Behavior Modification for Urinating Outside of the Litter Box

Behavior Modification for Urinating Outside of the Litter Box

Urinating outside of the litter box, also known as house soiling, is one of the most frustrating problems a cat owner can face.  Unfortunately, it is also a very common issue.


Urinating outside of the box can be caused by medical conditions or behavioral issues.  This article is dedicated to treatment of house soiling as a behavioral problem.


Before implementing the techniques that are listed below, it is critical to ensure that your cat does not have a medical condition that is causing house soiling.  Any cat that consistently urinates outside of the litter box should receive a veterinary examination.  At the time of the exam, blood and urine tests and diagnostic imaging including radiographs (X-rays) and ultrasound may be required to ensure that no medical condition is contributing to the problem.


Once a medical condition has been ruled out, the following tactics can be used to help with this problem.  Remember, however, that house soiling is a difficult problem to eliminate. Increasing the number of tactics that you use will increase your chances of success.

  • Thoroughly clean all areas that have been soiled.  The scent of urine in these areas may trigger further inappropriate urination.  Although the scent of feline urine is notoriously difficult to eliminate, a variety of tailor-made, enzymatic cleaners have been designed specifically for this purpose.
  • If possible, restrict the cat’s access to areas that have been soiled.  Many cats preferentially soil only specific sites.  Restricting access to these sites may cause a reversion to litter box use.
  • If you discover your cat in the process of urinating outside of the box, express your dissatisfaction in a gentle but clear manner.  Do not yell or physically punish the cat – these actions may increase the cat’s stress level and lead to an exacerbation of the problem.  As well, rubbing the cat’s nose in the soiled area or scolding the cat after an incident of soiling will do nothing to help with the problem.
  • Ensure that all litter boxes are kept meticulously clean.  Many cats will urinate outside of the box if it is not clean enough for their sensibilities.
  • Purchase additional litter boxes.  In households with multiple cats, there should be at least one box per cat.  As well, experiment with different types and sizes of boxes, and with different types of litter.
  • Make sure that litter boxes are located in convenient, private locations.  Select areas that do not have heavy human traffic, and areas where cats will not be ambushed by other cats while they are in the box.
  • Reduce stress levels for the cat.  Make sure that cats are not over-crowded.  The house should be large enough for each cat to have a comfortable territory. Introduce new cats to the house slowly.  Be aware that subtle changes to the environment can trigger stress and subsequent house soiling.  For instance, a neighbor’s cat visible through a window may trigger house soiling even in the absence of face-to-face encounters.  In this instance, closing the window blinds may help to alleviate the problem.
  • If house soiling occurs consistently in only one location, consider placing a litter box in that location.
  • Some cat owners have reported that use of Feliway®, a natural pheromone product, helps to reduce house soiling.
  • For very difficult cases, a protocol involving strict confinement of the cat may be effective.  In this protocol, the cat is confined in a small area (such as a bathroom, closet, or crate) with enough room for a bed, a food and water area, and a litter box. The cat should be allowed out of the confined area only when someone is available to supervise it directly.  In this situation, most cats will revert to using the litter box.  Once the cat is back in the habit of using the box, the area available to it can be gradually expanded.

Because strict confinement is unpleasant for both the cat and the owner, this tactic should be employed only as a last resort.


Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.