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Why is My Cat Pooping Outside the Litter box & How to Stop It?

A cat watching a person's hand with carpet cleaner spray cleaning a carpet stain

There are few challenges more vexing to the cat-human relationship than issues around the litter box. While cats urinating outside of the box tends to get more attention, cat poop outside of the litter box can be a frustrating thing for cat parents to come home to – and may signal something else is going on.

If your cat has chosen somewhere else to poop, it could be for a number of reasons. Tracking down the problem quickly is important.

Is my cat trying to tell me she’s sick? What could be the cause?

Cats naturally want to bury their urine and feces, so when they don’t, something else is usually getting in the way. As with urinating outside of the litter box, a cat who is pooping outside of the litter box should first be checked by your veterinarian for underlying health issues. Your veterinarian will likely look for signs of:

  • Constipation or diarrhea: A cat with diarrhea may not make it to the box before the urge to poop overtakes them. A constipated cat may avoid the litter box as a place of discomfort, or be unable to defecate normally, as in conditions like M
  • Urinary tract issues: If it hurts your cat to pee, the litter box is a stressful place, and your cat may pee or poop elsewhere.
  • Pain: An injury, or advancing osteoarthritis in a senior cat, can make it painful for your cat to squat in a small litter box.

A call to your veterinarian is your best first step.

What might cause my cat to simply dislike the litter box?

If your veterinarian gives your cat a clean bill of health, it’s time to look at some of the most common reasons cats choose to avoid the litter box. Remember, a cat may have a litter box aversion and yet still use it to either urinate or defecate.

Here are some of cat’s most common litter box complaints:

  • It’s dirty. If the litter box is unpleasant to visit, your cat may go elsewhere. It’s important to clean each box once or twice a day.
  • It’s in a lousy location. Your cat may choose a pooping place that feels more private if their box is moved or suddenly has more human traffic. A common example is a litter box next to a loud washer or dryer – your cat may avoid using the box when these appliances are in use. Additional boxes in quiet locations may help. If your cat has picked a room to poop in that isn’t a good option for a litter box, close the door or install a gate to help break the habit.
  • It’s too small or has a cover. Your cat may feel cramped or trapped. Try a larger box or remove the cover. If you’re frequently finding poop next to the litter box, this could be a good indication that your cat’s bum might even just be hanging over the edge!
  • Your cat doesn’t like the feel or smell of the litter. If you’ve recently changed litter, try returning to your old type. The litter could also be unpleasantly deep for your cat, so try changing the depth. It’s important to note that some declawed cats will begin to avoid the litter box because the granules get caught in their feet. Consider switching to a larger-grain litter for declawed cats.
  • It’s a dangerous spot for an ambush. No one likes getting surprised in the bathroom! One cat may pounce another at the litter box. Multiple uncovered litter boxes in different locations with clear escape routes can help reduce litter box territoriality.
  • Something frightened your cat. If an object tipped onto your cat during a squat or the box flipped, your cat might need some time to regain trust. Add an alternative litter box in a safe area.

Can stress cause my cat to poop outside of the litter box?

Unexpected upheaval in your cat’s daily life can disrupt bathroom habits.

  • A new baby, human housemate, or long-term visitor. New humans can intimidate some cats. Ask new adult visitors to give your cat space, and check out these suggestions on how to introduce your cat to a new baby.
  • A new pet. When welcoming a new pet to your home, a gradual introduction should take place. Check out these Petfinder tips on introducing your cat to a new cat or a new dog.

How can I make my cat’s litter box more welcoming?

Get More. Even if your cat is faithfully using the litter box now, you can help head off future problems by making sure they are as happy as possible. If you have only one litter box, even a single-cat household can benefit from an extra cat box. Experts recommend an optimal 1.5 litter boxes per cat, so a two-cat household should have 3 litter boxes. Your cat might prefer to have one box to pee in and one to poop in. With boxes in different locations, you can also learn which one your cat likes best. In multiple cat households, you should always have a minimum of a box for each cat, plus one, to make sure every cat has space to feel comfortable doing their business.

Try a Different Litter. Try using different types of kitty litter in each of your multiple litter boxes – at the same time! If you normally use scented litter, use unscented in another box for a month or so. If you notice your cat is using one box more often than the other, your cat may be asking you to “switch, please!” Use Tidy Cat’s Litter Selector to find the best litter for your cat.

Go Big. Don’t feel that you need to limit your options to commercial litter boxes. A roomy storage bin can be a great option for your cat. Bins also have handles and are easy to carry when it comes time for cleaning. Just make sure the bin sides aren’t too high for your senior cat to hop over.

If health issues are ruled out and you and your veterinarian are unable to resolve your cat’s pooping problem, a professional behaviorist can help. The number one behavioral concern of cat guardians is the failure to use the litter box, and a cat behaviorist will have a lot of experience in this area. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

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