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Why Do Cats Pee and Poop on Things? (Litterbox Illiterate)

Litter boxes and kitty cleanup are a necessary part of cat ownership, but what are you supposed to do when your cats are acting like they need to relieve themselves literally anywhere else but the litter box? In general, if your cat is marking or spraying outside the litter box, it’s because of stress, medical conditions, or hygiene issues. While two of these conditions can be fixed pretty easily, the middle one could potentially be a cause for major concern, and the unusual bathroom behavior is your cat’s way of warning you.

When cleaning up after your cats, it can be tempting to get frustrated by your cats’ seemingly willful refusal to use a litter box, but just remember that, like most creatures, cats act the way they do for a reason. Take the time to check and make sure your kitties are alright before you rule out any of the factors for unusual behavior, and you and your cat will be much happier in the long run.

Reasons Your Cat Marks or Sprays Outside of the Litter Box


Cat on a litter box

If your cat is spraying urine over clothes and pieces of furniture, it’s most likely a form of stress or anxiety. If you’ve moved recently or even just rearranged the furniture in your house, your cat’s sense of the environment has changed, and they may act up accordingly. Spraying or marking is a way of claiming territory, and can be your cat’s way of making sure that they still feel like they belong in a world that seems to be spiraling quickly out of their control. Essentially, it’s a way of getting your cat’s scent all over the environment, which serves to reassure them that it’s still their place to live.

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A nervous or uneasy cat will often spray as a way of self-comforting. Not only does it establish a territory as belonging to your cat or other cats in the family, but the smell of the urine itself will also convey the cat’s uneasiness or anxiety to the rest of the family, inviting them to help or support the cat in question.

If there are other cats in the neighborhood, especially “strange” cats that frequent your backyard, your cats may spray more as a way of staking their claim, especially if they seem to constantly be having accidents near the doors. The presence of another cat can stress your cats out, and they may feel the need to act against this new threat by claiming their territory.

So How Can I Stop It?

  • Clean It Up: once you’ve cleaned up after your cat, spray an enzymatic cleaner that will suppress the smell and provide a calming scent to help your cat deal with his or her anxieties.
  • Shift Their Focus: if you or other family members aren’t home for extended periods of time, make sure you give your cats plenty of ways to entertain themselves, so that they won’t have time to stress out and get nervous.
  • Provide a Stable Environment: this can be a little bit difficult to define, but if your cat is stressed out by new additions to the family, take time to schedule a daily amount of playtime with your cats, so that they can get used to a new presence in the house without panicking and resorting to their old territorial patterns of behavior.

Medical Conditions

Litterbox Illiterate: Why Do Cats Pee and Poop on Things?

While stress and anxiety causes can be resolved pretty easily, sometimes the matter isn’t quite so cut and dried, and this is when it starts to become a matter for serious concern. If your cat is indicating distress while urinating or displaying any other sort of markers that something is wrong, you may want to take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Especially in male cats, irregular bathroom behavior can be a sign of a urinary tract infection, diabetes, or even kidney failure, and will need to be treated as soon as you notice something’s wrong.

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  • Urinary Tract Issues: a blockage or infection in the urinary tract will result in difficult or painful urination, and your cat will often display other signs of distress, like crying when urinating, or relieving themselves right in front of you while crying.
  • Diabetes: high levels of glucose in the blood can cause excessive amount of water to be pulled into the kidney to filter it out, which can lead to increased urination and other signs of distress. Fortunately, diabetes is easily treated with insulin and dietary management.
  • Kidney Failure: your cat’s kidney works to filter the flow of blood, manage blood pressure, and produce hormones. If the kidney is damaged by poison, trauma, shock, or infection, your cat may be in very real danger, and needs to be treated right away. Symptoms of kidney failure include excessive urination and thirst, so if your cat is drinking more than usual, take them to the vet immediately.

So How Do I Stop It?

Especially with kidney and urinary tract issues, quick intervention and treatment is absolutely necessary. Some kidney diseases can only be treated in their earliest stages, so it’s vital that you take your cat to the veterinarian the second you suspect something is wrong. Diabetes is a far less serious diagnosis, but quick treatment can still go a long way towards making sure that your cat feels a lot better. No matter the diagnosis, getting your cat the medical treatment that they need can help them feel healthier and safer, and can greatly reduce the amount of accidents you find yourself cleaning.

Hygiene Issues

Litterbox Illiterate: Why Do Cats Pee and Poop on Things?

This last category is by far the least serious of the three explanations for excessive urination, but sometimes the simplest explanations are the best. If your cat is uncomfortable with the litter box’s condition, placement, or even the type of litter used, they may opt to do their business in other places, which can result in a frustrating cycle of cleanup that can leave you feeling exhausted. If you’ve ruled out the other two potential causes on this list, you may want to try looking into your cat’s litter box habits and see if there aren’t any changes you can make to help them feel more comfortable.

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If their constant grooming wasn’t enough of an indication, cats can be very particular creatures. If your cat’s litter box doesn’t meet their needs, for whatever reason, they may find themselves looking elsewhere for better options.

  • Cleanliness: if your cat’s litter box isn’t cleaned regularly enough for its tastes, they may refuse to use it, which can result in them taking care of their business around the house instead.
  • Wrong Place: similarly, if your cat has difficulty reaching their litter box, they may skip using it altogether. This is a factor that can change over time, as the litter box that your kitten had no trouble reaching a few years ago may grow increasingly difficult to access as time marches on and your cat gets a little less spry than they used to be.
  • Wrong Litter: this last one depends on how picky your cat is, but some cats have been known to refuse to use their litter boxes if they don’t like some aspect (smell, texture, etc.) of the litter used inside.

So How Do I Stop It?

Cat in litter box

Fortunately, there’s a pretty quick fix for litter box problems. If you notice your cats struggling to access their litter box, move it to a more easily accessible area. If you’re only cleaning your litter box once a week, try switching to bi-weekly or on an as-needed basis, whatever it takes to keep your cats from looking elsewhere to take care of their personal needs. Finally, if your cats still seem reluctant to use their litter box and keep trying to turn the entire house into their own personal litter box, you may want to look into finding a different make or brand of litter so that they won’t keep turning up their noses.

Source(s): M’informo Animali (in Italian)


If your cats are acting up and spraying around the house, keep calm and check for a few simple explanations. If the reason is something as simple as a dirty litter box, then you’re in luck, and you can fix the problem in no time at all! If, however, the reason for your cat’s behavior is something a little bit more serious, then make sure you take the time to discount any possible health explanations. You and your cat will have much more confidence as you approach the issue, and you’ll be able to get the help you need to make sure that your cat is feeling better again.

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"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett

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