Litter Box Misses – When Your Cat Goes Right Next to the Box

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Under sink litter box

Dr. Sally Foote
DVM, CABC-IAABC, LSHC-S
Executive Director
CattleDog Publishing / Low Stress Handling® University

May 2018

As a Veterinarian I am often surprised by how infrequently clients will ask about their cat who is not depositing their stool or urine in the litter box. I have learned over the many years I have been in practice to ask specifically if the cat is getting all the waste in the box. Often clients say: “He goes most of the time, but then he really aggravates me by urinating right next to the box. He is such a pain,” or “He is just ornery and won’t use the box for his stool. He goes nearby and since it is easy to pick up it is not a problem.” So, this is not a big problem for the owner, but the cat is not happy with their litter box. I have discovered many cats for whom diabetes, early kidney failure, and other health problems were the cause of them missing the box. I have written blog posts in the past about the various health problems that can cause inappropriate elimination. In this post, I will focus on the various home issues that can cause a cat to urinate or defecate right next to the box.

One of the most frustrating scenarios is one where urine or stool is within 6 inches of the sides, back or front of the litter box. In short, right next to the box, but not in the box. So aggravating! The cat is 90% of the way there but fails to go in the box. What’s up?

Dr. Sally Foote next to homemade litter box

Here are three of the most common scenarios for “missing the box:”

  1. Your cat may not be able to assume the correct position in the litter box. The posture they need to assume is one with the rear end tucked under far enough so everything lands in the box. Many commercially available litter boxes are too small for a cat to climb in, sniff around, paw, and crouch with room for the tail to not be bumped up against the back of the box. Litter boxes need to be 1 ½ times the length of the cat’s body and about 3 times as wide as the cat. Many of our cats are obese and have a tough time tucking enough to have their rear in the right place. So, the cat gets in position, but the rear end is hanging over the edge and the stool or urine ends up on the floor next to the box. The cat was in the right place and doing the right thing, but the box is the problem. Under the bed storage boxes are large enough and low sided enough to help with this problem. Creating a new litter box out of a large storage bin can also help. See my YouTube video to make one yourself.

homemade litter box homemade litter box

 

You may also try the disposable litter boxes available online. These are shipped to you regularly with litter. Many of these boxes are large and the new box does not have past odors that may be undesirable for the cat.

 

 

  1. Your cat may be doing a balancing act of getting in the box, but stands on the edge of the box rather than in the litter while the urine or stool shoots over the edge. Watching your cat balance on the edge of a litter box may seem comical or weird, but it is a sign that the cat does not like standing in this box or is not able to, possibly because it is too small. If you have a large box and your cat is standing on the edge, this often means the cat does not like the actual litter. This may be due to deodorizers, plastic liners, the non-clay type litters, or post declaw pain. Try offering your cat a second box with a different type of litter and see which one it prefers. The litters most widely accepted by cats are the generic clay litter or the litter with only activated charcoal as the deodorizer. Post-declaw pain can be low grade and chronic; the cat may be walking fine, but avoids jumping up or down and is typically sensitive about petting near the legs. If there has been a chronic problem with your cat avoiding the litter and you have tried alternate types and larger boxes, have your cat examined and discuss joint supplements and low-dose meloxicam therapy for your cat with your veterinarian.
  2. Your cat is constipated. They get in the box, they get in position, but nothing happens. After a while of no results, they get out of the box. Now the stool is right there and they must go NOW. So, they do. Only it’s just near the box, not in the box; whereas on good days, they may get the stool in the box. This can be a very perplexing problem. Refer to the stool chart by Royal Canin. The small broken up stool is constipation in the cat (Score 4.5 & 5 on the chart for cats). You want to see “tootsie rolls” that are 3-4 inches long. Constipation problems may be due to a lack of fiber, not enough water consumption, irritable bowel disorder, or possibly kidney failure. If your cat has firm stools, please have your cat examined and bring stool samples and photos of your cat’s stool. Veterinarians are used to looking at all sorts of things, so don’t feel weird about bringing photos of your cat’s litter box. It can help a lot with diagnosis.

You may do all these things and your cat might still go right next to the box. This can be aggravating, to say the least. If you have worked with your veterinarian to screen for health problems or any chronic pain, there are ways to help manage this behavior and keep your home clean, such as putting a puppy pad under the litter box to catch the misses. Now you can dispose of the waste and it will not soil your home. Clean the floor with an enzyme cleaner to remove as much of the odors as possible. Whenever you find your cat near the box praise and reward them. Even if your cat is going in the box 50% of the time, they may improve with a larger box, good litter box hygiene, and their favorite type of litter.

 

For Further Reading:
The On Again/Off Again Litter Box User – Feline Idiopathic (Interstitial) Cystitis
Litter Box Happiness – For Cats of All Ages
Litter Box Problems Could Be Due to Physical Ailment
Covered or Uncovered Litterboxes: Do Cats Have a Preference?
What to Do When Your Cat Poops Outside the Box
Webinar; 5 Simple Rules to Keep Your Cat in the Box

 

Dr. Sally Foote
DVM, CABC-IAABC, LSHC-S
Executive Director
CattleDog Publishing / Low Stress Handling® University

Five simple rules to keep your cat in the litter box

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23 responses to “Litter Box Misses – When Your Cat Goes Right Next to the Box

  1. I adopted a senior (10 years old) diabetic cat, who also came to me declawed. I haven’t had him that long but the last few months he has started going right beside his litter box, or in the corner of the room where his box is. I assumed the litter hurt his poor declawed paws, so I got softer litter, and then resorted to puppy pee pads once I realized litter was a no go. He will pee on the pads, but not the ones in his litter box. I set up three different boxes of various sizes and shapes. I am so frustrated and have no idea why he is doing this. He will go all the way past his three litter boxes, and poop on the floor! Please help !

    1. dear Jennifer,
      At this age, your may have some other pain or body issues that make it difficult to climb or crouch into a box. Please bring photos and the full info to your DVM and ask about a behavior consult with a DVM
      with behavior expertise at avsab.org

  2. My cat will climb into the litter box, dig a whole in the litter, then poop over the edge of the box, and fills the whole back in even though he didn’t poop in it. It happens almost every day. Sometimes he gets it in there, sometimes he doesn’t. I’ve tried using more litter boxes, cleaning the litter more frequently, bigger litter boxes, smaller litter boxes, covered litter boxes, uncovered litter boxes, moving the litter boxes to different places in my home, cleaning the floor around the box, and 10 different types of litter. I’ve even tried sensitive stomach food, as well as high fiber food. He isn’t declawed, and 2 different veterinarians have confirmed that he is in good health. I’m out of ideas.

    1. My cat used to do the same thing, a longer wider cat box with a plastic tray beneath just in case,you might have to fabricate a custom box…….Your Kitty might also have vision problems and might not see well…

  3. A behavior consultation would help you the most. Please go to AVSAB.org and look in the directory for a behaviorist near you.

  4. Hello Doctor,

    We have a 12 year old female, have had her since she was around 6-8 weeks old as a tiny stray baby. She’s around 7-8lbs. We typically don’t have litter box poroblems with her unless we neglect to clean it, however, last week we bought her a new box. New color, new shape (but still covered), and a bit smaller. She refused to use it properly. She would poop in a room and if she had to pee she would go into the box but not turn around which led to urine OUTSIDE the box on the rubber mat. We should have introduced the new box to her slowly but now we’re trying to fix that. We put the old box back in place but she’s still not turning around with her butt to the back. Any advice?

    1. Having the same problem female cat goes in the box but ends up spraying the urine outside the box. Not even a new litter pan though, so confused.

  5. My 2 year old Male cat will go in the litter box, but insists on peeing at the front. He will squat but as he begins to pee he will begin to raise up, which results in him peeing on the floor in front of the box. He used to do this at the back of the litter box, which wasn’t an issue because the box was covered. How do I address this issue?

  6. CAT SUDDENLY NOT USING LITTER BOX WE CHANGED LITTER STILL DOING IT
    SHOULD WE MOVE THE BOX TO ANOTHER LOCATION
    HES 18 MULTIPLE TRIPS TO THE VET
    WIFE AT WITS END ITS A WIFE AND CAT ISSUE HELP

  7. Hi doctor,
    I have a 5 year old Persian cat that keeps on peeing right outside the litter box. We have taken him to the vet and the only negative things they found were that he lost weight and had a mild ÚTI (which he got antibiotics for). It’s been about 2 weeks and he still pees outside the litter box and now he is starting to lick random things and eat small bits of litter. We have bought another litter box (flat tray kind) and different litter to see if that helps and it didn’t. He either squats right outside the litter box or jumps in but right at the edge and shoots his pee out.we have also bought him a calming colar and a calming diffuser, and he is still peeing outside the litter box. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks you

  8. My 15 year old cat defecates outside the litter box about 50% of the time, but always urinates in the box. We are using 3 litter boxes and keep them very clean. He uses all three but favors the converted one. Because he still has hard, we switched to 100% wet food (Iam’s healthy adult). The vet put him on stool softener, which softened his stool but produced no change in behavior. He isn’t in the box when he misses and sometimes he goes in the middle of the hallway, though usually within a foot of a box.

    He started this at about age 12. The first time he had been locked away from his litter box because a door was shut that should have been open, but it was months later before he did it again. Even then it was rare, gradually increas in in frequency.

    Besides more litter boxes and still different, we’ve tried litter attractant and Feliway relaxer.

    What else can I try?

  9. I need an outside litter box for my 4 stray cats. Any suggestions where I can get one? I was also thinking of using a sandbox but would my stray cats go into to sand box to poop? They poop on my neighbor’s yard and my nasty neighbor is throwing back poop into my driveway. I had a small area where I put top soil at the end of my yard with the hope the cats would poop there but not effective as I thought it would be. Any suggestions or advice you can give me?

  10. My long haired cat has been having problems not pooping in the litter box. She will pee in the box, but insists on pooping right in front of it. She has always had this problem, even with her previous owners, but we are getting frustrated because we’ve tried so many different solutions with no luck – changing the litter, covered and uncovered, we clean the spot she goes at every time, we vacuum around the litter box sometimes twice a day because we’ve noticed she will go on the stray litter on the floor, we scoop the litter at least once a day, we deep clean it every week, and we’ve even shaved around her backside thinking maybe her long hair was the issue. We have one big box for two cats (we don’t have a good place for a second litter box because we have a smaller house) and the other cat has no problems. I’m just clueless as to what steps we need to take next. Any suggestions?

  11. geezzz my cat, ever since he was born, urinates in front of the litter box. I have tried with a bigger box, different litter even 2 litters boxes side by side but he still urinates outside of it; he goes in, then goes out and urinates on the floor. Of course, I love my cat so it aint really a problem, I just clean it up but I would appreciate a solution to this.

  12. I have a male cat that pees standing up and will shoot over the box , and some times he just decides to pee on a rug . How can I get him to squat like a normal cat. I am really getting sick of cleaning up pee and ruining things.

    1. My boys are “hikers” not squatters. There is a bit of a competition as to who can go the highest. They are big cats. I bought a see-through very large and tall, plastic tote box. i do not use the lid. I used a soldering iron to make the opening or doorway in the plastic on one of the narrower ends.. Do this outdoors. I tried sawing or cutting, but the plastic fractured. Melting worked better. Remember to make the bottom of the opening several inches above the bottom of the tote. Think about the height of the litter in the box and make the bottom of the opening just a little taller.. I also lean a much taller piece of plastic that goes into the litter at the back of the box. It is opposite the door. I have seen one of my cats have his head out the door and still hiking to pee. I needed the extra height to keep the pee from flying over the top of the box. Just to make sure, I have plastic under the tote and taped to the wall. The tall walls of the tote and the one extra tall wall have solved my problems. I also found my 17 year old male could step in and out of this box better than regular boxes.

    1. Try getting a couple of those motion detecting toys that make a lot of noise and movement when triggered and set it on your counters and stove. After a few times of it scaring your cat, the behavior will probably stop. A friend of mine put a skeleton head with a flapping jaw and flashing eyes (it was a Halloween seasonal item) on her counter and her cat completely stopped jumping on the counters. You could also put them on the floor in the doorway to the kitchen and probably keep them out of the kitchen all together. Worth a try.

  13. My cat is 16yrs old and has always used the litter box with no problem. Recently she has stopped eating or eats very little and doesn’t drink as much as she used to. She sleeps nearly all day and shows no interest in being with me. Loved her treats but prefers to sleep in a bedroom away by herself. Recently started peeing on the floor next to the litter box. Litter was scattered on the floor along with the urine. Box was clean already.. This is new behavior for her. What do I do?

    1. Hi Janet,
      https://cats.lovetoknow.com/Elderly_Cat_Behavior this site will help answer your questions.
      “If your older cat is not eating much, has unusual sleeping habits, or shows other behavioral changes, it can be difficult to determine whether this is a normal part of the feline aging process or a sign of a more serious problem.
      Although it can be distressing to watch, realize it’s not unusual to notice that your elderly cat’s behavior has changed significantly. Some of these behaviors are related to medical conditions and others are simply the effects of growing old. If you’re concerned about their behavior, it’s best to contact your veterinarian and discuss the best ways to make your senior cat comfortable.
      Some behaviors you should expect to see as your cat ages include:
      Litter Box Issues
      Disorientation (known as feline cognitive dysfunction)
      Becoming very quiet or unusually vocal
      Increase in hiding behavior
      Speak to your vet about changing his diet to find more palatable choices that will entice him to eat. You will probably need to switch to wet food. You can also try to hand feed him with a spoon and his food to see if this helps. You also should always keep fresh water available for him.
      Suggestions for Litter Box Issues
      A decrease in his regular eating habits can lead to occasional constipation and inappropriate elimination, such as relieving himself on a bed in the house. He may not go to the bathroom in his litter box. He also may leave droppings all around the house and urinate anywhere, with preferences towards plastics bags, books, and newspapers that have been left on the floor.
      Dealing with House Soiling
      If your cat is experiencing senility, he may have been unable to remember where his box was, and this could exacerbate the house soiling. Confining him to a smaller area, such as a baby gated room with a litter box close by might help the situation. You can also place more than one litter box in the confined area and be sure to clean them out daily.

    2. Hi Janet,

      You should take her to the vet right away. She is older in age, and you’ll want the vet to help determine the root cause. She could be suffering and in some kind of pain, particularly if she isn’t eating, sleeping more than usual, and has overall changes in behavior.

      1. yes a veterinary exam, with photos of where your pet is going, the type of box and location and what perches and places your cat can get to.
        Dr Sally J Foote

  14. My calico kitty is 22 years old. Took her to the vet to ask about her health. The suggested no testing due to her age but believe she has some trouble getting in the box. Possible renal issues or arthritis. Because her heart sounds great they believe she’s fine otherwise. She also cries out all the time. I’m worried something more is wrong. She pees all around the box. Sometimes she makes it in but not regularly. It has ruined our floors. The vet suggested linoleum and we tried but she goes so much that it started to go under the linoleum. I replaced all the linoleum with black garbage bags, which I’ve used in the past. Those seem to keep it off the floor. I’m not sure how much longer we can continue to keep up with this. At this point I already have to replace a bedroom floor. Do you have any other suggestions as far as keeping her happy and our floor urine free?

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