Last year I adopted two stray kittens and I thought, like most people, that cats would naturally gravitate towards the litter box to do their business. Turns out, not all cats have this inclination! After months of cleaning cat urine off bed sheets and bean bag chairs (the latter was less successful), I think my kitty is finally in a place where she would chose the litter box over my bed. Inappropriate elimination is an extremely frustrating problem to deal with, but luckily, it is not impossible to fix. With a lot of patience and a little bit of creativity, you can help your cat develop more appropriate bathroom habits. I hope you find the following helpful and informative. Cheers, Leora.

The First Few Days

Cats are creatures of habit and do not appreciate changes in their lives. So, when you first adopt a new kitty, he or she will inevitably be stressed. Even a change from a shelter environment to a wonderful cosy home can be alarming. There are new and unfamiliar smells, a larger and unknown environment, and, if you already have another cat, some smells that may register as threatening.

During the first 2-3 days, I would even expect an accident or two. The cat may not have located the litter box and couldn’t hold it any longer, or the cat is trying to make their new home smell familiar by leaving their own scent around the room.

If the accident was solid and can be picked up, place it into the litter box. That way if your cat is having trouble finding the box, that scent should lead him or her right to it. You can do the same with cat urine if you are able to collect it (I suggest using a sponge and wearing gloves!) Cat’s noses are very sensitive and will be able to follow their waste’s smell to the litter box.

Make sure when you clean up the mess to use a special urine enzyme remover such as Nature’s Miracle. Regular detergent won’t cut it since cats have a much stronger sense of smell than we do. If you do not remove every single bit of the urine your cat is likely to return to the same spot because to them it already smells like a bathroom. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of the enzyme remover, you can never be too careful!

I can’t stress enough how important it is not to get angry at your cat. It doesn’t matter if this is the first time inappropriate elimination has happened, or the hundredth. Getting angry at your cat will not help the situation and could in fact make it worse.

To The Vet!

If your cat continues to urinate or defecate outside the box after the initial first days, or if you determine there is an excessive amount of urination, or if your cat has diarrhea, then the first stop you need to make with your cat is the vet. And, if you haven’t already gotten vaccinations for your cat, then you can cover that too! Ask your vet to rule out a Lower Urinary Tract Infection and Diabetes as both diseases have inappropriate elimination as a symptom. If your cat is given a clean bill of health, but is still urinating outside the box, then the fun begins! You are now a cat detective!

Bathroom Check

The first order of business is to seriously evaluate the condition of your cat’s “bathroom facilities.” How often do you clean the litter box? Clearing the litter box once a day might not cut it for your kitty. (After all, human beings flush the toilet after each use!) If you aren’t yet cleaning the litter box once a day, you should. In fact, cleaning your kitty’s box twice a day is ideal. Bonus: additional cleaning means your home won’t get that distinct “kitty toilet” smell!

Vasya the kitten in a very clean litter box. (Video by Sofia)

Spraying or Inappropriate Elimination?

Cat spray will usually be on a vertical surface; it is a way of marking their territory. Both male and female cats are able to spray. One sex is not more likely to do it than the other. When a cat sprays, the urine will come out horizontally to hit the intended surface. Females, however, can spray in either a squat or standing position. It is important to recognize that spraying is something that cats naturally do in the wild; they aren’t trying to ruin your new comforter. If your cat has not been spayed or neutered, there is a good chance they are simply trying to let any nearby cats know that they are looking for a mate. Neutered and spayed cats will rarely spray indoors.

Cat urine, however, will usually be on a horizontal surface and in a concentrated puddle. It may be more or less urine than a spray; it depends on how much water your cat consumes. If you see your male cat in a squatting position, then you can probably conclude that your cat is peeing. If it is a female on the other hand, it is more difficult to tell. Both spray and pee should be thoroughly cleaned using an enzyme remover.

If your cat is spraying, there are several solutions. As I mentioned above, spaying and neutering your cat will most likely solve the problem (especially for males) AND you won’t be contributing to cat over-population! In a multi-cat household where there might be some territory disputes. In this case Feliway can be very helpful (see alternative solutions). Also, adding more vertical territory for your cats can help (such as a cat tree). Lots of information can be found in Pam Bennett-Johnson’s book listed in additional resources.

If you conclude that your cat is indiscriminately peeing, not spraying, you must determine why in order to solve the issue.

Litter Box Location

This is especially important in a multi-cat household. Look at the litter box’s location from a cat’s point of view: using the litter box puts your cat in a very vulnerable position - they are stuck in one place and cannot run away quickly if there were a threat. A litter box should always have multiple escape routes. If you are using a covered litter box, try removing the cover as covered litter boxes only have one way in and one way out.

The location preference is really up to your cat. Once you find a location that your cat approves, stick with it! Remember to move your box slowly (a few feet a day). You don’t want to create another problem where your cat can’t find the litter box’s new location. Alternatively you could set up a second box and move that one around your home until you find a place that suits your cat.

You should also have one litter box per kitty. A dominant cat may prevent a submissive cat from using the box. When you add another litter box, put it in a different room. If you want to be extra thorough, have one litter box per cat plus an extra one. Theoretically each cat would have their own box and the extra one would become neutral territory.

Kind of Litter

Cats are picky. Sometimes cats don’t like the feel of the litter you have provided them with. In fact, if your cat is declawed1, certain types of litter might hurt their paws when they are digging through the litter. Certain kinds of litter are scented, which may be aversive to some cats; try unscented litter.

Get to know your cat. Test out his or her preferences - add an extra litter box with a different kind of litter, see if it makes a difference. If your problem disappears, then just change your old litter to the new one. If the problem continues, keep trying different kinds of litter and/or different litter box locations. Tip: If you have adopted a street cat, you can even try taking some sand or dirt from outside and using that to start encouraging litter box use.

Remember, cats don’t like change, so any changes should be made slowly. Add new litter to the old and eventually you will be able to exclusively use the new litter. If your cat stops using the box as you are switching the litter, then you are moving too quickly.

Check out this website to read about more behavioural problems caused by declawing and this site for some more information and alternatives to declawing.

Additional Clues

Try and narrow down when exactly your cat started urinated outside the litter box. Consider if something upsetting happened to your cat that may have triggered it. They may include:

  • Having friends or an overnight house guest (maybe additional company stresses out your cat)
  • Being ambushed by another cat (maybe while in the litter box)
  • Cleaning products or moving things about the house (new smells and altered environment)
  • Bringing in a new pet

If you can establish what upset your cat, you will be able to start taking steps to help him or her cope better with the stressor. For example, if the stress is caused by another cat, you can reintroduce them to each other as though they have never met. Or, if house guests are the source, invite one of your (quieter) friends over and explain that you want to work on your cat’s comfort level and socialization while they are over. Chat with your friend for a few minutes, excuse yourself, and have a low-key interactive play session with your kitty. This will help your cat feel at ease even though they are nervous. The interactive play will help them associate company with something positive. Slowly, after several visits, entice your kitty to the same room as you and your friend (if they aren’t already there) and maybe your friend can also try playing with your cat. Check Pam Bennett-Johnson’s book in additional resources for tons more information on these techniques.

New Associations

The final step is to help your cat change its association of the place where it has been eliminating. Make sure that area has been thoroughly cleaned with a special urine enzyme remover before starting any of these activities.

Cats will not eliminate where they eat. If you free feed your cat, set up a feeding station where the cat has previously eliminated - how better to convince your cat to not eliminate in that area! If you don’t free feed your cat, give him or her food in the improper elimination location and leave the empty food bowl out a little longer than usual - that way the cat gets used to seeing food there.

Cats should not eliminate where they sleep. If your cat has a favourite blanket, or item that he or she sleeps on often, try spreading it over the (cleaned) area and turn it into a cosy kitty lounge.

Cats will not eliminate where they play. Interactive play is extremely important. Engage in some interactive play sessions in the area where the cat has eliminated. You should be playing with your kitty for at least 15 minutes twice a day. If you are consistent with the play sessions, your kitty will begin to see the former bathroom as a place where a lot of fun happens!

Alternative Solutions

If possible, do not give your cat access to the room where the inappropriate elimination has taken place. That way, you can use some of the solutions mentioned above in a controlled situation - the cat can be let into the room for the feeding and/or a play session. Once the feeding or play session is over, remove the kitty from the room. Eventually you can test run the room and allow your cat into the room for longer periods while supervised – just in case they get any ideas. If your cat looks as though they are going to relieve themselves, remove them from the environment and place them in the litter box. (Remember, don’t get mad at them!) If your cat does well in the environment, try letting them go in unsupervised. With patience and luck, you will solve the problem and change your cat’s associations with the location they have previously used as a bathroom.

Another solution I recommend is trying Feliway. This product mimics a cat’s facial pheromones that they use to mark their territory as safe which is helpful in convincing a new kitty that their new home is stress free. Feliway is available in a spray (for specific areas) or in a diffuser (for larger areas). If you are in Korea and order a Feliway diffuser, you will need a converter and an adapter or the unit will melt.

Finally, please use ARK as a support system. Ask others what they do to troubleshoot any issues.

Cat standing near litter box


Inappropriate elimination is one of the top reasons cats are surrendered to shelters. These cats are very hard to re-home because people don’t want to adopt a cat with a known (and let’s be honest, frustrating!) problem. These cats are sadly often euthanized. This problem is not uncommon, you are not alone. A quick search on the internet will lead you to dozens of sites and message boards filled with information, personal stories, and more suggestions to help deal with the problem. Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope that you have learned some new ideas to try with your cat.

Written by Leora. Originally posted in the ARK forums in May 2011.