Why is my cat pooping outside the litter box?

It happened again… Your adorable cat, often regarded as the cleanest animal on Earth, pooped outside of the litter box. What should you do about it? Is that a sign of a worse problem? How can you help him/her to improve the aim the next time around?

We’ll try answering these and more questions about the topic in the lines below. So if your cat is pooping on the floor, read on and we might be able to help you.

Rule out Health Issues First

If your cat is consistently pooping outside of their litterbox, that could be a sign of a health problem and it should not be taken lightly. Unless you’ve recently changed the type of litter or the location of the box, the first thing to do is to bring your cat for a check-up to the vet (bringing a sample of their poo poo will be helpful).

Some of the possible health issues causing your cat to suddenly poop outside of the litter box could be inflammatory bowel disease, impacted anal glands, diarrhea or other bowel problems. All these issues could cause cramps and discomfort, urging the cat to release her poop solids wherever she finds herself at that time. The pain/discomfort might be such that he/she is unable to reach the litter box.

Once we have confirmed that our cat is healthy as a cucumber, we can go ahead and try to figure out what could be causing this odd behavior of pooping all over the house (or some prefer carpets only?).

Why Cats Poop Outside of the Litter Box?

As you might know by now, cats are very complex and ultra-adorable creatures.

Some of the main reasons why your cat may decide to stop pooping in his/her litterbox are the following.

  1. Litter Preference
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Safety (closed litter box or cramped/hidden)
  4. Litter box is too small
  5. Territorial/Survival Instinct

We go into each of these reasons in the lines below, while in the following section we suggest an action plan to help your cat re-discover his aiming skills.

1. Litter Preference

Did you recently change the type of litter used in the litter box? If yes, this will most likely have been the culprit of your cat’s new behavior. Think about it, humans have strong preferences among seemingly identical things (Pepsi and Coke), in the same way, cats have strong preferences for some types of litters over others. 

Some factors to consider here:

  • Texture – softer vs harder texture
  • Scent – unscented vs scented (vs different types of scents)
  • Depth – deeper vs shallow

If you recently changed the type of litter, try to figure out the characteristics of the old one (that she used to like). That way you can identify the differences with the new one and understand your cat’s preference.
The video below provides a good comparison of different types of cat litters, while in this article, we talk about our top picks for odor control!

2. Cleanliness

Image of cat cleaning herself by licking her paw

Everybody knows this. It’s amazing how obsessive cats can be about cleanliness (especially as opposed to dogs).

Perhaps your smart cat noticed that when she poops on the carpet you immediately go clean it, while the poop in her litterbox stays there for weeks at a time (no judgment). If that’s the case, this would be the first place to start to inspire a change in behavior.

Start cleaning your litterbox regularly as recommended in the steps below.

3. Box location/safety (closed litter box or cramped/hidden)

For cats, just like for humans, the act of pooping is supposed to be relaxing and may take some time. If a cat’s litter box is closed or cramped in an angle (or worse, a closet) it might be stressful for them to take time to release, as they see no way to escape if things get scary. This can cause them to choose a different location. This type of problem is more likely if the cat is feeling slightly tense, because of a recent change or an increased tension in the household. At the same time, some cats do not like to use a litter box placed right next to their usual eating spot. How can you blame them?

For houses with multiple pets: sometimes I’ve seen a dominant cat “protecting and guarding” his litter box, not allowing a kitten to use it.  This would potentially be something to look out for and could be solved by providing a new box to the more timid cat.

4. Litter box is too small

If your cat recently gained weight or grew in size, the litterbox, which used to be a place of relaxation and release, might have become uncomfortable and unattractive. If this is the case, chances are your cat is trying to reclaim his safe pooping space. A rule of thumb is to choose a box one-and-a-half times the size of your cat’s body length. 

Image of a cat sitting in a small sink

5. Territorial/Survival Instinct

Some cats like to mark their territory by spraying urine in one location. They might then refuse to poop in the same location to avoid “hiding” their territorial signals. In this case, providing a new box in the same location might not be enough (the smell of poop could still hide the pee signals). So the new box could need to be placed in a different part of the house.

What to do? Action Plan 101

Ok, we’ve explained the most common reasons why your cat may be pooping outside of the litter box.

Nice.

But what if you have no clue of which is the reason for your cat? Yup, we got you covered, we created an action plan to help you test different options and find the best solution for your cat.

  1. Visit your veterinarian
  2. Clean your Cat’s litter box regularly
  3. Change Litter Box location
  4. Make the non-toilet sites inconvenient
  5. Test different litter types
  6. Introduce a new litter box

Visit your veterinarian

Unless you have recently changed your cat’s litter, litterbox or litterbox location, taking a trip to your vet will be the safest choice. If instead, you made any of those changes, the solution is quite obvious (hint: change it back to the previous situation that was working)

Clean your Cat’s litter box regularly

The recommended frequency is scooping litter boxes at least every other day and changing the litter every one or two months.

Image of a litter box being scooped.

Change Litter Box location

  1. Away from food
  2. Away from closed/oppressive areas

Make the non-toilet sites inconvenient

You can use an enzymatic cleaner on the locations that your cat has been using to poo on. That will remove any residual smell and help to disassociate that location from the act of pooping.

If possible, it would be best to completely deny access to those locations. By closing the room or placing an object on that area you can make it harder for your cat to poop in the same spot.

Test different types of litter

Even if you did not recently change the type of litter in the box, it is possible that your cat’s preferences have changed, or that they associated a negative experience with the current litter. If you tried all of the steps above and nothing worked, you can try a new type of litter. You should pick one that is different from the one in the litter box. We wrote an article on the best types of litters to keep odors at bay here.

Remember: Texture, Scent, Depth are the main criteria.

Introduce a new litter box

Maybe your litter box is too small for your cat. Maybe he associates the box with some negative experience. Or maybe your cat is old or lazy and if he/she is too far from the litter box he cannot reach it in time. Or, it is also possible that another cat in the house has signaled that the litterbox is theirs and that your other cat should not use it.

In all these situations, introducing a new litter box can also help your cat to get back into the habit of pooping in the right place. You can try having both litter boxes for some time, perhaps placed in different locations of the house, to accommodate your cat’s needs. Depending on your cat’s new behavior you can then decide whether to keep both or to get rid of the old one.

If you’re looking for a new litter box, there are some crazy futuristic ones coming on to the market with a whole sets of benefits such as the one below.

image of a cat coming out of the futuristic litter robot litter box

Wrapping up

We know it can be very frustrating (and smelly) to have a cat pooping out of the litter box. We sincerely hope that this guide can be a useful, practical tool for you to solve this issue.

In this article, we mentioned the six most common reasons that can explain this behavior. Though, cats are extremely complex creatures and there could be many other reasons causing this. This is why our first recommended step is to go to the vet and make sure that there are no health issues affecting your dear cat.

Once health issues are ruled out, we suggest you follow our action steps explained above. As a refresher, the main steps in our checklist are:

  1. Visit your veterinarian
  2. Clean your Cat’s litter box regularly
  3. Change Litter Box location
  4. Make the non-toilet sites inconvenient
  5. Test different litter types
  6. Introduce a new litter box

Please let us know how it goes in the comments below or feel free to reach out to us on Facebook.

We hope this will help.

Happy (and clean) pooping!

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  1. Pingback: Best Extra large cat litter box [November 2020]

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