Cats are usually very clean animals, so it can be a big concern if they suddenly start peeing or pooping around the house where they aren’t meant to.
If your usually clean cat has suddenly started to toilet inside the house, there could be lots of reasons for this. It’s important to rule out medical reasons first so take a urine sample or faecal (poo) sample, depending on the issue, to the vets. They can provide sample pots for you and discuss the different ways to collect a sample.
Cats feel particularly vulnerable when they toilet, so they may shun their litter tray if it doesn't feel safe – or clean. If your cat toilets next to the litter tray, that’s an indication that they want to use the litter tray but something is putting them off. Our handy litter tray checklist below can help!
If your cat usually goes to the toilet outdoors but is suddenly soiling inside, there may be a reason they don’t want to toilet outdoors anymore. Something might have spooked them (such as a neighbouring cat), or the weather might be bad and they don’t want to go outside.
Never punish your cat for going to the toilet in the ‘wrong’ place as this will make the problem worse.
It’s always best to take your cat to the vet first if there’s a sudden change in their behaviour, such as peeing and pooing where they shouldn’t, in case there’s a medical reason for the change. If your vet can’t find a reason, they may recommend seeing a qualified cat behaviourist. Read more about finding a behaviourist in our guide.
Remember, even if your cat usually goes to the toilet outdoors, you should still provide them with a litter tray inside, particularly in autumn/winter.
Cats are very particular about where they toilet. Part of the reason they have started neglecting their litter tray could be because it’s in the wrong place, it’s not clean enough or they don’t like the litter you’ve used.
Likewise, if your cat usually toilets outside but has started toileting inside and there’s no medical reason for this, it could be because they don’t feel safe toileting outside anymore. This is why it’s important to provide your cat with a litter tray indoors, even if they usually go outdoors.
You can find out more about creating your cat’s perfect loo by downloading our infographic, or read our advice below.
Because cats are vulnerable when they go to the toilet, they try to find somewhere quiet and private. If your cat is upset by an incident outside, or near their litter tray, they may look for a quiet corner instead.
You should place their litter tray somewhere quiet, away from noises like washing machines and disturbances like doorways, corridors and cat flaps. This should be away from their food, water and sleeping areas, too, as cats prefer to keep all of those separate. Place litter trays in a variety of locations, both upstairs and downstairs, rather than placing them in a row (as this counts as one tray from the cat’s perspective!).
If your cat suddenly starts going to the toilet away from their litter tray, it may be that something happened in that area. Try moving it somewhere else and see if that helps the problem.
Every cat is different, so there is no particular tray that will suit all cats. Cats generally need full-sized litter trays that are large enough for them to turn around in. Elderly cats or those with mobility issues need trays with low sides so they can easily get in and out. If your cat is nervous, they may appreciate a hooded tray but always ensure you remove the flap as it puts cats off using the tray. Alternatively try placing an open litter tray inside a cardboard box (which is open at the top) and cut in two holes on adjacent sides as entry and exits points for your cat. It can give them the much-needed privacy, but without keeping the smell in and is easier to tell when the tray needs cleaning out.
Provide one litter tray per cat, plus an extra one. Some cats won’t poop and pee in the same tray, so this is really important to them. If you’re not sure which type of litter tray your cat likes, try using two different kinds and see which they prefer using.
There are lots of options to choose from when it comes to cat litter and it can be a little confusing. Cats often prefer the litter they used as a kitten, so it’s best to stick to this if you know what they are used to. Many cats like fine, heavy, sand-like litter, which is similar to the material their ancestors used. This feels soft under their paws and allows them to dig easily.
You should avoid using scented litters. While this might smell better to us, cats have very sensitive noses so strong scents could put them off using the litter tray altogether.
Provide 3cm of litter as this is generally preferred – it's deep enough to dig, but not too deep. If your cat is an enthusiastic digger, you might want to put their litter tray on top of some newspaper.
Cats are famously clean creatures and they will not use dirty litter trays. The best way to make sure your cat uses their litter tray is to keep it nice and clean for them.
To keep your cat using their litter trays, you should:
If your cat goes to the toilet not in their litter tray, it’s important to clean it up straight away. This will help deter them from going there again and stop your house smelling bad!
First, you’ll need to pick up any poop or absorb any pee. You can do this by blotting the area with kitchen roll if it’s a carpet, or soak it up if it’s a hard floor.
Then, you need to thoroughly clean the area. You can get cat-safe cleaners and sprays specifically for cat pee and poop indoors – these usually don’t contain any harsh chemicals that might upset your cat, but are effective at getting rid of the smell. Check your local vet practice or pet shop to see what’s available.
You can make a cheap and effective cleaner with a warm, 10% solution of biological washing powder. Wash the area thoroughly, rinse with clean water and then allow the area to dry. If the surface is suitable, you can use surgical spirit after cleaning to remove all lingering traces of urine. Do a small patch test first to check that this cleaning method will not cause any damage.
If you don’t have any special cleaners, an anti-bacterial cleaner on any hard floors should do the job. Carpets are a little more difficult, so if you have nothing to hand clean the area with hot, soapy water. If you have carpet cleaner, use this to prevent any staining.
If your elderly cat suddenly starts toileting outside their litter tray, again you should take them to the vet first as there are lots of medical causes that might mean your cat can’t make it in time. If your cat seems to have forgotten how to use the litter tray or makes another trip straight after using it, it could be a sign of dementia.
As our cats get older, they might slow down and their joints get stiff. Make sure you give them a litter tray with fairly low sides so it’s easy for them to get in and out. Providing a couple more around the home might also help if the need to go is urgent and they struggle to make it in time. Also place a night light close to their litter tray so they can easily find it in the dark.
Older cats tend to need the toilet more often than young cats, so make sure you regularly check their trays and clean out any clumps or mess.