are some tips for preventing your cat from toileting in the house:

  • Prevention is better than cure, so try to address any issues as soon as they happen and before they become habit. If your cat toilets somewhere inappropriately, immediately clean the area with pet-safe deodorizing cleaner. If your cat can still smell where they have been, the scent will signal to them that this is their toilet area now. Make sure the cleaner doesn’t contain bleach or ammonia, since these can smell like cat urine.
  • Ensure you are offering enough choice. You should have one litter box per cat, plus one extra, ideally spread out with one on each floor.
  • Try placing a litter box in the area your cat is choosing to inappropriately toilet.
  • Avoid scented litters or any form of litter tray liner. Although more convenient for us, cats tend to dislike them!
  • Use your cats preferred litter material and depth of litter. If you aren’t sure then pay attention to where they choose to toilet around the home. Is it on soft bedding or hard tiles? Use this to help guide your choice. You could place two litter boxes next to each other, but with different litter inside, and see which your cat chooses.
  • Ensure your litter trays are large enough. Many on the market are not large enough for an adult cat to turn around in. if you’ve ever watched your cat pee, you’ll know this is an important part of the toileting process! If your tray has a hood, consider using an open one.
  • If your cat is elderly or has an injury, ensure the sides of the litter box are low enough that your cat can easily step into it.
  • Place litter trays away from food, water and their bed. Cats will not eat or sleep and toilet in the same place.
  • Clean the litter tray regularly. Cats are very clean, fastidious creatures and will not toilet in a dirty box! Scoop regularly (at least twice a day) and wash the box with mild dishwashing liquid weekly. Avoid using scented cleaners, which may deter your cat.
  • Consider using natural calming products to ease any stress, such as pheromone plug-ins.


Cat litter box problems can be very stressful for pet parents. Take comfort that they are common, and you are not alone! Be sure to take your cat for a veterinary checkup, to rule out any medical causes. Remember not to get cross or punish your cat, as this usually makes the problem worse.

Every cat has unique needs and preferences; it’s a matter of finding out what they are. If your veterinarian has ruled out medical causes and you’ve tried all these tips, but your cat is still toileting in the house, then talk to your veterinarian about a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.

Related Posts
  • Pearly Whites: The Importance of Dental Care for Your Furry Friends Read More
  • Your Pet’s Wellness Exam: Why We Recommend Regular Wellness Exams and Screening Tests Read More
  • Mobility Issues in Dogs and Cats Read More