It’s not the most welcome of developments – a cat that decides to pee outside of the litter box. Besides, it defeats the purpose of a litter box altogether. Then there is the mess. The odor. So why some cats choose to pee where designated? Is something up? How can you get your cat to stop? Well, here is everything you are going to want to know. And do.
So, why does my cat not pee in the litter box? Cats may not pee in the litter box if they don’t like the kind of box, the location, the litter, or the surroundings. It could also be a medical problem (such as a UTI, digestive tract issues, diabetes or thyroid/kidney issues).
At the end of the day, this is something you are going to want to nip in the bud as soon as you can.
So to help you do so, let’s continue to explore the potential reasons further before turning to how to respond in each context.
Reasons Why A Cat May Not Pee In The Litter Box
Your cat may not pee in the litter box because they don’t like its location, size, or litter. Sometimes a cat can have a frightening experience in or near their litter box. Other times there’s a medical issue.
They Don’t Like Where You’ve Put the Litter Box
It could be your cat doesn’t like where you’ve placed its litter box.
There are a few things about the location that might put your cat off peeing in it, such as:
The Area Smells Bad
Maybe there’s something near the litter box that has a smell that your cat doesn’t like.
If you have an air freshener nearby (never a good idea for a healthy cat), your cat probably finds the smell too strong.
After all, their noses are much more sensitive than ours, and there are smells we like that they don’t.
If there are any smells of citrus, for example, that can have the opposite effect on your cat – they will stay away to avoid the smell!
The Area Is Too Noisy/Busy
Cats are sensitive creatures who react strongly to any changes in noise levels – it could be the litter box is in a part of your home with lots of comings and goings, which can put them off.
Or maybe there’s a window nearby where your cat can hear dogs, construction work, traffic, or other sounds that they find frightening or disturbing.
If you have more than one cat, each cat will need their own litter box, food and water bowls, toys, etc.
Cats are territorial by nature, so they will naturally compete for space, and if a litter box carries the strong scents of another cat, your cat may not feel comfortable going to the toilet there.
Learn more: Can Cats Share A Litter Box?
Too Close To Their Food/Water Bowl
Cats don’t like to do their business in places where they eat or drink any more than we would.
Cats are fastidiously clean and prefer to eat and drink far away from their litter box.
The Litter Box Smells Bad
Cats will stop using their litter box if it smells bad – and remember that cats can smell things we can’t. If the litter box smells even a tiny bit like pee to us, to our cats it probably stinks.
Litter boxes need to be scooped free of poop asap, and you’ll want to clean up any bits with pee in them at least twice a day.
Litter trays should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected two to three times per week, using pet-friendly products that don’t leave odors behind (unscented products are best).
The Litter Is The Wrong Type
Generally speaking, cats like a sandy type of litter – but some cats prefer granular or chunky litter.
If you are looking for a new cat litter, look no further than the exceptionally low tracking tofu cat litter by Tuft and Paw.
Note: Out of all the different types of litter, the one to stay away from is clumping cat litter. Even though it is tempting because it can make cleanup easier, clumping cat litter is dangerous for cats! When cats clean their paws, they can swallow pieces of litter. Clumping cat litter forms hard rock-like pieces when it encounters moisture – like in your cat’s stomach. Your cat can potentially suffer from a potentially fatal intestinal blockage caused by a rock of cat litter – the risk simply isn’t worth it!
My Recommended Litter, and why: Tuft + Paw Cat Litter Review
Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Kind of Litter Box
When you choose a litter tray for your cat, it needs to be large enough for your cat to be able to turn around easily and dig. A lot of commercial litter boxes are too small, and if your cat thinks the box is too sm
all, they may not want to use it.
Litter trays that are too big can make some cats feel vulnerable.
When cats go to the toilet, they feel more at risk from predators – their natural instinct is to do their business quickly but in a place where they feel relatively safe.
Covered litter boxes can be perfect for some cats, as they can feel more secure there. However, other cats can feel trapped in a covered tray – so experiment to see what your cat prefers.
Litter trays that have high sides or are located up a flight of stairs might no longer be accessible for older cats who potentially could suffer from mobility issues like arthritis.
If you have an older cat who used to use their litter tray but has suddenly stopped, it could be climbing inside is too painful and not worth the effort.
Your Cat Has Gotten Scared Near or In The Litter Box
If another cat has aggressed your cat, or if they’ve encountered a negative experience (such as a very loud noise) while doing their business, they might associate that negative experience with the litter box and not want to go back there anymore.
It could be an overeager child tried to cuddle your cat while it was doing its business and it got scared.
The following signs can point to a cat who has had an unpleasant experience near its litter box:
- Peeing near the box but never inside it
- Running quickly in and out of the litter box, as if it can’t bear to be inside it
- Not going anywhere near the litter tray, or even avoiding the room entirely
There’s a Medical Issue
Sometimes a medical issue is the problem, particularly if previously your cat used the litter box and then suddenly stopped.
It can be difficult to know if your cat is having medical problems, but it’s always best to get a check-up if you notice any unusual behavior in your cat.
Some typical medical issues that can cause a cat to urinate outside of the litter tray are:
- Cognitive issues (causing your cat to be disoriented or confused)
- Problems with their thyroid or kidneys (usually meaning they have to urinate more often)
- Diabetes mellitus (same issue as above)
- Digestive tract issues such as diarrhea (e.g., your cat can’t get to the litter tray in time)
- UTIs (urinary tract infections – it could be your cat is finding urinating painful)
The sooner you can get your cat to the vet, the more likely they’ll be able to treat the problem effectively.
Learn more: Best Litter Box For Diabetic Cat
How Do I Get My Cat to Pee in Their Litter Box?
Things you can do to get your cat to pee in their litter tray include keeping it as clean as possible to avoid unpleasant smells, keeping the surrounding area clutter-free and as calm as possible, and finding the right type of kitty litter or tray that your cat most prefers.
Make Sure the Litter Tray is Cleaned Regularly
Your cat is more likely to pee in a clean litter tray than a dirty one – even if it’s only slightly dirty.
Be sure the area around the litter tray is free from clutter, is out of a ‘high-traffic’ area (such as children rushing past), and is away from strong smells (cooking smells, detergent smells, etc.)
Remove the Odor from Places They’ve Urinated Before
You will have to work hard to remove any traces of odors from parts of your home where your cat has peed.
Your cat’s pee contains scent markers that encourage it to pee again in the same place, so you want to get rid of those as much as you can.
Here’s how to do this with a homemade remedy:
- Make your own enzymatic cleaner: simply dissolve enzymatic washing powder in water (10% washing powder to 90% water).
- Soak up as much pee as you can with an old towel (that you’ll then throw away outside).
- Use the cleaner to thoroughly cleanse the entire area.
- Rinse the area with cold water and let it dry completely.
- Spray the area lightly with rubbing alcohol and let it air dry before letting your cat anywhere near that area again.
Alternatively, there are many products on the market you can buy for removing the odor of cat pee. Just be sure that anything you purchase is pet-safe and odor-free.
Change The Litter
If you suspect your cat doesn’t like the type of kitty litter you’ve got, you can experiment with different kinds to find what your cat likes best:
- Try several kinds of litter in different litter boxes. Get a few identical litter boxes and put a different type of kitty litter in each. Make sure the litter boxes are exactly the same so that you’re only testing the type of litter, not the type of litter tray.
- Experiment with different depths of kitty litter. If you have a long-haired cat, it could be your cat likes a shallow layer of kitty litter so that they can dig right to the bottom (though this isn’t true for all long-haired cats). Other cats like a layer that’s about 2 inches deep. And then there are those cats who love deeper layers of kitty litter so that they can dig quite a lot.
Note: Sometimes it’s inevitable to change your cat’s kitty litter if supplies of their favorite are not available. Cats don’t like change (whether it’s their home, food, or litter), so if you must change your cat’s litter, do so gradually. Find the next best thing to your cat’s preference, and start by mixing in a small amount of the new litter in with the old (clean) kind. Whenever you change the kitty litter, add more and more of the new litter until it replaces the previous kind entirely.
Get a Different Type of Litter Box
It could be your cat is fine with the kitty litter but has an issue with the box. If this is the case, play around with different styles of litter boxes to see what your cat likes best. Here are some things to consider when choosing a new litter tray:
- Consider the depth of the tray. Some cats prefer litter boxes that are nice and deep so that they have more litter to dig through, while other cats like shallow boxes with a thin layer of litter (see above). If you have an older cat, it’s more likely to prefer a shallow box that’s easier to get in and out of.
- See if your cat prefers a covered tray or not. There are cats who feel safer in covered litter trays, while other cats feel trapped. Try the litter tray both with and without the cover to see which option your cat likes.
- Check if it’s the right size for your cat. While all cats need a litter tray that allows them to comfortably turn around, some cats like a tighter turning space than others.
Regardless of the kind of litter tray your cat likes best, here are two things you want to be sure to avoid:
- Putting down plastic lining. You might want to line the litter tray with plastic so that it’s easier to clean it, but plastic liners are a no-no for cats (despite what some retailers may tell you). Your cat’s claws could get caught in the plastic, meaning the litter (and perhaps pee) can leak through to the bottom, anyway. Some cats like chewing on plastic – and you wouldn’t want your cat chewing on the liner, either. Some cats might even be discouraged from digging because of the feel of the plastic on their claws.
- Self-cleaning litter trays. Unfortunately, self-cleaning trays are another thing to avoid with cats – they make noise, which defeats the purpose of providing a quiet place for your cat to do its business. Many cats are highly sensitive to all kinds of noises, so a self-cleaning litter tray could be not only off-putting but even frightening for your cat.
How Long Will It Take to Get Your Cat to Start Peeing in Their Litter Box?
There is no fixed amount of time that you can count on to know when your cat will start peeing in the litter box again, since there are so many different factors that can cause the problem. The time it will take to help your cat pee in the right place will depend on what the problems are, your circumstances, and your cat’s temperament.
Some cats can adapt and learn faster than others. There are cats who, like some people, are extra nervous and can need more time to adjust to any type of change. Even something as simple as a new litter box can take a lot of adjustment for some cats.
No matter how long it takes your cat to start peeing in the litter tray again, it’s essential to never punish your cat if it pees outside the litter tray.
Your cat is not doing this on purpose or to be naughty – they’re doing it to tell you something, which is usually to communicate frustration, stress, or even pain.
Kindness and patience are essential while you work out what it is that your cat is trying to say and what it needs from you to help it go where it needs to go.
If you punish your cat for peeing outside the litter tray, you will make the problem much worse, as you’ll be causing additional stress and fear. Your cat will lose trust in you and this will negatively affect your bond with your friend.
The more patient and kind you can be with your cat, the sooner you’ll be able to find a solution to the problem and your cat will trust you and feel comfortable.
Below are some additional ideas in order to help you help your cat in the best possible way.
Other Suggestions to Help Your Cat Pee in the Litter Box
Some additional things you can do to help your cat include creating positive experiences near or in the litter tray, doing what’s needed to discourage your cat from going in other parts of your home, and making the most of the materials you know they like already to retrain them to use the litter tray.
Create Positive Experiences Near the Litter Tray
If you spend time with your cat near the litter box – perhaps with some favorite toys for playtime, or having cuddles – you can show your cat that the litter tray can lead to positive experiences.
Note: Although you might want to reward your cat when they pee in the litter tray, refrain from doing this – you’ll make your cat feel uncomfortable. Cats don’t see peeing as something to reward. Don’t offer treats or anything else food-related near the litter tray, either (see above).
Keep Your Cat From Peeing In Other Parts of Your Home
Try some of these tips to discourage your cat from certain areas of your home:
- Line the area with double-sided tape or tin foil (cats don’t like the feel of these on their paw pads)
- Put your cat’s food and water bowls where you don’t want them to pee (cleaning it first, of course)
- Block access to parts of the house where your cat may have peed before
- Try motion-activated lights in problem areas (if your cat likes to pee in dark places)
Use Substrates that Your Cat Already Likes
You can use materials that your cat already likes to pee on to help them transition to using the litter tray:
- If your cat likes carpet, hard flooring, etc., put a small piece in your cat’s litter box without any litter on top. If your cat pees there, remove the piece and put a clean one in, this time with a bit of litter on top. Each time your cat pees, remove the substrate and replace it with another piece, adding more litter each time. Eventually, the litter will cover the substrate, and you can remove it.
- If your cat pees outdoors but still pees indoors where they shouldn’t, do the same process as above, using the outdoor materials they like (leaves, grass, wood chips, etc.)
A cat may not pee in their litter box for various reasons.
From the litter box itself, where it is placed, what it contains, or something in the area.
In more extreme cases, it could be that something is up with your cat.
So consider those potential causes carefully. Think about your own context and recent changes or developments.
Perhaps even implement a few more to see if it resolves the issue and your cat becomes more receptive to their litter box.
But if you suspect your cat is suffering from a medical condition, or do see other signs and symptoms simultaneously, then do contact a vet.
Related guides you will want to read:
- Why Do Cats Watch You Clean The Litter Box?
- Why Does My Cat Not Poop In The Litter Box?
- Why Does My Cat Meow In The Litter Box?
- Cat Not Using Litter Box After Moving [Why & What To Do]
- Why Is My Cat Peeing In The House All Of A Sudden?
- Why Does My Cat Pee On The Kitchen Counter?
- Why Is My Cat Peeing And Pooping On My Clothes?
- My Cat Guards Me When I Pee [Why & What To Do]
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.