Litter box issues, such as a cat peeing over the edge of the litter box, are some of the most common issues cat owners deal with. They can take time to correct but the cause is usually fairly easy to determine. Cats can’t come right out and tell us when they’re not feeling great, they can only use their actions. When they pee outside the litter box, instead of getting frustrated, we need to consider if they’re in pain.
Cats also prefer to have a clean place to urinate and defecate. In the wild, they would never go to the same 2-foot by 2-foot spot; they find a fresh spot each time. And just as you don’t love going to the washroom in a port-a-potty that is full of human waste and traps the smells in, your cat doesn’t like going in a dirty or covered litter box either.
When we think this way, it becomes easier to understand inappropriate litter box behavior. If your cat stands in the litter box but is peeing over the edge, keep this in mind as you read over the most common reasons and the suggestions to correct it.
WHY IS MY CAT PEEING ON THE EDGE OF THE LITTER BOX?
Your cat may be peeing on or over the edge of the litter box if they’re dealing with a health issue, such as a urinary tract infection or arthritis, or if they’re unhappy with the state of their litter box. Let’s take a closer look at each potential reason.
1. HEALTH ISSUE
When your cat starts exhibiting new behavior, a vet visit is always the first step to rule out a health issue. An issue in your cat’s urinary tract may make it painful for them to urinate or be in positions that put pressure on their urinary tract organs.
If your cat is older, they may also be dealing with sore joints that make it hard or painful to squat. If you’re noticing your senior cat pees standing up in the litter box, arthritis may be the cause. Senior cats can also deal with cognitive disfunction which may leave them confused and forgetting their litter box habits.
Bring your cat to the veterinarian clinic for a checkup. Once your veterinarian has cleared your cat of any health issues, you can explore the other potential reasons your cat is peeing over the edge of the litter box.
2. LITTER BOX IS TOO SMALL
There seems to be a bit of a disconnect when it comes to litter box manufacturers and cats’ needs. The general recommendation is that a litter box is 1.5x the length of your cat. The average length of a cat is 18”, meaning the average litter box should be 27” long.
However, even the “extra-large” litter boxes are only 22” – 23” long.
In the wild, cats aren’t confined to a tiny box to urinate. Even a housecat that is allowed to wander the neighborhood will urinate and defecate in a wide-open garden. But when we bring them inside, we expect them to do their business in a tiny little box shoved into an obscure corner of the house.
Most cat owners report that their problem is solved when they switch from a regular litter box to a big plastic bin. Not only does this create high sides your cat can’t pee over (or kick litter over) and give you the option to make the litter box covered or uncovered using the lid, it also gives your cat more space than any other litter box on the market.
3. LITTER ISN’T DEEP OR IS TOO DEEP
The general rule is 2 – 4 inches, but as I cover in this article, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to cats. Some cats prefer the litter to be shallower and will pee over the side of the litter box when it’s too full of litter. Others want lots of litter to dig in and may feel the urge to pee over the edge when they hit the bottom of the litter box too quickly.
This is an easy theory to test and see if it helps correct the situation. Try adding an inch or two more litter to the litter box and see if your cat enjoys digging a nice deep hole and peeing directly in it. Or, try filling the litter box an inch or two less than you usually do to see if that satisfies your cat.
4. LITTER BOX ISN’T CLEAN
This is one of the most common reasons behind most litter box issues and it’s an easy one to correct. Again, think about a cat in the wild; they wouldn’t keep going to the same 2’x2’ spot to urinate and defecate. They would find a fresh spot to dig in each time. Plus, they have loads of fresh air to breathe in while doing their business.
Litter should be scooped at least once a day. Ideally, your cat always has a completely clean litter box to go in and you’re able to (or a self-cleaning litter box is able to) scoop shortly after each litter box visit.
The entire litter box must also be changed with fresh litter regularly. How frequently will depend on the type of litter you use (here’s a handy guide) but 1 – 4 weeks is typically the range you should be in (every week if you use something like a paper pellet litter and once a month if you use something like a clumping clay litter).
And every time you change the litter, you should wash the litter box to remove harmful bacteria and cat urine odors. Here’s a guide to ensure you’re not only getting rid of the smells, but also the bacteria.
Your cat may be peeing over the edge of the litter box because they’re trying to find a clean corner to go in. Try increasing how often you scoop (at least once a day but increase that if you need to) and changing the litter and washing the box frequently to be sure lingering smells aren’t making your cat think the litter box is already full.
5. THEY’RE SPRAYING
When your cat pees standing up, it’s important to determine if they’re urinating (and not crouching enough), or if they’re spraying (no attempt to crouch).
Both female and male cats will spray. This is the act of urinating while standing up and peeing on vertical surfaces. As the name suggests, the urine will “spray” as opposed to coming out in a steady stream.
Cats typically spray to mark their territory, but cats that aren’t spayed/neutered will also spray when they’re ready to mate. Spraying has also been linked to stress.
If you’re able to catch your cat urinating in the litter box, determine if they’re simply not crouching down far enough, or if they’re spraying. When they spray, they’ll raise their tail and you’ll see their tail shake.
If your cat also pees on the wall or on other vertical objects around the house, it’s even more likely they’re spraying.
If you believe your cat may be spraying, and they’re already spayed or neutered, consider if they may be spraying due to them feeling territorial. Do you have other cats or pets in the house? Or perhaps even it’s a new roommate or house member who has your cat feeling like they need to mark their territory.
In this case, it may help to get another litter box, or two. A household should have one litter box per cat, plus one extra (here’s why). So if you have two cats, you need three litter boxes. This makes a cat feel less like they need to guard the one litter box in the house (with three litter boxes and two cats, there’s one for each cat and then one, so no one has to share).
If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered and they’re spraying, spaying or neutering them is the obvious solution. The sooner you do, the better so they don’t build the habit of spraying.
Reducing your cat’s stress by spending more quality time with them is also a free and easy solution that helps correct a lot of issues. Spend at least 15 minutes a day playing with your cat, but more is always better.
And no matter how much attention you currently give them, try giving them more. Be sure that attention is undistracted too. It’s also important that there’s positive energy around your one-on-one time. Cats can’t understand our words, but they do understand the feelings behind them. Talk to them in a loving tone and reduce your stress and the stress in the household, which will definitely help calm your cat.
6. YOU HAVE A HIGH-PEEING CAT
Sometimes there isn’t an issue behind your cat peeing over the side walls of a litter box, it’s just the way they pee. You may come to this conclusion if your cat has been doing this all their life, your vet has given them a clean bill of health, and the other theories in this article don’t seem to apply.
If you simply have a high peeing cat, the best solution is to use a litter box that keeps that urine inside.
Here’s a complete guide to the best litter box, and litter box accessories for cats who stand while peeing. There are also additional tips to help manage a vertical pee-er.
It will also be important to keep urine smells under control. When a cat pees directly on the litter, the litter absorbs those smells and you can scoop them out. If your cat is peeing on the side of a plastic litter box, those urine smells are more likely to get absorbed into the plastic.
Consider adding wiping down the litter box to your daily scooping. You don’t want to use anything that has a strong scent and will deter your cat from using the litter box at all. A litter box wipe, such as these ones, is a good option to make it quick and easy.
A water-vinegar solution is also helpful at removing urine odors from hard surfaces, however, cats don’t like the smell of vinegar. When washing the litter box with vinegar (here’s how), you can rinse that odor away. But if you’re spraying the solution on a full litter box to wipe down the sides, it will be harder to rinse the vinegar odor off. If you do go that route, be sure to use a cloth dampened with water to wipe away the vinegar/water solution.
MY CAT STANDS ON EDGE OF LITTER BOX
When a cat is standing on the edge of the litter box and peeing or pooping into it, it’s typically a sign that they’re dealing with a medical issue that makes it painful for them to squat or step in their litter, or they don’t like their litter.
1. MEDICAL ISSUE
It’s always a good idea to have your cat checked by a veterinarian to be sure their odd behavior isn’t linked to a health issue. An infection or blockage in their urinary tract may make it painful for them to pee, or be in a typical peeing position. If you have a senior cat, arthritis may cause soreness in their hind legs that makes it painful to squat.
2. SORE PAWS
Declawing a cat is extremely painful for them, is unnatural, and can cause long-lasting pain. This article explains that it changes the way their foot meets the ground and causes them foot pain, similar to when we wear uncomfortable shoes.
When a cat leaves a litter box, they almost always have some litter stuck between their toes. Imagine for a second, a pebble being thrown into an uncomfortable pair of shoes when your feet already hurt. That analogy helps explain why a declawed cat wants to keep their front paws out of the litter box.
If you have a declawed cat and they tend to stand on the edge of the litter box, switch to a softer litter. Pellet litters aren’t ideal, nor are coarse clay litters. Try a litter that uses a soft material (like wheat) and is ground fine.
3. SMELLY/DIRTY LITTER BOX
If your cat doesn’t like the smell of the litter brand (e.g. it’s floral-scented) or the smell of their dirty litter box, they may be using the edge to keep their nose out of the litter box while they use it.
Always use unscented litter (cats are more sensitive to fragrances) and keep the litter box as clean as possible by scooping once a day (minimum) and regularly changing the litter box, as well as washing it.
4. SMALL LITTER BOX
As mentioned in this article, the majority of litter boxes on the market are smaller than the recommended size. A cat’s litter box should be 1.5x the length of its body. If they don’t feel they can fit in the litter box, they may be using the edge to create more space.
Try a new litter box, but be sure to introduce it properly. Don’t take their existing litter box away all of a sudden and swap in a new one you’re not sure they’ll like. Too much change at once can cause your cat stress, and stress commonly leads to cats finding someplace other than their litter box to go.
A cat may start standing on the edge of the litter box due to one issue and continue doing it even after the issue has been corrected, purely out of habit.
As long as you know there isn’t a medical condition, and your cat isn’t in any pain or distress when using the litter box, it’s okay to allow them to stand on the edge. It may just be the way they prefer to go.
I hope this article has helped you determine why your cat is peeing over the edge of the litter box 🙂