If your cat is urinating or defecating outside the litter box, we certainly understand your frustration. Luckily, this is a treatable condition in most cases. A medical exam, as well as a few simple changes can help to re-establish proper litter box use.

The first step includes taking your cat to your veterinarian. Whenever a cat suddenly eliminates outside of the litter box, it’s strongly advised to get a physical exam including urine analysis and in some cases blood work in order to rule out any illness or injury that may be causing the behavior. Once a medical reason for the lapse in litter box use has been ruled out, you want to consider behavioral reasons.

There are two main behavioral reasons for failure to eliminate in an established litter box. One is marking, which is a form of communication. The second one is inappropriate elimination, which is a toileting behavior. Both behaviors may occur for a variety of reasons.

Tips for success

  • Always keep the litter box clean. Scoop the litter box at least once daily and completely empty and clean it with mild dishwashing liquid weekly. Avoid harsh cleaning chemicals.
  • The magic number is one litter box per cat in the household, plus one extra. Litter boxes should be in different places to count as separate litter boxes, because territorial cats can prevent others from entering them. Two litter boxes right next to each other count as one.
  • Choose a quiet, low traffic area. Don’t let kids or other animals harass the cat when in the litter box.
  • If you have a multi-story house, have litter boxes on each level.
  • Keep litter boxes away from food and water bowls (bacteria), as well as the washer and dryer (heat and noise).
  • Clean soiled areas with an enzymatic cleanser to avoid remarking.
  • Using a handheld blacklight can help you locate any accidents in your house; urine will glow yellow-green in the dark.
  • Scented litters can actually act as a deterrent for some cats. Keeping the litter box clean makes scented litter unnecessary.
  • Rule out any medical conditions when abnormal litter box behavior is noticed. Ask your vet for help.
  • Most cats dislike covered litter boxes, especially in multi-cat households. Many commercially available litter boxes are too small for an average-sized cat, let alone a large cat. The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length and width of your cat. Many people are successful using a large plastic storage bin with a “door” cut into it, or underbed storage bins, which have lower sides and may not need to be cut.
  • Consider that small kittens and seniors will need a flat box with lower sides to enter.
  • Depth of litter: Most cats prefer to have several inches of litter to dig around. Experiment to find your cat’s preference, but avoid overfilling the box since it gets refreshed weekly.


  • Always consult your veterinarian to be sure to rule out medical causes such as URI’s, diabetes, kidney issues, etc.
  • Check all the above guidelines as every cat and situation is different.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: Do not punish your cat for marking as this will not solve the problem; this can make your cat even more anxious. Occasionally something as small as moving the box to a new spot can fix the problem!