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?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at least 10% of cats develop elimination problems. 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.

Every feline owner must have faced this dilemma at one point in time, which has caused a disturbance. It is by no means an act of revenge and only rarely a territorial marking habit. 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.

cat standing next to its poop

Determining the reasons behind it can help avoid 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.

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.

2. Behavioral Changes

Stress and anxiety may also contribute to your litter box problems. A sudden change in an environment may not be good for them, as some cats do not adjust easily. This may be a source of confusion for them, which causes them to defecate outside their litter boxes. 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.

3. Furry Butt Syndrome

You know that cats are a role model of cleanliness since they groom themselves 1/3 of the time when they’re awake. 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.

4. Litter Box Problems

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

The size of the litter box matters to them. The box 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 also prevents them from digging around the sand. In multicat households, a covered box may make cats feel trapped and easily ambushed by the other cats.

The location is also extremely important, as this may cause your cat to feel vulnerable such as having a box in corners or dark places. A good location would be somewhere safe from possible terrifying episodes that they may associate with the litter box, or somewhere where they are able to 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 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 67 million scent receptors, so the smell of feces will turn them off.

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 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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