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?

At least 10% of cats develop elimination problems(1). While a few do not use their litter boxes at all, others would either use it from time to time…then stop all of a sudden. If this happens more than once, there could be a problem.

Feral cats sometimes leave feces uncovered to mark territory but this is rare in pet cats that live indoors. This is your cat’s way of communicating with you that something is bothering it.

Every feline owner must have faced this dilemma at one point in time, which has caused a disturbance.

cat standing next to its poop

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

Medical Reasons For Cat Pooping Outside Litter Boxes

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.

One example is an intestinal parasite that may lead to discomforts such as diarrhea or constipation. This will make it harder for your feline to control its defecation and cause accidents. However, it could also be something as serious as 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, they 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 to remove the infection.

Some clinical signs of 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 it is a severe case.

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

Senior cats are at a higher risk for arthritis, constipation, intestinal motility issues, neurological alteration or senility. Arthritis may cause pain and make them reluctant to even jump into their litter boxes and defecate somewhere else in the process.

  • Furry Butt Syndrome

You know that cats are a role model of cleanliness since they groom themselves 8% of the time when they’re awake(1). This also applies to cats that have long coats and are more prone to have fecal matter clinging to their butt fur.

They associate that with pooping in the litter box, so they will try to go somewhere else.

My Cat is Young and Troubled

If your cat has been given the all-clear medically by its vet and your pet otherwise seems healthy and normal, then, the issue can usually fall under three categories: Change in routine/ environment, negative experience in litter tray or developing a tray preference. 

  • Uncontrollable Changes

Stress and anxiety may also contribute to your litter box problems(1). Some cats can get very stressed by any changes in their environment and might need time to adjust to new things.

As this may be a source of confusion for them, this might cause them to defecate outside their litter boxes. This is where some investigative elimination work comes into play. 

First it is best to figure out what major change has occurred recently such as a simple change in your routine or spotting a new cat in the neighbourhood. From this thought process, you can help your cat deal with the stress by better managing its environment. For example, you could use a pheromone spray for stress.

Other things you could do is put in more litter trays around to help encourage cats to use them again or make the tray location more private with getting a covered one or putting it in an out-of-the-way location.

You can also play with your cat more and give it more fuss and attention. These will help keep its stress levels down while dealing with the change.

  • Scary Experiences

Unfortunately cats have bad experiences while taking a private moment. This can come in the form of pain (if there is an underlying medical issue) or just being suddenly startled by a loud noise.

A traumatic experience for your cat could also trigger this behavior. Such an example is if there is 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 it does to urinate, so cats usually spend around 20 seconds pawing around a box.

Even the simplest thing like moving their litter box into another room may cause them stress.

The best way to help is to sometimes change up where the litter tray is. Even if it’s just moving it a few inches from its originally spot can make a difference.

Sometimes, that isn’t enough and you need to change the trays location completely. Before moving the original tray, it’s best to first get a new one and slowly transition to it over time.

  • No, Not That One!

One of the most frustrating reasons why cats aren’t using their litter trays is preference and trying to find out what that preference is. This is something that can only really be managed by trial and error methods.

This could be anything from the size, shape of the tray, the place of the tray, the litter type used (not very common), and the number of litter trays provided.

There are various sizes of trays available for the different size and shapes that cats come in this day and age. There is also variation in terms of whether they have higher or lower sides plus covered or uncovered.

If they mess just outside the tray, then, trying out a tray with lower sides may help. If it’s far away from the tray’s location, then, trying out a covered litter tray might be the solution.

The general recommendation for the number of litter trays in the house is two trays per cat, then add one for every additional cat. This allows your cat options for its preferred location and with more than one cat in the house, this decreases the chance of aggression over resources.

The place of the tray is also important. You want it in a location that is out of the way of foot traffic and also gives some privacy for cats to be interrupted while doing its business.

An open closet or laundry room is a great location as it provides some undisturbed privacy for your cat and is also easy to manage from the human perspective.

Litter type can be a difficult one but generally, you want something that can be easily moved around by paw and is deep enough to bury waste. If you have friends who have cats and use different litter, then, asking them for tips can help save money while finding out if your cat prefers another type of litter.

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, prefer 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 200 million scent receptors, so the smell of feces will turn them off.

Usually, if your cat has used the current litter before, it will again once the issue has been solved. If all other changes have resulted in no change in behaviour, different litter type is the last option to try out before seeking professional advice.

How to Help When Age Catches Up

As your beloved pet gets older, some things can get a little difficult. Much like with humans, its joints get a little more stiff or its memory isn’t quite what it used to be.

If your cat is above the age of 8 years old and suddenly, they are defecating outside the tray, it’s best to make an appointment with your vet to get a once over.

Elderly Troubles

It’s very common for older cats to find crouching over a tray harder as their joints become more stiff. This situation can be helped with some long term pain relief and/or a lower sided litter trays to help them get into position easier.

Also, placing a tray in a corner could help them steady themselves against a wall to make balancing a little easier.

Another issue that may be diagnosed is dementia. Unfortunately, pets do get a form of dementia that affects their memory much like humans.

Your vet will be the best help for managing this, if treatment is necessary. You can also help your cat by making things a little easier for them in the home.

You could add extra trays near its favorite spots. Just in case your cat forgets where its usual tray is, it still has another one close at hand so that it’s less distressing for your senior pet.

Also, minimize any major furniture movement or changes around the house so its easier on your cat’s memory.


Additional Tips to Make the Cat Use the Litter Box

  • Choose the right size litter box for your cat. Consider a box with low sides for easy access, especially for kittens and arthritic cats.
  • Choose unscented litter sand, as scented ones may cause your cats to withdraw due to the strong smell. Remember how sensitive their noses are.
  • Use a shallow bed of litter that is about 1 to 2 inches deep.
  • In a multi-cat household, keep 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 which may affect their eating habit.
  • Move litter boxes into 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 realizing.
  • Clean the litter boxes daily or twice daily, if possible. Choose enzymatic cleaners to deep-clean the boxes at least once a month. You can also use enzymatic cleaners to eliminate the odor from pooping accidents, which will make the area unappealing and discourage them to defecate again.
  • Encourage proper behavior by putting the litter tray in an area where they like to go to do their thing.
  • Avoid a dirty butt by trimming the furs around their bottoms.
  • Identify and eliminate the source of stress in 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 “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. Positive reinforcement is needed, like giving rewards when you see your cat using the box.
  • If the problem still persists even after making changes, consult with a veterinarian or animal behaviorist in the area.

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