Inappropriate Spraying or Litter Box Problems?

Cat urine is, unfortunately, one of the strongest smells of pets. So when a cat starts peeing or spraying in the house, it can understandably be quite distressing for the owner. The number one concern of cat owners is inappropriate elimination. Litter box issues are the single biggest reason cats wind up dropped off at shelters or euthanized. So if this is happening to you, you’re not alone. And since this condition is often mystifying to pet parents, we want to share with you information that can be used to tackle and handle the situation. With time and patience, these problems can usually be resolved.

First, there are two types of problems of cats not using the litter box.

Litter Box Problem

  • Won’t use the litter box at all
  • Uses the litter box to defecate but not urinate
  • Uses the litter box to urinate but not defecate
  • Eliminates next to the box but not in it

Marking Problem

  • The cat is spraying around the house. As in the picture above, usually this is on vertical surfaces. Cats that are spraying may also use their litter box but find certain places around the house to spray.

Addressing the Litter Box


Cats are finicky. They prefer clean litter boxes. Therefore, you should clean the litter box daily.

Type of Litter

They can also be picky about what type of litter they like. So you may have to try different brands.


Even the location of the litter box is important. You want to make sure it is easy for your cat to get to. They do not like to eliminate near their food or water. A rule of thumb is to have one box for each cat, plus one. This is especially important if you have more than one cat, as one cat could be bulling the other when they use the litter box. Some cats like lids on the box. Others feel threatened by it – they want a quick escape. You have to observe your cat and see what works best.

Addressing Spraying

Why do cats spray?

Unfortunately, some people think cats spray to get back at them. This is far from the case. Contrary to popular belief, both fixed male and female cats can spray. Cats spray to mark their territory. Cats spray when they are stressed and/or feel threatened. In other words, they do not feel safe in their space. This can have many causes:

  • Addition (or loss) of a pet to the household.
  • Addition (or loss) of a human in the household.
  • Changes in routine such as changing feeding or playtimes. This could include changes to their space (changing location, new furniture, etc.)
  • The presence of a neighbor’s cat or a stray in your yard or around the outside of your home.
  • Illness of another cat in the home, or a change in the relationship between cats.
  • Aggression between cats.

In summary, it could be any change that has now made the cat feel unsafe in their environment.

Call Your Vet!

The first thing you should do if your cat starts having a litter box problem or spraying is to contact your vet. The reason – you want to rule out if your pet has a medical problem first. For example, FLUTD, Cystitis and Diabetes can be just some of the causes. And cats by nature hide their pain. So it’s important to have your cat checked by a vet first. Your vet will perform a physical examination. If it is a medical problem, the problem could simply clear up by getting your cat treated.

What if My Pet is Healthy?

Do Your Detective Work

If your vet rules out a medical problem then what do you do? You need to address your cat and its environment. You basically have to become a “Sherlock Holmes” and find out what is causing your cat stress. If you can, figure out what changed just before your cat began having a problem. And if possible, revert back those changes.


There are also products on the market to help you with your critters. Feliway is probably one of the most known and used products. This product, and others like it, mimic cat pheromones and helps to calm kitties down. There are also many types of enzyme cleaning products that come with instructions on how to get rid of the urine smell and keep your cat from marking in the same area.

Relieve Their Stress

There are various ways to relieve a cat’s stress. Playtime is one of them. Even just 10-15 minutes a day playing with your cat with cat toys can help. You can help a cat relieve stress with scratch posts or boxes. There are also many natural calming products on the market such as calming treats and calming music for cats. Another common remedy is to remove any factors stressing your cat, such as preventing neighbor cats from coming in your yard or blocking the window so your cat can’t see the neighbor cats.

Cat Behaviorist

There are people trained in cat behavior who can always help. Your vet may have a list of ones in your area you can contact. Perhaps you’ve heard of Jackson Galaxy. He has his own show My Cat from Hell and has written books on successfully handling troublesome cats.


If your cat is having litter box or spraying issues your first step is to contact your vet and get your cat examined. If a medical issue is ruled out there are all kinds of solutions you can find on the internet. Keep patient and don’t give up on your furry friend. They need your help to be a happy, confident kitty. We are here to help. Contact us to schedule and bring your kitty in.


Dr Carrica

What's Next

  • 1

    Call us or schedule an appointment online.

  • 2

    Meet with a doctor for an initial exam.

  • 3

    Put a plan together for your pet.