When your cat starts peeing outside the box, your first instinct might be to call the vet: Could it be a UTI? Kidney stones? Diabetes? Cancer? While it’s true that pee problems can be a sign of any of these health issues, in many cases, cats are simply lodging a complaint with the box itself. If your cat is otherwise healthy and happy—and their box is clean—consider these common litter box problems before footing a vet bill.
They don’t like the litter
Cats are very particular about litter; if they don’t like the way it smells or how it feels on their paws, they won’t use it. Many people learn this the hard way when they switch to new crystal- or pellet-based litter formulas—if your cat is suddenly rejecting their box and you’ve switched litter formulas recently, that’s probably why, and going back to basics might be all it takes to solve your cat’s litter box woes.
According to Preventive Vet, cats prefer fine, sandy textures over coarser, “rockier” ones, and unscented litter over scented. (Multiple vets have told me the same thing over the years.) Fragrance-free, fine-textured litter is always the safest option, whether that’s a classic clay-based clumping formula or one of the newer crystal formulas that feel like sand.
Their litter box is too small
An especially tall or long cat may be trying their best to go in the box and failing through no fault of their own. When the walls are lower than their butt or the box is shorter than their body, the pee will end up exactly where you don’t want it. The good news is that there’s a littler box out there for every cat. Try a box with extra high sides or extra length. If you’re using a closed litter box, they may be objecting to the lid; removing it will give tall cats a little more breathing room. If none of these options work, it may be time to look into a DIY solution: Large plastic storage bins make excellent litter boxes and are available in a wide range of sizes.
They can’t get in or out of the box anymore
Older cats, particularly those with arthritis, may struggle to clear even very low barriers, making it difficult for them to get in and out of a standard litter box. To make a senior kitty’s life a little easier, consider something easier to navigate: Many brands sell low-sided boxes specifically for senior cats, and they can make a huge difference.
They need more privacy
Depending on how much room you have in your house, finding the perfect spot for a litter box can be daunting. Much like humans, cats need some privacy to do their business, so placing litter boxes in high-traffic zones is a bad idea. Instead, choose spots that are quiet and away from foot traffic, but with a good view of their surroundings—cats don’t like to feel ambushed and want to be able to keep watch while in a vulnerable position. Cats also don’t like to shit where they eat, so vets also recommend as much separation between the litter box and the food area as you can manage. A quiet corner in a quiet room should check all of these boxes, but you can experiment until you get it right.