Aricelia has 15 years of experience working in a veterinary office.
Help! My Cat Won't Use the Litter Box!
Not using the litter box for urination is one of the most common behavior problems in cats. If you want to stop your cat from peeing in the house, the first step is to make sure that it is, indeed, a behavior problem and not a medical problem. Make an appointment with your cat's veterinarian to rule out a urinary tract infection or other medical problem first.
A simple urine test can often be done right in the office while you wait. A course of antibiotics to treat a urinary tract infection may get your cat back in the litter box much quicker and more reliably than any behavior modification!
If she does have a behavior problem, you are going to want to make the litter box more desirable and make the area in your house she is peeing in less desirable.
Show Your Cat That the Litter Box Is a Nice Place to Potty
If your cat has been given a clean bill of health, then he probably has a behavioral problem. The first step you want to take is making sure his litter box is as desirable to use as possible. You should have one more litter box than the number of cats you have in the household. If you have three cats, then you should have four litter boxes in the house. This is true even if only one of the cats is peeing in the house! Ideally, the litter boxes should be located in different areas, not side by side.
In addition, make sure to scoop the litter boxes daily. Some cats will refuse to use a dirty litter box. Most cats prefer open-top litter boxes, not the covered variety. Covered boxes can trap and concentrate the odors, making them undesirable for the cat. (I hate those portable toilets at the fair for the same reason!) Most cats also prefer the finer texture of clumping litter. Avoid litters with a strong perfume odor. Avoid using cleansers if you dump the litter entirely to clean the box. The odor the cleansers leave behind can be disagreeable to the cat and keep him away from the box. Scrubbing with hot water is sufficient. Feline Pine is an alternative litter that your cat may like. If you find a litter your cat likes, stick with it!
Keep your cat's personality in mind. If your cat is timid, they may be too nervous to use a litter box in a laundry room when the washer or dryer is running. In multi-cat households, one cat may feel "trapped" by another when using a covered box or being forced to go into a small bathroom to use the litter box.
Discourage the Cat from Returning to the Area She Soiled
The second step is getting your cat to stop using the new "litter box" that she has chosen! You probably call this alternative litterbox by a different name—your carpet, your sofa, or your bed. She probably chose this place for a reason, she likes it. And now that she has urinated here, she will smell the urine and have even more reason to continue the habit.
First, you need to eliminate as much of the odor as possible. If it is on carpet, use multiple clean cloths and firm pressure to soak up as much urine as possible. Then, pour a small amount of warm water onto the stain to dilute the remaining urine and again use clean cloths and firm pressure to soak up the liquid.
At this point, you're ready to use a carpet cleaner. Equalizer Carpet Stain and Odor Eliminator and Anti-Icky-Poo are great carpet cleaners for pet smells and stains. Equalizer is an enzymatic cleaner while Anti-Icky-Poo has live bacteria. Every few days go back to the area of carpet and see if you can smell the urine. You may find the smell comes back even if the cat hasn't urinated there again. If you can smell the urine, the cat definitely can! Re-treat the area.
Second, deter the cat from returning to the area. Depending on the situation this can be easy or difficult. Make sure you've followed the steps to make the litterbox desirable as well as this may result in him choosing a new alternative "litterbox". If the urination is occurring in a room where you can close the door and keep the cat out, this is an easy solution.
As an alternative, you can sprinkle a small amount (~1/4 teaspoon) of crushed mothballs on the carpet where the cat urinated. The strong odor will deter him. This is not a good solution if you have dogs or small children in the house as mothballs are toxic if ingested. Putting an upside-down plastic carpet runner so that the spike side is up over the area will also keep the cat from returning. Use common sense, multiple other options may be available depending on the situation.
If your cat likes to pee on clothes or towels on the floor, keep them picked up. If he urinates on small bath or area rugs, it may be easiest to eliminate them from your house. Perhaps it's time to redecorate and you can move a large piece of furniture over the cat's favorite new "litter box." Or perhaps you can move a real litterbox to the area the cat prefers to use.
Help Your Cat Relax
For some cats, urinating outside the box can be a form of marking their territory. Feliway diffusers or spray can lessen their anxiety and thus their desire to mark their territory with urine. Feliway is a synthetic feline pheromone that makes cats feel more comfortable and secure in the area they smell it. While Feliway is easy to use, it should be used in conjunction with the other techniques for maximum success.
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Remember . . .
Getting into the mind of a cat can be a tricky thing! She may use her litter box reliably and stop peeing in the house for a period of time and then relapse. Try to be patient and remember the tips above to "convince" her to do what you want! Always remember to have your cat rechecked at her veterinarian's office if she relapses and does not improve with behavioral modification. Just because she did not have a medical problem last time doesn't mean the same is still true.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
aricelia (author) from Midwest on November 14, 2018:
For a cat that is spraying in the house I would point you in the direction of another article at https://pethelpful.com/cats/How-to-Stop-a-Cat-From... for advice.
If you have a cat that you are using for breeding, you would obviously not want to neuter, but the rest of the advice still applies! I hope you find it helpful and thanks for reading!
Emily0115 on November 08, 2018:
Our cat Puffy has been driving the entire family crazy with his spraying everywhere. We bought de-scenting sprays and special cleaners, which he ignored and re-marked all over the house... Some advice? (I refuse neuter my cat.) Thank you.
aricelia (author) from Midwest on January 09, 2018:
I apologize for the late response. You don't mention if your kitty girl has been to see a veterinarian for an exam and urinalysis. Due to her age, bloodwork would be a good idea as well. In the case of a 16 year old cat that is peeing large quantities, you should absolutely seek veterinary care! There are a number of medical conditions that become more likely in older cats and can cause them to produce larger than normal amounts of urine. This makes it difficult for them to make it to the litter box in time. Once they don't make it a couple times, the problem compounds because they become accustomed to peeing in their new places. In addition, the large amounts of urine tend to be more dilute and they are therefore also more prone to developing urinary tract infections, another cause of not using the litterbox. Good luck!
aricelia (author) from Midwest on January 09, 2018:
Since your kitty is making it to the box, but then choosing not to use it, I would look very carefully at anything that would make the litterbox undesirable. Please take your kitty boy to your veterinarian for an exam and urinalysis if you haven't already! If he's having discomfort while urinating, he may have associated that with the litterbox and no longer want to use it. Good luck!
Maxine Willis on November 26, 2017:
I have spent a fortune on sprays & cleaners as my cat has started peeing in certain places. I have 2 cats & 3 litter boxs & I change the whole litter box every time it's used but my one cat will still pee where he wants, usually just outside the box! I have followed advice & tried various products & now I'm desperate! I'm even considering re homing him please please I need advice
Michele Loftis on July 02, 2017:
We have a 16+ year old cat with this behavior started about a year ago. My husband brought home a kitten she remained outside left after 3 months and was never really introduced into our home. Our older cat hated the sight of her. We have a dog and the two of them have lived together great for the past 12 years. My daughter and her two children moved in with us and the cat, took to them right off, especially my granddaughter. For some reason now...she has started peeing outside the litter box. We first noticed it on the rug near the litter box and had to throw it away. She moved to the bathroom throw rug...we cleaned it and she pee again...we removed it. She is peeing on the clothes basket in the laundry! Hugh puddles! This cat can pee! We have put pee-pads down around her litter box, she pees on them changed her cat litter countless times, given her 2 litter boxes, now she is peeing on the carpet in the front room behind the recliner. We've cleaned it, sprayed it, given her catnip to calm her. This morning the spot was dry, she was sleeping soundly with her new toy, she got up walked to the spot and peed! She was even sitting there waiting for me when I came back around...like "see I peed, now you can clean it up" then she went upstairs and fell asleep!
This is becoming insane! The area is cleaned...covered in foil. I removed some of the new litter in one box and went back to the old. She has one of each. She is pooping in it...she just will not pee in it. She is healthy...eating, drinking, she was peeing on the cat pad daily we had in front of her litter box...she just moved to the front room. Any suggestions would be appreciated.