All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cat Pees Outside of Litter Box

Dear Marie,
I am planning on having family over for an extended visit and I am terrified.  My four-year-old neutered cat has recently taken to peeing outside the litter box and the house smells horrible.  I would be extremely embarrassed to have stay-over guests under these conditions.  I’ve tried cleaning some areas that I’ve been able to locate with dish detergent, but now those spots just smell like dish detergent mixed with urine.  To make matters worse, I can’t find most of the spots where my cat is peeing.  I can smell it, but my nose just can’t pinpoint where it is coming from.  I have to do something about this before they arrive.  I can’t afford to rip the carpet out, but if I have to, I’ll get a loan and do it rather than having people over with this awful stench in the house.  Please, please help me.

Thank you.

Dear Jackie,
I understand completely where you are coming from and this is certainly a stressful situation.  But take a deep breath (through your mouth, not your nose!) and let me outline what you need to do.

First, please take your kitty to the veterinarian.  In many cases when cats begin to urinate outside of their litter boxes, it means there is an underlying heath issue.  If you can rule out a health problem, then it’s time to examine the behavioral side of the predicament and then we’ll focus on clean-up.

Many cat owners find that if they trace back the timeline to the point where their pets began to exhibit inappropriate urination, that there was a coincidental event that prevented their cat from having access to its litter box, or there was a significant or traumatic event that occurred in the household.

If it was a significant or traumatic event of some kind (introduction of a new pet, family member, new furniture delivered, etc.), then you just need to provide your cat with a little extra stability for a short while.  Sometimes keeping your cat in a safe and familiar room for a week or two is all it takes to press the feline reset button.  Provide a litter box, food and water, and hang out in the room with your kitty as much as possible.  There should be plenty of sunshine, and even soft, classical music playing on a radio. 

If for some reason your cat’s access to the litter box was restricted, for example, if your litter box is in the bathroom and somebody closed the bathroom door, or your cat was closed off in a room without a litter box, then your cat may have had no other choice than to find another spot to relieve itself.  Once that happens, then your cat will believe it is OK to use that spot because his sense of smell will tell him that it is OK.

You need to have more than one litter box available to your cat.  The general rule of thumb is to have one more litter box than the total number of cats in your home.  Each box should contain his whole body with spare room.  If it is too small and he hangs over the edge, he'll miss the target and take notice of the fact that your flooring is where he is "going" which would then translate to flooring in general is a good place to do his business.

Unfortunately, our highly inadequate human noses can never pinpoint where the smell of urine originates from.  This is where you need to pretend that you are a CSI.  Purchase a small black-light and use it after dark in every room of your house.  Voila, cat urine stains will glow!

As you’ve discovered, you should not use household cleaners to get rid of odors.  If anything, they amplify the smell and make it that much more attractive to your cat.  Instead, use an enzymatic cleaner designed specifically for the task.  Every pet supply store has gallons of this stuff, in a variety of brand names, stocked and ready on their shelves.  You are definitely not the first person who has had this trouble.

Finally, make sure you clean your cat’s litter box regularly.  Cats are very sanitary animals.  They don’t want to step in soiled litter, would you?  So if you are thinking you just don’t have time, and it can last another day or two, just remember how much more effort is involved in cleaning up accidents on the carpet.  If you have a fastidious cat, it’s much better just to keep the box as pristine as possible.  Good luck.

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