What to Do When Your Cat Poops Outside the Litter Box?

Are you encountering cat elimination problems in your home? Is your cat pooping outside its litter box?

Based on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there are at least 10% of cats that develop elimination problems. While some do not use their litter boxes at all, some would either use it from time to time then stop all of a sudden. If this happens more than once, then there could be a problem.

Every feline owner must have, at one point in time, faced this dilemma and has caused a disturbance. It is by no means a revenge sort or a territorial marking habit. This is a cat’s way of communicating with you that there is something bothering it.

cat standing next to its poop

Determining the reasons behind it can help avoid the defecation accidents in every part of your house.

Factors that May Cause this Behavior

1. Medical Issues

There are many medical conditions that may cause your cats to poop uncomfortably in their litter boxes. These should be addressed and ruled out immediately by going to the veterinarian.

There could be an intestinal parasite that may lead to discomforts such as diarrhea and constipation. These will make it harder for your feline to control its defecation and cause accidents. But sometimes it may be more than a parasite like intestinal tumors that may lead to cancer.

Impacted anal glands may also cause discomfort and eventually an infection around the anus of your cat. Normally, anal glands secrete fluid during defecation; but when they are inflamed, it may cause a blockage. If this is not readily attended to, it may rupture the gland and your veterinarian would have to sedate the cat and remove the infection.

Some clinical signs of the anal sac disease are diarrhea, scooting or dragging of the anal area, and licking and biting of the tail. It is a painful thing for cats and causes stress. There could even be bloody areas around the rectum if the case is severe.

Inflammatory bowel disease or syndrome directly involves the gastrointestinal tract of your cat. It can either be the stomach, the intestines, or even both may be affected. Symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss are usually noticed.

Senior cats are at a higher risk for arthritis, neurological alteration or senility. This may cause irritation for them to even jump into their litter boxes.

2. Behavioral Changes

Stress and anxiety may also contribute to your litter problems. A sudden change in an environment may not be good for them as some cats do not adjust that easily. This may be a source of confusion for them and cause defecation outside their litter boxes. A traumatic experience for your cat can also trigger this behavior.

An example is if there is an introduction of a new pet in the house. A household that has more than one cat may cause tension and stress, especially during defecation. It takes longer to expel feces than urinating, so cats usually spend about 20 seconds pawing around a box. Even the simplest thing like moving their litter box into another room may cause them stress.

3. Furry Butt Syndrome

You do know that cats are a role model of cleanliness since they groom themselves 1/3 of their awake time. This applies the same to cats which have long coats and are more prone to have fecal matter clinging to their butt fur. They associate it with pooping in the litter box so they try to do it somewhere else.

4. Litter Box Problems

The major and most common cause of this behavior is the actual litter box. Cats have preferences in litter boxes where they want to feel safe and comfortable.

The size of the litter box matters to them. The size should be at least 1.5 times their length for them to get comfortable. Cats also don’t usually go in a covered litter box as they can feel cramped and it prevents them from digging around the sand.

The location is also important as this may cause your cat to feel vulnerable like corners or dark places. A good location would be somewhere safe from possible frightening episodes that they can associate with the litter box. Or it could be somewhere where they can have an easy escape from possible intruders.

The actual litter sand itself may be the problem. Most cats prefer the fine-grained, smooth type but you still have to check their preference until you find your cat’s favorite. You will also find cats that don’t want litter sand but instead prefers tiles, cloth, or rugs as their litter box flooring.

Again, as the epitome of cleanliness, cats have a problem with a dirty litter box. They have 67 million scent receptors so the smell of feces will turn them off. That is how sensitive they are to odor.

Tips to Make the Cat Use the Litter Box

  • Rule out any medical conditions that your cat might have by visiting your veterinarian.
  • Choose the right size of the litter box. Consider a box with low sides for easy access especially for kittens and old, arthritic cats.
  • Choose unscented litter sand as the scented ones may cause your cats to withdraw due to the strong smell. Remember how sensitive their noses are.
  • Use also a shallow bed of litter that is about 1 to 2 inches deep.
  • In a multi-cat household, there should be separate litter boxes for each cat to avoid tension. For example, if you have two cats in the house, it is better to have three litter boxes available around the house. There are some cats that don’t like to poop in the same litter box they use for urinating.
  • Avoid placing the litter boxes next to their food area. They might consider the food bowl as already contaminated and may affect their eating habit.
  • Move the litter boxes in a quiet location.
  • Avoid using plastic liners or mats under the litter boxes that cats may find unpleasant. It can also hinder their access to the litter box without you knowing.
  • Clean the litter boxes daily or twice in a day if possible. Choose enzymatic cleaners to clean the boxes at least once a month. You can also use the enzymatic cleaners to eliminate the odor from pooping accidents. This will make the area unappealing to them to go and defecate again.
  • Encourage proper behavior by putting the litter tray on the area where they like to go to do their thing.
  • Avoid a dirty butt by trimming the furs around her bottom.
  • Identify and eliminate the source of stress of your cat’s environment. You may try using attractants or pheromones in their litter room to induce relaxation in cats.
  • Try playing with them near their litter box area to reduce any traumatic experiences they may have had.
  • Deny access to their “accidental” areas by blocking it off or spraying cat repellant on the affected space.
  • Break the habit by training your cat to go use its favorable litter box again. A positive reinforcement is needed like giving rewards when you see it using the box.
  • If the problem still persists even after the changes you made, consult with your veterinarian or animal behaviorist in the area.
Miranda LaSala
Miranda LaSala

My destination ever since I was born was to be a cat person. When I had the chance, I took the course on Veterinary Tech from Pima Medical Institute, Seattle. For the last 5 years, I've worked as a kennel assistant, veterinary nurse, and a surgical nurse.

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