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Why is My Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box but Pooping in It

Solving the Mystery of Your Cat Peeing Outside the Litter Box

Learn about common medical, behavioral, and environmental causes, and find effective solutions to help your feline friend revert to normal litter box habits.

When your feline friend starts showing a preference for peeing outside the litter box while still using it for their other business, it certainly raises some eyebrows. As a vet, I’ve seen many cases like this and it’s important to understand that your cat isn’t just being fickle – there’s almost always a reason behind this selective bathroom behavior. Knowing the ins and outs of cat litter preferences and behavior is crucial, not only for solving this issue but also for maintaining their overall health and happiness.

So why might your cat be peeing outside the litter box but still pooping inside it? There could be a number of causes for this behavior. Changes in behavior may point to a medical condition, stress, or a problem with the litter box itself because cats are very picky when it comes to their litter box habits.

From the get-go, let’s acknowledge that litter box habits are a serious business for cats. The location, cleanliness, type of litter – it all matters to them. By piecing together clues from the litter box scene, a detailed examination, and understanding their routine, you can usually pinpoint whether this change in behavior is due to a preference, a subtle protest, or something more concerning like a health issue.

A change in litter box behavior is like a puzzle, each piece a potential clue leading to the solution, so let’s look into why your cat might be peeing outside their litter box but still pooping in it.

Understanding Cat Litter Box Behavior

cat in litter box

As a veterinarian, I’ve seen my fair share of cat litter box mysteries. Ever wondered why your feline friend might choose to pee outside the box yet stick to it for their number two? Let’s get to the bottom of this quirky behavior.

As a side note – if your cat also starts pooping outside their litter box, there could be a whole host of other causes so be sure to check out our guide on this topic.

Typical Litter Box Preferences

Have you ever wondered what goes on in your feline friend’s head when they decide where to do their business? Cats have some pretty specific litter box preferences that cater to their natural instincts for elimination. Let me give you the scoop on the ideal litter setup, from a veterinarian’s perspective.

First things first, one litter box per cat is the golden rule, plus one extra. Why? Imagine waiting in line for the bathroom at a concert—it’s not pleasant for anyone, especially not for cats that love their privacy.

When it comes to cleanliness, a cat’s standards are high. They prefer a clean litter box and will avoid a dirty one like a toddler dodges vegetables. It’s critical that their space is scooped daily and completely changed out regularly.

Now, onto the nitty-gritty: type of litter. Cats typically enjoy a fine-grained, sand-like litter that feels soft under their paws, reminiscent of their natural environment, but all cats are different. Some might have a phobia of unfamiliar litter, so sticking to their usual brand is wise.

  • Scented Litter: Cats are generally not fans of perfumed litter. Scented litter is a no-go for most cats as their noses are way more sensitive than ours. Plain, unscented litter wins the popular vote in the feline world.
  • Different Litter: Experimenting with various types of litter is fine, but always observe your cat’s reaction. Some cats might boycott the box if the litter isn’t up to their particular standards.

Lastly, the location is key. Cats favor a quiet, calm spot with some privacy for their litter box. Factor in easy access and a room with good ventilation, and you’ll have a content kitty!

Common Reasons for Inconsistent Litter Box Use

cat sitting outside litter box

Have you ever wondered, “Why does my feline friend decide to pee outside the litter box but still poops in it?” Well, you’re not alone – as a vet this is a question I get asked frequently so let’s shed some light on this strange behavior.

First off, litter box issues are often to blame. If the box isn’t just right, your cat might protest. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Is the litter box clean? Cats are fastidious creatures; a dirty box might prompt them to pee elsewhere.
  • How about the location? A box in a noisy or hard-to-reach spot can be a big no-no. Cats value their privacy and accessibility.
  • The type of litter might also be a culprit. Cats can be picky, and your furry friend might turn up their nose at a certain scent or texture.

Litter Box Cleanliness

Ever stumbled upon a dirty public restroom and thought, “No way am I using this”? Well, guess what—cats have similar feelings about their litter boxes. If you’re puzzled about a cat’s decision to pee outside the litter box but still use it for number two, one of the first things to check is the cleanliness of the litter box.

A dirty litter box can turn off a cat’s urge to bury their waste. This results in a smelly or soiled litter box might push a cat to urinate elsewhere. They might tolerate the mess briefly for pooping (a less frequent activity), but draw the line at pee.

Here’s what I tell my clients to ensure the box is up to snuff:

  1. Scoop daily: At a minimum. Twice is even better.
  2. Full change: Once a week should be fine. Some cats demand even more frequent changes.
  3. Clean box: A monthly scrub with mild detergent helps.

Litter Box Accessibility

Now, let’s talk location. Cats are very picky; if the litter box is placed in a noisy, high-traffic area or is hard to access, your cat may protest. Instead, I recommend:

  • Place the box in a quiet, low-traffic area.
  • Ensure it’s easily accessible. Think about older cats or ones with mobility issues.

Changes in Litter Type or Brand

Cats are creatures of habit, and they apply this keen sense to their litter box too. When you switch up the litter brand or type, your feline friend might inspect the new substrate with suspicion.

Cats possess a strong sense of smell and may be sensitive to odor changes, so swapping your usual litter for a different litter with a new scent can be off-putting. They also have particular preferences for texture. For some cats, changing from a fine-grained litter to a coarser one might just feel wrong under their paws.

Consistency is key – In my practice, I’ve seen how even a slight variance in litter texture or fragrance can be enough to discourage a cat from using the litter box for urination, while they might still deign to use it for defecation — a confusing scenario for any pet parent.

List of Considerations When Changing Litter:

  • Gradually mix in new litter with the old to help your cat adjust.
  • Avoid litter types with heavy perfumes or additives if your cat is sensitive.
  • Stick with a similar texture to your cat’s current preference.
  • Monitor your cat’s behavior for any signs of stress or rejection.

Ultimately, paying attention to your cat’s preferences when considering a litter switch is the best way to prevent “accidents” outside the box. It’s about making changes with care and understanding, ensuring your cat’s comfort zone isn’t breached by an uninvited guest—even if it’s as seemingly insignificant as a new type of litter.

Medical Causes Behind Urination Problems

cat urinated on floor

Okay so we’ve covered some of the basics in litter box management, but chances are you were already abiding by the rules I’ve laid out above. So what if your cat is still peeing outside the litter box but pooping in it? Well, a medical issue could be to blame.

From infections to chronic conditions, a slew of medical causes can be at play, causing discomfort or pain that alters their routine. Let’s look at each of these to understand why your feline friend might be avoiding the litter box.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

UTIs are a real pain in the tail for cats. These infections can lead to stress and discomfort when peeing, often causing them to associate the litter box with that pain—which means they might opt for a spot that feels “safer.” A cat with a UTI will often strain to urinate, only pass small amounts of pee and may even have blood in their urine. While there are some things you can implement at home to manage a cat’s UTI, it often will require veterinary attention.

Kidney Disease

When a cat has kidney disease, they often drink more water, which means more trips to pee. This urge to urinate often catches them off guard, resulting in peeing outside of the litter box. It’s something that needs a vet’s attention. Kidney disease doesn’t affect a cat’s pooping habits, however, so this might explain why they still defecate inside the litter tray.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

FLUTD (also known as feline idiopathic cystitis) is a group of diseases with multiple possible causes but stress and changes in the environment are often a factor. It can lead to an increased urgency to urinate and a serious case of the bathroom blues.

Bladder Stones or Crystals

When your furball has bladder stones or crystals, it’s like having pebbles in their shoes, but for their bladder. This leads to discomfort urinating and the urge to pee will often catch them off guard, resulting in them peeing elsewhere.


Cats with arthritis often find quatting in a litter box difficult. Older cats in particular might find the litter box leap too much to handle, leading to those puddles you’re finding. Pain relief, prescribed by your vet, might help alleviate this discomfort or you can try making the litter tray as low down and accessible as possible for them.


If your cat is turning into a bit of a ‘speedy Gonzalez’, they might be dealing with a condition called hyperthyroidism. Common in older cats, this is the result of an overactive thyroid gland resulting in an increased metabolism and more urine production. The frequent sensation of needing to urinate might mean that your cat gets caught off guard before they can get to the litter box.


Similar to humans, when cats get diabetes, their bodies try to ditch the excess sugar through urine. More sugar, more pee, more problems—leading to them getting caught out before they can get to the litter box.

Medication Side Effects

Got a kitty on meds? Drugs, especially steroids, might come with the side effect of increased urination. Always check with your vet if new behaviors crop up after starting a new medication.

Age-Related Incontinence

Older cats can sometimes lose their litter box mojo simply due to age. Incontinence isn’t a choice; it’s a medical problem that results from a weakening of the muscles that usually hold urine in the bladder. This leads to dribbling of urine outside of the litter box, all the while your cat is unaware.

Behavioral and Environmental Factors

anxious cat fight

It’s vital to rule out medical causes of urinating outside of the litter box, but if you’re sure that your cat is healthy otherwise then it could be occurring due to behavioral or environmental factors. Let’s dive into some of the specifics!

Stress and Anxiety

Cats are creatures of habit, and even small adjustments in their environment or routine can lead to significant anxiety. This stress can result in them avoiding the litter box for urination, as they might not feel secure in their usual spot. An environmental stressor could be anything from moving furniture to introducing a new pet to the household.

Territorial Marking

Cats have a natural instinct to mark their territory. If they feel threatened or need to establish dominance, they might just turn your carpet into their canvas with some strategically-placed cat pee. Remember, this isn’t because they’re mad at you—it’s just their way of sending a “Keep Out!” sign to any other felines in the area.

Litter Box Aversion

Sometimes, the litter box itself might be the problem. If it’s uncomfortable, your furry friend might protest by peeing elsewhere. A clean litter box is paramount, so it’s worth asking yourself, “When was the last time I scooped or changed the litter?” If it’s been a while, that might just be your answer.

Litter Box Size and Type

Does your cat’s litter box fit them just right? Size matters, and a box that’s too small can be claustrophobic for your kitty. Also, some cats have preferences for open versus covered litter boxes – some prefer the privacy, while others feel too hemmed in. It might take a bit of trial and error to find the best fit for your cat.

Insufficient Clean-up

If your cat has already urinated outside of the litter box they might be more inclined to keep doing so if they can still smell urine in that spot. Make sure the thoroughly clean any areas of your house that a cat has urinated so that they don’t think of it as their new toilet.

Litter Box Location

Is the litter box in a high-traffic area or maybe too close to where they eat? Cats like a little privacy when they do their business, just like you and me, so make sure to locate their litter boxes in quieter areas of the house.


What could be causing my cat to avoid peeing in the litter box while still using it for bowel movements?

One possibility is that your cat associates the litter box with discomfort from a previous urinary issue. Cats are creatures of habit, and a single bad experience can change their behavior. It’s crucial to keep litter boxes clean, as cats are also very clean animals and may avoid a dirty box for peeing but tolerate it for pooping.

Are there common medical reasons why a cat would pee outside the litter box but seem fine otherwise?

Absolutely, urinary tract infections or inflammations can cause your cat pain when urinating, so they might avoid the box due to the association with this discomfort. It’s important to recognize that even if a cat seems otherwise healthy, issues like urinary tract infections can lurk beneath the surface.

What are the most effective methods to retrain a cat that has started peeing outside its litter box?

To retrain your cat, start by ensuring that the litter box is clean and inviting. Use positive reinforcement when your cat uses the box correctly. You may also want to try different types of litter to find one your cat prefers, or add more boxes in different locations.

Can behavioral issues lead a cat to pee outside the litter box, and how can these be addressed?

Yes, stress, anxiety, or territorial disputes, especially in multi-cat households, could lead to this behavior. Addressing behavioral issues involves creating a stress-free environment and providing plenty of resources like food bowls, toys, and multiple litter boxes, so there’s no competition.

What are the signs that indicate it’s time to consult a vet regarding my cat’s litter box issues?

Seek a vet’s advice when you notice any change in your cat’s litter box habits, especially if accompanied by signs of distress, such as straining to pee, blood in urine, or frequent attempts to urinate with little output. These could be signs of serious conditions, like a urinary blockage, which is a veterinary emergency.

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