a person cleaning up cat spray with cat watching

Is Your Cat using your House as a Litter Box?

Urinating outside the litter box is one of top reasons cats get surrendered to shelters or euthanized. It is a fact that a cat’s urine smell is quite offensive. But it is unfortunate that owners surrender their cats when something can be done about it. First is gaining an understanding of why cats may suddenly develop this problem.  Many cats develop this behavior as a stress response to change (new baby, pet, home, or schedule), while others will develop them seemingly out of the blue.  The success of managing these behaviors depends on the family’s commitment to modification.

First, there are two types of problems of cat’s not using the litter box.

Litter Box Problem

  • Won’t use the litter box at all
  • Uses the litter box to defecate but not urinate
  • Uses the litter box to urinate but not defecate
  • Eliminates next to the box but not in it

Urine Marking/Spraying Problem

  • There are two ways a cat may use urine to mark his territory. One is when the cat sprays on vertical surfaces. The other, is urine marking on horizontal surfaces. Marking territory with urine is not usually a litter box issue.  Cats who are spraying may also use their litter box but find certain places around the house to urine mark. 

Addressing the Litter Box


Cats are known to be finicky. They prefer clean litter boxes. A cat can stop using a litter box simply because it is dirty. Therefore, you should clean the litter box daily.

Type of Litter

They can also be picky about what type of litter they like. So you may have to try different brands.


Even the location of the litter box is important. Make sure it is easy for your cat to get to. They do not like to eliminate near their food or water. A rule of thumb is one box for each cat plus one. This is especially important if you have more than one cat, as one cat could be bullying the other when they use the litter box. Some cats like lids on the box. Others feel threatened by it – they want a quick escape. So you have to observe your cat and see what works best.

Why do cat’s urine mark?

Unfortunately, some people think cats spray out of meanness or because they don’t like them. This is far from the case. Also, contrary to what many people believe, both fixed male and female cats can spray. Cats spray when they are stressed and/or feel threatened. In other words, they do not feel safe in their space and are marking their territory. This can have many causes:

  • Addition (or loss) of a pet to the household.
  • Addition (or loss) of a human in the household.
  • Changes in routine, such as changing feeding or playtimes. This could include changes to their space (changing location, new furniture, etc.)
  • The presence of a neighbor’s cat or a stray in your yard or around the outside of your home.
  • Illness of another cat in the home, or a change in the relationship between cats.
  • Aggression between cats.

In summary, it could be any change that has now made the cat feel unsafe in their environment.

Call Your Vet!

The first thing you should do if your cat starts having a litter box problem or urine marking, is to contact your vet. Litter box problems or urine marking could be caused by a medical condition. For example, FLUTD, Cystitis, and Diabetes can be just some of the causes. And cats, by nature, hide their pain. Therefore you want to rule out whether or not it is a medical problem. Your vet will perform a physical examination. If it is a medical problem, the litter box problem or marking could simply clear up by getting your cat treated.

What if My Pet is Healthy?

Put on your Detective Cap

If your vet rules out a medical problem then what do you do? You need to address your cat and its environment. You basically have to be like a detective and find out what is causing your cat stress. Try to figure out what changed just before your cat began having a problem. And if you can, revert back those changes. If you absolutely can’t, see what you can do to minimize your cat’s stress.


There are also products on the market to help you with your kitties. Feliway is probably one of the most known and used products. This product, and others like it, mimic cat pheromones and helps to calm them down. There are also many types of enzyme cleaning products that come with instructions on how to get rid of the urine smell and keep your cat from marking in the same area.

Relieve Their Stress

There are various ways to relieve a cat’s stress.  Playtime is one of them. Even just 10-15 minutes a day playing with your cat with cat toys can help. You can help a cat relieve stress with scratch posts or boxes. There are also many natural calming products on the market such as calming treats and calming music for cats. Another common remedy is to remove any factors antagonizing your cat, such as preventing neighbor cats from coming in your yard or blocking the window so your cat can’t see the neighbor cats.

Cat Behaviorist

There are people trained in cat behavior who can always help. Your vet may have a list of ones in your area you can contact. You may have also heard of well-known behaviorists such as Jackson Galaxy, who has his own show My Cat From Hell. He has also written books on the subject.


If your cat is having litter box or spraying issues your first step is to contact your vet and get your cat examined. If a medical issue is ruled out, talk to your vet about what you can do about it. There are all kinds of solutions you can find on the internet. Keep patient and don’t give up on your furry friend. They need your help to be a happy, confident kitty. We are here to help. Contact us to schedule and bring your kitty in.


Stacy Funderberk, D.V.M.

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