Why does my cat eliminate outside of the litter pan?

Chances are if you are a cat owner, you have or will encounter an unexpected elimination accident on the floor.  The real question is WHY?!!

Here are some likely reasons why your little kitty may have chosen the floor over the litter pan.

Tip #1

The litter pan was dirty.  Let’s be honest. Life is fast paced and hectic.  And scooping the litter pan is probably not on the top list of priorities when compared to the other more pressing issues in your life.  When your cat decides to NOT use the litter pan, suddenly THIS issue is THE most pressing issue in your life ? Picture this. Guess how GROSS your toilet would be if you didn’t flush it after every use for 1 week…. DISGUSTING!  Could you really blame your little fur ball for choosing the floor over that??!! With that said, it is advisable to scoop your litter pan daily and change out the entire pan every 1-2 weeks (pending the soiling level and the number of cats using the pan).

Tip #2

The litter is a different variety.  Most cats, like people, enjoy consistency in their lives.  This is one place where adding variety may not be appropriate.  If your cat is used to one brand of clumping litter, stick with it.  I understand the temptation of buying that different litter brand because it’s on sale, but it may cost you more in the long run if your cat declines using it.

Tip #3

The litter is scented.  Cats do not like the scent of Febreze.  Let me repeat this…. cats do not like the scent of Febreze.  Scented cat litters are for us, NOT the cat. Remember cats’ sense of smell is more acute than ours.  What seems perfect to us, is repulsive to them. The last thing you want to do is make your cat’s litter pan repulsive.  They will choose the unscented floor over your lovely scented litter any day of the week!

Tip #4

The litter pan is gross.  How old is your litter pan? If you literally have no idea, this is a good place to start.  Litter pans are made of plastic. These pans become permeated with elimination odors quite readily and can be a source of repulsion to your cat.  Even if you are a champion daily scooper, over time these pans simply become stinky and need to be replaced. On average, if your pan is older than 1 year, its time to consider replacing it.

Tip #5

The litter pan is in a high traffic zone.  Cats typically prefer to eliminate in an area of the house that is quiet and without distraction.  If suddenly the area where your litter pan is kept has become the central headquarters of your family, you may want to relocate it to a quieter spot.   

Tip #6

You have another territorial cat.  The rule of thumb is that you should have 1 more litter pan than you do cats.  This can get tricky when you have quite a few cats in your home. Some cats stake claim over the litter pan and simply pressure the other cat to not use their pan.  If you have 2 cats and 1 pan, you can see how this could be a problem.

Tip #7

Your litter pans are all located in 1 spot.  This point goes along with point #6. Your litter pans should not be located in 1 spot.  If you have a territorial cat, they could stake claim over both pans, leaving no other option for the bullied cat.  It is advisable to separate the boxes to help prevent this behavior. Remember when placing boxes in your home, do not place in high traffic areas.

Tip #8

Your cat is stressed.  The bladder of the cat is also known as the “stress organ”. When your cat is experiencing stress of any sort, they are at higher risk to inappropriately eliminate.  How do you know if your cat is stressed? Good question! If only they could talk… ? Changes in the household dynamic (new puppy, new family schedules, new kitty, remodeling….) commonly lead to stress in your cat and could result in inappropriate elimination.

Tip #9

Your cat has a health problem.  Your cat may not be using the litter pan because he or she is trying to draw attention to themselves…. “HEY!  Look! I have a problem!”.  Urinary tract infections, urinary blockage, constipation, diabetes, thyroid disease, and kidney disease are just a few medical reasons that could explain this behavior.  

Bottom line is…if your cat is eliminating outside of the pan, it warrants a phone call to your trusted vet.  It’s best to rule out possible medical conditions first. Assuming that your cat doesn’t have a medical issue could be dangerous and even cost them their lives.


Carrie Vigeant D.V.M., mother of 3 boys, entrepreneur, wife, and foodie.