Cat Pooping in the Litter Box But Peeing Outside? Here’s What to Do

I had a call from a client one day asking why their cat was only using the litter box to poop but peeing in other places around the house. I explained that the inappropriate activity could have an underlying medical or behavioral cause and recommended an examination. In this article, we’ll look at various reasons cats may demonstrate inappropriate potty behavior and what you can do about it.

Why would my cat pee outside of the litter box but still poop in it?

Cat peeing on bed

Felines like to feel safe and secure when they to potty. So, if anything upsets their sense of well-being while they’re peeing or pooping, they may avoid using that area to relieve themselves. Sometimes, they only associate bad experiences with urination causing them to pee outside of the litter box but still poop in int.

When cats use the litter box to poop but won’t pee in it, the underlying cause can be medical or behavioral. Let’s look at the top reasons for your cat’s potty issues.

Medical reasons for pooping in litter box but peeing outside

If a medical condition in your cat affects the urinary tract, it can make peeing feel uncomfortable or downright painful. Felines that associate urinary discomfort with using their litter box usually find another place to go potty. The top causes of urinary tract disease include:

1. Infection

Like humans, cats can suffer from urinary tract infections(UTIs) when bacteria enter the system through the urethra. Signs of infection include:

  • Frequent urination with smaller quantities of pee
  • Straining to pee
  • Accidents around the house
  • Vocalizing while urinating
  • Blood in the urine

Cats that show signs of a UTI need to be seen by a veterinarian. With a urine culture, the doctor can prescribe the appropriate antibiotic. Most kitties recover in 7-10 days.

2. Feline idiopathic cystitis(FIC)

The underlying cause of FIC is not known, but stress or a change in routine appear to be contributing factors. Cats with this condition have signs similar to UTIs, but no sign of bacteria, crystals, or stones can be identified with diagnostic testing.  If your veterinarian rules out other causes and diagnoses FIC, you may be able to manage the condition by:

  • Placing extra litter boxes throughout your home
  • Minimizing stress 
  • Maintaining a regular routine
  • Adjusting the diet

Usually, cats that develop FIC will require life-long management.

3. Bladder stones

Bladder stones(cystic calculi) in cats are usually struvite or oxalate. They may develop from crystals in the urine. When stones form, they rub against and irritate the bladder lining causing inflammation. Signs of bladder stones include:

The signs of bladder stones in cats include:

  • Frequent urination with straining
  • Licking the genital area
  • Chronic UTIs
  • Blood in the urine
  • Crying out during urination
  • Peeing all over the house/spraying
  • Urethral blockages(more common in males)

You may be able to help your kitty eliminate smaller bladder stones by increasing her water intake. Additionally, your veterinarian may prescribe a specialized diet that’s formulated to dissolve the stones. Larger stones are usually surgically removed.

4. Blocked urethra

When larger stones enter the urethra, they may lodge in the tube and join with mucus to cause a plug. This condition is more common in males but can occur in females as well. Blocked urethras are an emergency requiring veterinary attention. Signs include:

  • Frequent attempts to urinate with minimal or no pee
  • Firm, distended abdomen
  • Yowling when trying to pee
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

Treatment for a blocked urethra involves either catheterization or surgical correction depending on the size, location, and character of the plug.

5. Other medical conditions

Certain medical conditions like hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and diabetes cause cats to drink and pee more. If your cat urinates in larger quantities, he may fill the litter box. When the litter box isn’t cleaned, many felines don’t want to use it and will find other places to pee. Signs of such medical conditions may include:

  • Increased drinking
  • Peeing more
  • Weight loss
  • Repeated vomiting

If you suspect your cat’s inappropriate urination is due to a medical condition, consult with your veterinarian. He can examine your kitty and run diagnostic tests to determine the cause. Treatment will vary depending on the diagnosis. 

Behavioral reasons for pooping in litter box but peeing outside

1. Need separate boxes

Some cats like to pee and poop in separate litterboxes – try providing another litterbox nearby to see if they may start to use both.

2. Box is not clean enough

Some cats have an aversion to poop being present in their litterbox and don’t want to use it if there is poop there. If your cat pees outside of the box only when it has poop in it, then this may be the problem. Make sure you’re checking the litterbox frequently and cleaning it out.

3. Bad experience

Your cat may have had a bad experience in the litterbox when peeing and not when pooping, which is making them not want to use it. This could be due to a fearful noise, being bothered by another pet, painful urination, or many other reasons. Try providing litterboxes in other locations and/or with different types of litter.

4. Marking behavior 

Cat Peeing Outside Box

If your cat is peeing on vertical surfaces, then they are likely marking. When marking, cats will stand with their tail up and quivering, arched back, and usually move their feet while spraying. Marking can be due to stress between animals in the household, outdoor cats visiting, and other reasons.

5. Cleaning products

Ammonia-based cleaners can smell somewhat like urine to cats and could encourage them to pee in areas outside of the litterbox, especially if using them to clean up an accident. Make sure you’re using enzymatic cleaners to clean up any pee outside of the litterbox.

Home remedies to help solve the situation if your cat is still pooping in the litter box

If your cat is peeing around the house but still using the litter box to poop, observe his urine and behavior. As long as your kitty isn’t showing signs of an emergency condition, schedule an appointment with your vet to rule out medical conditions. Meanwhile, here are a few remedies that may help.

  • Acidify your cat’s urine by adding a half teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to her food each day.
  • Add cranberry capsules or powder to your cat’s food 

If your feline has a clean bill of health, you can try the following measures to help solve the problem.

  • Locate any areas your cat peed and use an enzymatic cleaner to remove all traces of urine
  • Evaluate the location of the litter box. Make sure it’s in a clean, quiet, accessible area where your cat feels safe
  • Place at least one litter box on each level of your home for accessibility
  • Try changing the brand of litter to see if your cat prefers a different texture for peeing
  • Provide a separate litter box for your cat to pee in 
  • Make sure the litter box is the right shape and size for your cat to use comfortably
  • If there have been changes to your household or routine, spend extra time with your cat to provide reassurance

Things to keep an eye on

Cats don’t always show us when they’re having a problem. You may need to play the role of detective and watch for signs of illness or stress. Take note if your cat exhibits unusual behavior for him or her, such as:

  • Suddenly hiding in a closet or under furniture
  • Crying or yowling when urinating
  • Pacing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Avoiding other animals or parts of the house
  • Changes in sleeping place or routine

If you notice sudden changes besides inappropriate urination in your cat’s behavior, he may either be ill or stressed about something. Talk with your veterinarian to try to determine the cause.

When is it time to visit the vet?

Any time your cat starts to pee outside the litter box, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out a medical issue. However, take your cat to the vet immediately if you notice:

  • Straining to pee with little or no urine coming out
  • Vomiting
  • Distended, tense abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Depression

What are the treatment options and costs?

The treatment options and cost depend on the underlying cause of your cat’s inappropriate urination.

  • For a UTI, the treatment of choice is antibiotics. The cost of a vet visit, diagnostic testing, and treatment is usually $150-200.
  • Treating bladder stones medically with a prescription diet will run about $100-150 for the vet visit and diagnostics and an additional $25-40 for a bag of dry food or case of cans.
  • Surgical removal of bladder stones(cystotomy) generally costs around $1000-3000.
  • Non-surgical treatment(catheterization) of a blocked urethra runs about $750-1,500.
  • Surgical correction of a blocked urethra may cost $3000 or more.

Frequently asked questions

Can I use any type of litter for my cat?

Felines are fastidious and particular about their potty environment. What works for one kitty may not work for the next. In most cases, however, you should avoid scented litter because cats have a sharp sense of smell. Most cats also prefer smaller particle(think sand)  litter to crystals or pellets. 

How often should I clean the litter box?

If you’re using clumping litter, you should scoop out clumps of urine and feces daily. Depending on how much use the litter box gets and how many cats you have, completely change out and wash the litter box every 1-4 weeks to remove odor buildup.

What if my cat refuses to use the litter box?

If your cat refuses to use the litter box, start by consulting with your veterinarian to see if there’s a medical condition. For cats with a clean bill of health

  • Try a different kind of litter
  • Add more litter boxes to the house
  • Clean the box with an enzymatic cleaner
  • If you have a covered box, remove the lid
  • Relocate the litter box to a quiet, open area away from his food
  • Consult with your veterinarian about behavior therapy/modification.

 

Authors

  • Dr. Liz Guise, Veterinarian

    Dr. Elizabeth Guise (DVM) graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. She worked as a veterinarian in private practice for over two years before going to work with the USDA as a veterinary medical officer for 14 years.

    View all posts
  • Janet Cutler, PhD, Cat Behaviorist

    Janet Higginson Cutler, PhD, CAAB, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. She earned her Phd at the University of Guelph, and runs her own cat and dog behavior consulting firm, Landmark Behaviour, in Canada.

    View all posts