Behavior Peeing/Pooping

Peeing Outside the Box: 4 Reasons Cats Housesoil

Learn about the four reasons cats housesoil (pee or poop outside the box), including litter box aversion, as well as location, substrate, and surface preference.

Peeing outside the box can be extremely frustrating for cat owners. In this post, I’ll talk about why cats housesoil, which is empty their bladder (or poop) in a place they shouldn’t. I’ll make recommendations for things you can try to curb this behavior.

But before we get started, always rule out medical reasons for any odd or different behavior. Your vet may want to conduct bloodwork, urinalysis, fecal analysis, and some other diagnostics to rule out things like a urinary tract disease (UTI), parasites, and a long list of other possible ailments.

Housesoiling vs. Marking

Housesoiling is when a cat completely empties their entire bladder outside the litter box, usually on a horizontal surface (ex. floor). It happens when the cat doesn’t want to use their litter box for some reason, which we’ll get into shortly.

Marking is when a cat “marks” with a spray of pee most often on a vertical surface (ex. wall). Although marking is usually done by males, it can be done by females. Unaltered cats mark for mating reasons, but some cats still do this behavior after being neutered or spayed. It’s most common in multicat households, and seems to be tied to stress.

Goal: Make Box Appealing & Housesoil Area Unappealing

Before we dive into the reasons for housesoiling, I think it’s important to outline our overall goal. You want to make a cat’s litter box, litter, and location as appealing as possible. At the same time, make the place where they housesoil as unappealing as possible. Basics for this include:

  • Keep the litter and litter box clean. To make sure it’s fresh, sprinkle baking soda on the bottom of the pan or top of the litter. You can also get a spray like Zero Odor, which has been used in studies and shown to help.
  • Clean all housesoils with an enzyme cleaner, like this one from My Lovely Feline. Bacteria break down all the bad stuff and help eliminate the odor.
  • You can put a scat mat or foil down, or use Petsafe SCCCATT motion-activated odorlessa and harmless repellent.
  • Try putting things your cat likes in the area, like their food or water bowl, scratcher, or even bed. Sometimes this works (sometimes it doesn’t).
  • Plug a pheromone diffuser into an outlet closeby or spray the area with a pheromone or calming spray. Feliway, Relaxivet, Comfort Zone, and ThunderEase are a few brands to try.
  • Always reward positive behavior! Give your cat encouraging words or even treats for using the box.

Next, let’s look at the reasons cats housesoil.

Housesoil Reason #1: Litter Box Aversion

Basically, your cat doesn’t like something about using their box. Here are some causes of litter box aversion:

Problem with the actual box.

  • Too small. Best size is 1.5x the length of the cat. Your cat must easily turn around and avoid stepping in their business.
    • How to fix: Get a bigger box.
  • Litter is too deep or shallow.
    • How to fix: Most prefer a depth of two inches or less. Adjust the litter level or put boxes next to each other that have different depths to see what they prefer. Long-haired cats usually like shallower litter.
  • Covered or uncovered. Most cats prefer an uncovered box so they can see their surroundings while they’re in a vulnerable place. That said, a small percentage of cats will like the privacy a covered box provides.
    • How to fix: Try an uncovered box first. If it doesn’t get used, try covering it, or put boxes side by side with one covered and one uncovered to see what the cat prefers.
  • Too dirty or too clean. Cats don’t like a dirty box. They also feel secure with familiar smells and pheromones, so a box that’s too clean may cause issues.
    • How to fix: Scoop the box at least every other day, and at most once a day. Dump the entire box, wash it and put fresh litter in it monthly (or when you notice it’s dirty).
  • Not enough boxes.
    • How to fix: There is a rule of one per cat plus one, but I feel strategically placing boxes is more important than quantity. Place at least one easily accessible box per floor, and add as needed. Keep in mind that multiple boxes in one room are viewed as one location by your cat.

Pain due to arthritis, injury or illness.

These cats will often housesoil right outside the box because getting into or out of the box is uncomfortable.

How to fix: If you have an older cat or cat with mobility issues, get a low-profile litter box. You can try putting in only a little bit of litter or even a puppy pad. Also put a puppy pad outside of the box so if they have an accident, it’s easy to clean up. Also, talk to your vet about managing pain either with joint supplements like Cosequin, gabapentin, or buprenorphine.

Previous bad experience.

Just one bad experience can cause litter box aversion. This could be medical like diarrhea or constipation, or situational from being startled or attacked while using it. If another cat is resource guarding the box, the victim may be scared to use it for fear of being attacked.

How to fix bad past medical or situational experience: You’ll need to address the core issue and make sure any diarrhea or constipation is resolved. Next, try buying a new box and move it to a new spot. Place your cat in the box and reward with affection and treats, just for being in it. Sometimes, cats will require a complete reset, which involves putting them in a confinded space,like a bathroom, with everything they need, for a period of time. Once it’s clear the cat is using the boxes consistently, you can reopen your entire space to them.

How to fix resource guarding: Make sure you add more boxes in locations where the victim can see out all directions. (Want to learn more? Read my article about resource guarding.)

Housesoil Reason #2: Location Preference

Cats are very selective about where they go to the bathroom. A cat may housesoil because they don’t like the location of their litter box.

Try to select places that are:

  • Quiet. Keep boxes away from garage doors and washers and dryers or anything else that makes loud noises.
  • Calm. Avoid busy areas where there is a lot of pet or human foottraffic.
  • Private. Although most cats like an uncovered box, they also prefer an area where they can go without other cats or people watching them.
  • Assessible. Don’t make it complicated for your cat to do their business. Make sure their box is close regardless of where they are in your home or apartment. Senior cats especially don’t like to do steps or walk far to use the bathroom. Be sure to keep it free of a lot of obstacles and give your cat plenty of space to maneuver.
  • Escapable. If you have more than one cat (or pet), it’s extra important to make sure they can never get cornered in their box. If that happens, it could lead to housesoiling. Select locations that provide options for exit, like corners. You can even get a corner-shapped litter box, like this one from Nature’s Miracle.

How to fix: Surprisingly, this is issue is pretty straight forward to fix. Place boxes in a variety of locations and you can remove any that aren’t getting used. Remember to keep in mind everything above along with what I mentioned in the last section: At least one per floor, and maybe a bonus box in an area where your cat spends most of their time. The rule of one per cat plus one is a good basic rule, but the location matters more!

Housesoil Reason #3: Substrate Preference

Quite simply, your cat doesn’t like the litter you have in their box. Here are two things to account for when selecting a litter:

  • Most cats prefer clumping, unscented litter. If your litter is non-clumping or has a scent, you should try someting different.
  • Older cats or cats with sensitive paws usually don’t like hard litters, like pine pellets or large crystals. The more sand- or soil-like, the better.
  • Many cats don’t like change. If you’re trying to change a litter, start only with a small amount of the new litter with mostly the older litter. increase the amount of new litter over time, but know your cat still may not like it.

How to fix: Set up a number of boxes (in a location you know your cat is okay with) side by side with different types of litter. Monitor over a week and it should quickly be obvious which type they like!

Housesoil Reason #4: Surface Preference

This is perhaps the most frustrating reason of all! When a cat house soils repeatedly on a soft surface like a rug or bed, or even on a smooth surface like bathroom tiles, they are showing a preference for that surface. Why does this happen? Usually, they just like the way it feels!

How to fix: The best way to fix this is to set up an area for the retraining that doesn’t have the surface the cat likes. If they like soft surfaces, put them in a bathroom with no rugs. Smooth surfaces? Put them in a carpeted room.

Next, you’ll want to make their box like the surface they like.

  • Smooth: Leave the litter box empty with mostly a handful of litter put in it. Every few days, increase the amount of litter in the box until it’s at normal level and your cat is consistently using it.
  • Soft: Put a large piece of the fabric they like (or even a puppy pad) in the litter box with a handful of litter. Every few days, replace the fabric and put in a little more litter until it’s at a normal level and they’re consistently using it.

It’s best to reintroduce them to the house very slowly and in stages (ex. you may want to put them back in the secluded area overnight). Once you know they are sucessfully retrained, you can let them roam free!

One thing to note: If there is a specific room that for some reason your cat likes to housesoil in and you just can’t get them to stop, close the door. It’s an easy fix and will save you a lot of stress!

When Nothing Is Working

You’ve ruled out anything medical. You tried every possible option, and the housesoiling is still happening. This is when you want to talk to your vet about adding a calming supplement or anti-anxeity medication. There is a lot we don’t know about why cats do certain things, and sometimes cutting their anxiety is a great way to help them correct a behavior. You may even have better luck completely retraining your cat to use a litter box in a small space if they are more relaxed.

You can also consider hiring a cat behaviorist to offer additional suggestions. Sometimes others will see things that you don’t.

Stay Positive

I know it isn’t easy to tackle these issues, but your cat is lucky to have you as an advocate for them. Try your best to stay positive and make adjustments step by step. If you make a mistake, it’s okay, just take a step back and continue forward. Habits are hard for anyone to break, including your cat, but patient and persistence will help you get there!

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

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