5 Ways to Stop a Cat from Peeing in the House (And Why They're Doing It)
When you smell, see, or feel cat pee on your clean pile of clothes or on the bed, your first reaction might be frustration. But it's important to remember that eliminating outside of the litter box is a clear signal that something isn't right with your cat. So, what would prompt your cat to pee around the house and not in her litter box, and how do you stop it?
Cats pee outside of the litter box because there is something they don't like about their litter box environment, or they have a behavioral or medical issue. And if we're being honest, it's not always a simple task to narrow down the underlying cause. That's why we turned to cat expert Samantha Bell, Best Friend's Animal Society's go-to expert for cat behavior and training.
Before we dive into the reasons why your cat might be peeing in the house, let's set one thing straight: "Cats do not urinate outside the litter box out of spite," Bell says. "One of the biggest myths around litter box issues is the idea that cats pee outside the box because they're angry at you," and that's just not true.
What's the Difference Between Cat Spraying vs. Peeing?
Urinating and spraying are two different things—and they're often confused. Spraying is a territorial behavior seen in both male and female cats, although spraying is most common in unneutered males and in multi-cat households.
Bell says you can tell the difference between spraying and peeing by a cat's stance and the surface they're peeing (or spraying) on. "Cats who are urinating outside the box usually squat and deposit substantial amounts of urine on horizontal surfaces," she explains. "Cats who spray stand upright and deposit a small amount of urine on vertical surfaces."
To stop your cat from spraying, take them to the vet to get spayed or neutered. Then, provide your cat with enriching activities that build confidence and exercise their naturally curious and predatory instincts.
Why Do Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box?
When a cat is peeing on everything in the house except their kitty litter, the reasons can be narrowed down into three categories: environmental, behavioral, and medical. "Always see the vet first before starting any cat behavior detective work," Bell says.
Once your vet rules out any medical concerns, it's time to get to work on pinpointing the environmental or behavioral issue. This isn't always easy, and you might need some help from your trusted vet or a behavior specialist.
But most importantly, remember to show your cat lots of love and patience—especially when she's having bathroom troubles. "Yelling at or punishing your cat for not using the litter box is not just ineffective, it can harm your relationship with your cat. The best approach is to be patient with them and put in the time and effort to figure out how to help them," Bell says.
5 Ways to Stop a Cat From Peeing in the House
1. Visit the Vet
Any time your cat is going to the bathroom outside of the litter box is a reason to schedule a visit with your vet.
According to Bell, common medical conditions that could cause your cat to pee outside of the litter box include:
2. Create a Litter Box Set up That Your Cat Will Love
When it comes to kitty bathrooms, your cat should have desirable litter box options:
- Multiple litter boxes: experts recommend one litter box per cat plus one extra per household
- Large, comfortable litter boxes: the ideal box is at least one and a half times the length of your cat's body, and most cats prefer uncovered boxes
- Clean litter boxes: scoop twice daily; clean out the box and replace litter monthly
- Attractive litter: cats naturally want to bury their waste. So, Bells says to try "unscented, fine-grained, clumping, or scoopable litter because it's the most like sand."
Speaking of natural instincts, going to the bathroom is a vulnerable time for your cat—try placing her litter boxes away from high-traffic areas and other startling noises. If you're using a covered litter box, try an uncovered box that allows your cat to see their surroundings.
3. Help Your Cat Feel Safe, Secure, and Stress-free
Eliminating outside the litter box is one way for your cat to mark their territory—and signals that they're not feeling confident in their own home. According to Bell, cats might pee in unusual spots to mask an unfamiliar scent or pee on your favorite belongings because meshing your scent and theirs provides comfort. If you can remove the stressor—like closing the blinds to hide the sight of a curious tomcat—do that.
"If the source of the stress can be identified but cannot be removed (like a baby), help your cat gradually feel comfortable with the stressor by engaging your cat in play and providing highly valued treats or food near the source of stress," Bell says. Providing enriching toys and hiding spots are also healthy ways for your cat to de-stress.
Cats live a scent-based life, as proven by their urine-marking antics. So, Bell says, use the power of smell to deter Kitty from peeing in the house. "Feliway and Comfort Zone are synthetic pheromones developed to mimic the natural comforting facial pheromone secreted by cats,"—use them to soothe your cat, Bell says.
4. Use Desensitization and Positive Reinforcement
If your cat has had a bad bathroom experience like a painful UTI, they could be scared of their litter box. Have no fear, Bell says, this can be resolved with desensitization and counter conditioning—or slowly introducing your cat to their litter box and rewarding them for their progress.
"For desensitization you want to reward the cat for looking at, approaching, or investigating the box," Bell explains. But cats love making their own choices, so fight the urge to place your cat in the litter box. "Always let them investigate at their own pace, rewarding them along the way," Bell says.
5. Spay or Neuter Your Cat
Spaying and neutering your feline BFF has many benefits, including preventing your cat from spraying. Urine is a surefire way for your cat to communicate to other cats what their reproductive status is—whether your cat is male or female. Urine also marks territory, making spraying even more common if you live with a clowder of cats. Talk with your vet about the best timing to spay or neuter your cat; many recommend between the ages of 5 and 8 months.