Most cats are born with the instinct to cover their feces to prevent predators from finding their location, so training a cat to use the litter box is usually an easy task.  When something goes wrong, though, your feline friend can be impossible to live with. Read on to learn some of the leading causes of litter box avoidance and how to solve the "cat pee" problem!

Reasons why cats stop using the litter box (or start eliminating in other places)

Medical reasons

As a first course of action, medical reasons should be ruled out by a veterinarian. FUS (feline urologic syndrome), diabetes, or a urinary tract infection would affect your cat’s litter box habits.

The litter box itself

Remember that what is an acceptable litter box should be determined from the cat's point of view, not yours. Here’s some reasons why your cat may decide the litter box is unsuitable for him or her:

  • Unsatisfactory litter texture or odor (if you wish to switch brands of litter, do so by mixing the new with the old gradually, over time). 
  • The litter box is in a loud place (beside a noisy furnace or thumping washing machine).
  • The box isn’t cleaned often enough, in your cat’s opinion.
  • Your cat wants one litter box to urinate in and another box for “other business.”
  • Your cat doesn’t want to use the same box as any other cat(s).

Your cat may have decided that the litter box is an unpleasant place to eliminate if:

  • She has experienced painful urination or defecation in the box due to a medical problem.
  • She has been startled by a noise while using the box.
  • She has been "ambushed" while in the box either by another pet or a child. 
  • She associates the box with punishment (for instance, someone punished her for eliminating outside the box, then placed her in the box)

Stress & Anxiety

Here’s where a big part of the solution will be between you and the cat. He or she may need more TLC from you at this point in your lives together. Try to schedule time for human-feline fun and affection.

  • Did you recently move or remodel?
  • Is kitty recovering from an illness?
  • Have you changed jobs? (If so, your cat can tell because you come home smelling different! A cat’s sense of smell is estimated to be 1,000 better than yours!)
  • Is there a great deal of stress in your life, and you're showing it?

Territory Issues

Marking (either by urination or defecation) is natural to cats. It’s the humans who find this behavior inappropriate, but to your cat, it makes perfect sense. Below are a few reasons why your cat may feel the need to establish or confirm his or her place in your home. The social issues between your cats may not ever be resolved, but do your best to provide each cat with his or her own “space” and special attention from you.

  • Is there a new cat in the neighborhood that your cat can see and/or smell? Even if it can only be seen through a window?
  • Is there a new human in the house
  • Is there a new pet in the house?
  • Could your cat be smelling an old stain from a previous household pet?
  • Is one of your cats struggling to be the “top cat”? Cats have a "pecking order" and the addition of a new cat – or the loss of one – can mean conflict if there’s been any change in who’s on which “rung” of the ladder, so to speak.

Taking care of the problem

A behavior problem such as chronic failure to use a litter box will cause damage to your home and can agitate even the most compassionate cat owners to the point of despair. Somehow, cat must be trained to change his or her ways. Be prepared to invest your time, patience, care, and maybe even a few dollars to convince your cat that the litter box is the place to go!

  • First of all, if you suspect a medical problem, see your vet.
  • Next, stop the damage by barricading the area if possible. Cover the spot with plastic.
  • If necessary, confine the cat to prevent his or her access to the spot. Detain your cat in a particular room or perhaps use a large wire crate with food dish and litter box inside. Confining your cat isn’t “cruel” – just like with children, sometimes this is a necessary action. Getting the bad behavior under control will bring your stress level down and will prevent further damage until you can take action. Remember to allow your cat out of the confined area twice a day (under your supervision) for exercise and positive interaction with you.
  • It's imperative that you thoroughly clean the soiled areas. Animals are highly motivated to continue soiling an area that smells like urine or feces.
  • Clean the area thoroughly, use an effective odor destroyer, and shampoo the rug if you can. Be meticulous! Your cat has an extraordinary sense of smell!
  • Make the spot objectionable to her by covering it with sticky tape, aluminum foil, or using a strong smelling citrus or wintergreen spray.
  • If your cat is eliminating on slick, smooth surfaces, try putting just a very thin layer of litter at one end of the box, leaving the other end bare, and put the box on a hard floor.
  • If your cat is eliminating on soft surfaces, try using a high quality, scoopable litter, and put a soft rug under the litter box.
  • Try putting his or her food dish in the spot. Cats usually will not soil their feeding areas.
  • Clean the box more often. Scoop at least once a day.
  • Get more boxes. Provide at least one litter box per cat, plus an extra one if possible. A good rule of thumb is 1.5 litter boxes per cat.
  • If you catch your cat in the act of eliminating in the house, do something to interrupt her like making a startling noise, but be careful not to scare her. Immediately take her to where the litter box is located and set her on the floor. If she wanders over to the litter box, wait and praise her after she eliminates in the box. If she takes off in another direction, she may want privacy, so watch from afar until she goes back to the litter box and eliminates, then praise her when she does.
  • Don’t punish your cat for eliminating outside of the litter box. If you find a soiled area, it's too late to administer a correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your cat's nose in it, taking her to the spot and scolding her, or any other type of punishment, will only make her afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence.