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Why Does Your Cat Urinate/Defecate Outside the Litter Tray?

TFrazao is a registered Veterinary Practitioner and a M.Sc. Computer Science graduate. She believes in the fusion of things.

Cat looking to an urine stain on the carpet.

Cat looking to an urine stain on the carpet.

Why Is My Cat Defecating Outside the Litter Tray?

When a cat urinates or defecates outside the litter tray, this leads to a stressful atmosphere in the home. There may be a mixture of underlying causes that range from easily treatable to severe.

However, the pet owner should solve it as quickly as possible by contacting the cat's veterinary assistant doctor.

What Types of Problems Can Cause Inappropriate Urination?

There is a myriad of problems that may be causing inappropriate urination.

1. Cognitive Problems

Cognitive problems involve the mental processes of perception, awareness, learning, and memory which allow an individual to acquire information about the environment and decide how to act (1).

This type of problem is diagnosed after the exclusion, meaning that other causes needed to be ruled out and if nothing else is found, then these problems are contemplated.

They may also be hard to manage. Some corrections can be achieved with antioxidant therapy, environment changes, and potentially drug therapy to enhance brain oxygenation and to improve dullness and lethargy.

Senior female cat.

Senior female cat.

2. Behavioural Causes

Behavioral causes are treated according to the underlying ailment but some common points apply to both inappropriate urination and defecation.

  • The number of litter trays in the house should always be equal to the number of cats plus one, meaning if the pet owner has two cats, the household should have three litter trays.
  • The litter tray should not be covered.
  • It should be suited to the cat's size.
  • The location is also essential since litter trays should also be placed away from the cat's food/water bowl and away from where they sleep.
  • Litter trays should also be away from where the cat sleeps and in places away from noisy or busy environments.
  • The litter's trays should be cleaned every day and once a week, you would remove the old litter, wash with water and bleach, rinse well and then add fresh litter.
  • If there are places that the cat has dirtied, these should be cleaned with oxygen-based products or washing-up liquids. Never use bleach or ammonia, because they can react with cats urine and release vapors noxious to the environment.
  • You should use the unscented litter. Simple is better.
  • Do not punish the cat for urinating or defecating outside its tray because this will increase the problem or create a new one.
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Will these measures work? They will resolve the problem if the litter tray is in the wrong place, dirty or if there are odors that the cat finds unpleasant. You should try these suggestions. If they do not work, you should always give feedback to your veterinarian.

Note About Elderly Cats

It's important to note that in elderly cats, additional strategies may be needed since they may have age-related mobility problems. To minimize the mobility issues, besides the points mentioned previously, try the following:

  • If the house where the cat lives has several floors, make sure to have one litter tray per floor.
  • You can help your cat get into the litter tray by putting a "step" beside its litter.
  • Sometimes pain relief may be necessary.
Position of litter box inside the house in a calm place and it is not covered.

Position of litter box inside the house in a calm place and it is not covered.

3. Medical Causes

The cat can have a series of medical problems that need to be evaluated by a veterinary professional. Older cats can have osteoarthritis which can cause so much pain. In this case, the cat will not posture to pass feces, and this can result in constipation or sometimes the cat can have bladder enervation issues where he may become incontinent and incapable to hold urine.

If the cat has symptoms of urinating for a long period (polyuria) of time and drinks more water than usual, a urinary tract infection, renal disease, or bladder stones should be ruled out by a veterinarian performing a physical exam, imaging, and urine culture.


As we've seen, a cat urinating or defecating outside its litter tray can have so many causes that need to be investigated with the help of a veterinary practitioner.

Simple and practical suggestions were given for behavioral causes. These are the ones that are easier to change, and sometimes one environmental change can dramatically improve and resolve the situation.

Always give feedback to your veterinarian since they can help you find other causes if some of these solutions don't work.


1. Seibert, L. (2017, September nd). Veterinary Behavior Consultants, Roswell, Georgia. Today's Veterinary Practice. Retrieved 11 10, 2020, from

2. Moffat KS, Landsberg GM. An investigation of the prevalence of clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) in cats. JAAHA 2003;39(5):512.

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.

© 2020 DVM MSc T Frazao

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