Cat Pooping Outside Litter Box: Cause And How To Address It

Cat Behavior, Cats

Last Updated - December 12, 2023

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If you're a cat owner, you've probably encountered the perplexing frustration of discovering your feline companion's "gifts" just a little outside the boundaries of their designated litter box area. While it's easy to assume that your cat is simply being naughty or acting out, the truth is that this behavior is usually a sign that something isn't quite right in your kitty's world. Most cats have an innate drive to use the litter box. Unfortunately, some cats exhibit the behavior of eliminating outside of the litter box. From health issues, litter box aversion, and adding a new litter box to environmental factors, your beloved pet might opt for unconventional bathroom spots for numerous reasons.

In this blog post, we'll dive into some of the reasons why your cat is pooping outside the litter box. By understanding the underlying causes, pet parents can be better equipped to address the issue and restore harmony to their home and their kitty's litter habits.

Why is my Cat Pooping outside the litter box?

Underlying Medical Condition

When a cat poops in a location other than the litter box, it may indicate an underlying health problem. Cats are known for their ability to hide discomfort or pain, making it crucial to consider health issues as a potential cause for litter box avoidance.

Conditions like urinary tract infections, constipation, diarrhea, and other health issues have the potential to render the use of the litter box an uncomfortable or even painful experience for your cat. If you observe a sudden shift in your cat's litter box habits, it becomes imperative to seek guidance from a veterinarian to eliminate any potential underlying medical concerns.

In the absence of any signs of a health issue, it's advisable to reach out to your veterinarian if your cat continues to poop outside the litter box.

Dirty Litter Box

Cats are notorious for their cleanliness, and a dirty litter box can be a major turn-off. If the litter box isn't scooped daily or the litter isn't changed regularly, your cat might seek alternative places to do their business. Imagine how you'd feel if your bathroom wasn't cleaned regularly – your cat's behavior is similar in this regard.

The dirty litter box is one of the primary culprits behind why cats poop outside the litter box. It's crucial to commit to daily scooping and frequent litter replacement to uphold cleanliness standards. Additionally, performing a thorough cleaning of the litter box on a weekly basis can contribute to maintaining a hygienic environment.

Cleaners with enzymes are recommended by vets for removing excrement stains and odors. Enzymes present in enzymatic cleaners aid in the decomposition of wastes. Enzymes are effective cleaners because they reduce the size of the feces molecules. They eliminate the odor entirely instead of merely covering it up.

Behavioral Issues

In some cases, improper elimination can indicate underlying behavioral issues. Cats could be experiencing stress, anxiety, or reacting to alterations in their daily routine or surroundings. Enlisting the expertise of a professional animal behaviorist can assist in identifying and resolving these hidden concerns.

Issues with the Litter Boxes

The style and size of the litter box can also influence your cat's behavior. For older cats or those with mobility challenges, accessing a litter box with high sides could prove to be challenging. Similarly, covered boxes or litter box furniture can trap odors and make your cat feel trapped, discouraging their use. Moreover, certain cats favor larger litter boxes that provide ample room to maneuver and dig.

Litter Preference

Cats can be quite particular about the texture and fragrance of their litter. Understanding your cat's preferred litter type holds significant importance. If you've recently switched brands or types of litter, your cat might be expressing their dislike by avoiding the box. Some might be sensitive to certain textures or scents of litter. 

Perhaps upgrading to a newer litter will do the trick. Explore various litter types, including clumping, non-clumping, scented, and unscented, in order to identify your cat's preferred choice. You can conduct this experimentation by offering different kitty litter varieties within your multiple litter box setups. If you usually use the scented litter, try switching to unscented litter for a few weeks and observe if the cat poop situation improves.

Territorial Issues

Cats are naturally territorial creatures. If you introduce a new pet into the house or if strays or wild creatures are lurking nearby, your cat may act out of protective instinct. It may become territorial if your cat smells another animal, like a stray cat outside. If a new cat is introduced, the old cat may "mark its territory" by defecating outside the litterbox.

Unneutered male cats and even some spayed females might engage in territorial marking behaviors, including pooping outside the litter box. This can be especially common if other cats or animals are nearby. Neutering or spaying your cat can contribute to diminishing this behavior.

Wrong Litter Box Location

The litter box location matters. Your feline friend would like some privacy during their business. Placing it in a noisy, high-traffic area or near loud appliances can make your cat feel vulnerable and discourage them from using it or going outside the litter box.

Before finalizing a location for your cat's litter box, there are a few considerations to take into account. Your cat must have unhindered access to the litter box. Avoid putting it in a location where your cat will feel trapped. Do not place the cat litter box in a high-traffic area of your home, such as near the front door. A quiet, private, and easily accessible location is ideal.

Social Dynamics

In households with multiple cats, a delicate social balance is at play. Dominance struggles or conflicts among cats can lead to one cat needing to establish territory by eliminating outside the litter box. Offering multiple litter boxes in various locations can aid in minimizing this behavior. For example, if you have two cats, it's best to have three litter boxes so there are no territorial litter box issues.

Stress and Anxiety

Cats are sensitive creatures, and changes in their environment can lead to stress and anxiety. Major life events such as moving to a new home, changes to your cat's routine, the arrival of a new pet, the absence of a family member (including other pets), or changes in the household routine can trigger litter box problems and cause cat pooping outside the litter box. Cats might associate the litter box with stress and seek out more secluded spots to relieve themselves.

The health of cats depends on properly managing stress, fear, and anxiety. Ensure your cat has a designated space to seek comfort and security. Cats do best with a regular routine, so set times for meals, play, and socialization. Your cat will feel more secure and less anxious if his or her environment is consistent and predictable.

Aversion to a Previous Experience

Cats have excellent memories, and a negative experience around the litter box (such as being startled or scared while using it) can create an aversion to the box itself.

Age-Related Changes

As cats grow older, they may encounter arthritis or other mobility challenges. Litter boxes with high sides can pose accessibility issues. Consider opting for litter boxes with lower sides or even modifying the entrance to facilitate easier entry and exit for senior cats.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.