What to Do When Your Cat Poops Outside the Box

37 | Posted:

By Sophia Yin, DVM

What do you do when your kitty is leaving little landmines around the house—a.k.a. pooping outside the box?  Unlike urine, which cats often use to spray-paint invisible but pungent messages such as “I was here” or “This is MINE!” on your walls, misplaced poop as well as large puddles of pee usually has a whole different meaning. Basically, when cats poop (or pee large puddles) out of place, it's for one of two reasons. They don't like their litter box or they like their new taboo toilet better.

You're probably asking yourself, “Why wouldn't a cat love a little plastic box piled deep with cat litter and filled with the scent of past visits? My dogs love it. They visit it every day and sometimes help with the cleanup.” (Note to reader: do not let such dogs lick you.)

Well, it could be a lot of things. Maybe the litter's not deep enough or the lining is a pain to negotiate, or the box is too small – it should be 1.5x the length of the cat. Or it's so dirty and stinky that your feline has to hold his breath while watching his step.

Your cat's behavior could lend a clue. If he stands on the litter box edge and drops his duty along the sides or is in and out faster than your kids on the way to soccer practice and leaves his mess uncovered, he may have an issue with the litter. Cats tend to like the feel of finer litters and most of them regularly cover their feces or urine. In fact, cats generally spend over 20 seconds pawing around in the litter. Also, some cats prefer unscented litters.

While “spring” might smell nice to us, to the cat's keener schnozzle, the blend of deodorizer with fumes of excrement may be an olfactory no-no. Even a whiff of pure “perfumey fresh” without the poop might hit a cat like a punch in the nose, sending him in search of a better bathroom site.

To see whether litter type or cleanliness have a hand in your cat's pooping (or peeing) problems, clean the litter boxes twice a day and set up a litter-box lineup for a week or two. In this choice test for litter lavatories, place three or more temporary boxes side by side with only one thing varying between boxes. For instance you may be comparing scented vs unscented, Brand A vs Brand B, large box vs small box, and so on.

Even try covered versus uncovered boxes, and if he's going on rugs, try one with bits of carpet to see if it's the surface type that he likes. Generally if the cat has a preference you’ll know in just several days.

If you're already compulsive about cleaning your cat's litter box and the box is unscented, unlined, and filled with litter that the litter box choice test shows that he loves, then you should look more closely at the litter box location.

Is his box right next to his breakfast room? If so, try moving his food bowl farther away. Is the box in the right location? Just like some people (usually men) who decide that using the bushes is more convenient than using the designated bathroom, cats may choose more convenient sites too. So provide plenty of boxes (one for each cat in the household plus one extra) in different, easily accessible places in the house. For those of you who live in multi-level houses, be sure to place a box on each floor.

And make sure that boxes can’t be blocked by bully cats or other bothersome animals in the household. Also, for older cats with arthritis, try a box with lower sides so they can easily enter. For ideas on how to make the multitude of litter boxes looking nice in your home as well as having multiple entry points, go to www.ikeahackers.net.

For some cats there's nothing wrong with the box or location. These cats may have just had a painful incident, such as diarrhea or constipation, or fearful experience, such as a sudden loud noise piercing their peaceful pooping episode, which they now associate with the box. That’s one reason why it’s best to keep the litter boxes away from loud areas or appliances, such as a laundry room or furnace. A sudden loud, Bang! or the thud of a detergent box landing on your head is enough to keep even easy going cats away from that dangerous litter box location. Still, others cats just happened to discover a new location or special surface that they like much better.

In any case, in addition to making the litter boxes extremely appealing, make the off-limit toilet sites inconvenient or unattractive.

First use an enzymatic cleaner such as Petastic or Anti-icky poo (MisterMax.com) on these sites so that the faint whiff of past deeds no longer entices your cat to perform the undesirable act.

Then deny access by closing the room off, placing tin foil, upside-down carpet runner, or other blockades over the area, or by spraying with an over-the-counter cat repellent.

Alternatively, place the cat’s food, bed, or even his litter box over the location.

If he's been using sites for a while, you may have to break the habit, retraining him to his box for weeks to a month or two. Confine him to one room with several lovely cat lavatories. Even train him to go in and then reward him when you catch him pottying in the box. Once he has a habit of pottying only in the box for 30 days, let him roam additional rooms but only when supervised at first.

Follow these tips to a T and your cat will once again poop in his litter box regularly.

 

For information on urine spraying in cats, go to Urine- Spraying Cats: How To Deal With Kitty 'Graffiti'.

Also watch for my next blog on medical causes for pooping outside the litter box at drsophiayin.com.

Too see a video of how to target train your cat, watch Target Training Kittens. Once he’s target trained, you can use the target to get him into his litter box.

See additional information on

 

 

 

Adapted from an article originally appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

37 responses to “What to Do When Your Cat Poops Outside the Box

  1. I made the mistake of putting the litter box by the main door we used to enter the house. When we entered, our cat went running from the box and after a few times, he wouldn’t use that box.
    Also, it’s always a struggle to place the litter box with easy access for the cats but not easy access for the dogs. We have gotten creative in our design of our cats room. Yes our cats have their own room with wall climbing and plenty of sleeping places but the box (in that room) is large, covered and in a closet behind a shelf with the enterence turned so that the cats can enter but the dogs can’t. It’s not so convenent for the cats but for now they are fine with it.

  2. Really fantastic concept about cat poops outside the box. I like to read this concept. Cats are inclined to like the sense of better litters and most of them frequently cover their feces or urine. In fact, cats usually spend over 20 seconds pawing approximately in the waste. Thanks!

  3. “What do you do when your kitty is leaving little landmines around the house—a.k.a. pooping outside the box?”
    Well to be honest, I just decide to live without pets in my house if that would happen! Supplements

  4. I had more of a question to ask regarding this matter. I am having issues with my cat pooping outside the box some of the time ( I do have 2 cats). For example tonight when I came home from work she had pooped in one of the liiter boxes and also on the floor. Their 2nd litter box had urine and the 3rd had nothing in it. I had caught her scooting on the carpet about a month ago, so we went to the vet. They had to release the anal glands and then they started her on a high fiber diet due to chronic diarrhea. That helped the pooping on the carpet for a while but last week I had to take her back to the vet assuming it was the glands again. They got a small amount out. That was 4 days ago. Now it has started again. I don’t know what to do with her. I’m getting so frustrated and I am ready to give her to somebody else. Please help!!

  5. I have a cat name Faisey. She use to pee outside the litter box now it’s poop. It was first o. Any rugs in the house especially bathroom rugs, now it’s on tile. She is about 8 yrs old and she started doing this about 6-7 years ago. It use to be once in a while now it’s daily. I would not regime her because this is not fair to anyone else. My next step is to put her down. I love animals and have 2 dogs and 2 other cats. She will not go outside, she just crys at the door. We have tried everything, new litter, new box, new locations, she has ruined more rugs and carpets more then I can count. Now she just goes on my tile, but the odor is so bad. What do I do???

    1. To even think of ending an animals life because of habits you may not understand or have the ability to control is cruel and inhumane. You shouldn’t have the privilege to have any by animals in your home if that’s your ‘next step’. Get multiple veterinary opinions, take her in and have her checked, see an animal behaviorist who specialize in cats. Maybe you’re feeding her low grade food that’s upsetting her or maybe she has an improper bowel system that needs attention.. Or maybe it’s her reaction to the household. But you better get empathy otherwise hand her in the hands of people who truly care and don’t put animals down.. Professionals and animal rescues.

      1. Juliana, maybe you need some empathy. Your comment was unkind and inhumane. There is a limit to how much money, time, and energy some people have no matter how much love they hold for their pets. Making suggestions without insult is the best way to help people. Anything else is just self righteous people bashing. No wonder you do better with animals. (There how did that feel? Not too nice huh? Try to be a little more gentle with people. Most people do their best and it certainly seems like Catherine is.)

        1. Your statement wouldn’t bother me at all. People are hard to deal with even when “gentle and kind”. Many find that approach a weakness. It’s so much more complicated when it come to people. I agree with Juiliana. If you’re too cheap and impatient to deal with an imperfect animal, let someone who really loves and understand them deal with them. To put an animal down because of your inefficiencies is inhumane.
          Deanna, your self righteous people bashing was a good example of someone who must feel guilty about harboring the same sentiments. Nothing she said was out of order or in the least bashing. The truth hurts sometimes. Bashing is when you throw out all kinds of accusations and names that have no bases in the situation. Wrong is wrong and calling it what it that is the right thing to do.

          1. i will need your home (or office) address, because this cat will need a place to go if he does not stop pooping and peeing outside of the box. i can not risk one of the children becoming sick by this new habit of his. he has been a member of the family for at least four years now, but he is on the bottom of the food chain when priorities need to be given.

            have a nice day and again…i’d love to know he is in a good home and thank you for volunteering yours.

    2. Catherine Walker: Maybe you should send her to a rescue that will be patient and understanding and maybe more experienced in taking care of these types of issues. Putting her down is an unfair and selfish idea. She is a living creature. We don’t just kill elderly people who have to wear adult diapers because they can’t use the restroom anymore.

      1. yah except most rescue centers would put her down exactly for that reason. No one will buy a cat that doesn’t poop or pee in a litter box I’m sorry to say but if you are not a patient owner your cat is kinda screwed either way. Unless you did what my parents did and find someone that lives in the country that will take her. because in the country cats tend to go to the bathroom wherever they want and if they are not declawed that is a good solution.

        1. This response is absurd. If you are having issues unable to provide the right accommodations for your cat, or your cat is no longer the pet you hoped for and is making your living situation more stressful than it’s worth, there are MANY alternatives that do not involve murdering the cat. I’m not going to put it lightly by saying “put it down”. To kill an animal because they are having digestive problems in your view, which the animal likely does not understand are problematic at all, and which may be natural to the animal, is reprehensible.

          Take the cat to a “no kill” shelter, for starters, and they will care for the cat until someone adopts it. They won’t kill the cat for having bathroom issues. Secondly, do a little bit of searching online for animal rescues and animal foster homes in your area. There are many individuals who are happy to keep animals at their home and care for them until they find the right home. Most of these individuals volunteer to do this especially when there are no “no kill” shelters in the area, because they don’t agree with that practice, or when local shelters are constantly at full capacity and can’t take in more animals. If you do go this route, please do some research on where you are sending the cat, as not all privately run foster homes for pets or shelters are legitimate and some could put your pet into a rather cruel and torturous situation.

          Even a website like Craigslist may help you find a new caregiver for your cat. Post an ad describing the situation and see if anyone in your area is looking for a pet who has the right home and the patience to care for this one. Some people take an extra liking to older pets and are willing to put up with these “flaws” out of compassion because they know not many people will.

          If you aren’t willing to put in at least some effort to find a better home for this animal, you should promptly reconsider your ability to ever have a pet again. They aren’t novelties or trinkets that live clean and entertaining lives to please humans. They are living beings that evolved in the outside world and their natural environment is not inside a human dwelling. Please give this animal the respect and care it deserves.

          1. Lion, I am in a similar situation. I have had two cats, brothers, for over nine years. One of the cats starting peeing on the floor starting about two years ago and now is both defecating and peeing in the same spot. There is nothing in my house that has overtly changed that I can see that would cause this change in behavior. My carpets are ruined. I have taken the problem cat to several vets who have seen nothing physically wrong with him. I have followed general suggestions with adding litter boxes and other advice, nothing works. The no-kill shelter that I have contacted will not take him because of his history. So what are my options?

    3. Have you taken her to the vet to rule out a medical issue? Most websites will tell you that is the first step. She could have irritable bowel. Cats are very good at masking discomfort.

    4. Hi.. Try to spray any spot that ur cat always poop with vinegar.. I hv tried it and it works for my cat.. Hope this help..

    5. She might have some form of urinary tract infection. My mothers cat started to pee on the throw blanket because it was soft fleece and I guess it felt nice for him. I’d take to get to check out her kidneys before you just off her

  6. Catherine walker you’ll want to get your cat checked by vet. Cat may have cystitis and try to get cat on wet food

  7. Help…..my bf has 3 cats we have 3 cats boxes. The one one upstairs in the hallway is the one that they (don’t know which one) does not use its pees and poops all over the hall way floor. Now the they use the cat boxes downstairs all the time I don’t know how to fix the problem!!!!!

  8. My cat has been crying at night, and has pooped outside the box(just outside it) several times. I have had her checked out by the vet and everything came back negative. I had changed the type of litter it’s true, trying to find litter that tracks less. I will try going back to the old litter, but what about the crying? (our other cat died about 9 months ago, but that’s been a really long time…)

  9. Please give me some advice. My cat is very finicky about being dirty. If his litter box is gross he’ll go elsewhere. Yet, if he’s mad at me or stressed out (even if the litter box is clean) he’ll poop on my bed or somewhere else inappropriate. Recently my family has gone through some major changes and he’s obviously extremely stressed and upset. He’s pooped on my bed several times and despite punishment and due-diligent box cleaning he’s still doing it every few days. It’s getting extremely frustrating and we can’t stand it anymore. What should I do?

    1. Try giving him some more attention.He could just be lonely and try to spend as much time with him as possible. Have you ever had another cat while you had him?

  10. My cat was found as a stray, we have tried several different litters and he has two different boxes. He would use the clay litter once each time then poop and pee outside the box, the same with the newspaper litter too. He seems to like the pee pads better but still won’t poop on them. And he’s definitely not accidentally missing the boxes. He also tries to cover the poop but he never tried to when he had the clay litter. Getting seriously mixed signals and need help.

  11. I have two litter boxes for my cat ( I only have one cat ) I’ve been using the same litter that he likes, I always keep his litter boxes clean. But once in a while he poops next to his litter box. I don’t understand why.

  12. Our cat has been with us for over 18 years. Always an inside cat, “Molly” has been a great companion. We are seniors and live a quite life with no recent changes that could effect the cat’s behaviour. Her litter is changed once a day. Her box is larger than normal (has been for the past 6 years) to accommodate her sometimes sloppy bathroom habits. She has a tendancy to not get fully in the box and urine would dribble down the outside of the box. My customized box seems to work but lately she occasionally defecates elsewhere in the house for no apparent reason. She has never urinated anywhere else than in her box but the recent inconsistant bowel movement habits have us worried. She is playful for her age, eats well and generally seems to be enjoying her life although she has slowed down a lot and sleeps almost all the time. She appears to be in good health so what would have made her less diligent in using the litter box?

  13. We had two cats. When our oldest cat got sick our other cat started pooping and urinating outside the litter box. On the rugs in the kitchen or in the livingroom on the floor. My sick cat past away last week but our other cat still wont go in the litter box. What can I do???

  14. We went camping for a long weekend and now our cat is peeing and pooping in our living room. Any advice as to why or what we can do to fix this issue.

  15. help!! my cat was given to me as a kitten, she is totally declawed and spayed. She poops on my tile floors instead of her box. I live alone with her so her stress lever should be low. She loves me, I can tell and I love her. I cant give her up. She also peed on bath room rugs last week and P U ! Please help us, Sincerely Kitty and Me

    1. Take her to the vet to rule out any medical issues she may have. Also sometimes declawing results in behavioural issues later on.

  16. I have a ten year old cat who has been pooping outside the box on occasion for YEARS. I finally got to a place where I have multiple litter boxes, use a litter he likes, and even started giving him a pre- and pro-biotic to help him with any constipation issues he may be having. He will STILL poop outside the box every few weeks or so. Many times he will start pooping in the box and then finish outside the box. Sometimes he will squat right in front of me as he’s trying to pass fecal matter. I’ve noticed he prefers to poop on the carpet as well which is VERY frustrating. I’ve gotten him checked out at the vet many times and they’ve ruled this issue out as a behavioral problem. I don’t know what else to do besides put him on medication, which I don’t really want to do. Any help or tips would be appreciated. And I’d like to note that I’ve tried EVERY tip advice websites give on litter levels, litter types, box sizes, hooded boxes, non-hooded boxes, location changes, etc. I’ve tried it ALL and nothing seems to work. I am desperate as I know he knows better and seems to do this on purpose with no regard.

  17. I have three cats. The youngest of the three who is 8 has just started pooping and now peeing outside the litter box. We have two litter boxes that are cleaned of waste every day and totally changed out and cleaned eveyr two weeks. We moved two months ago and for the first month and a half all was fine. The litter box locations have not changed, their diet has not changed, the litter itself has not changed not has her outward everyday behavior. she is eating and drinking the same amount, playing and cuddling the same amount and the poop looks normal.

    At first she was pooping on the carpet in my daughter’s hang out room I the basement around a chair that is down there (the chair was with us at the old place) then we blocked that room off and now she is going between the washer and dryer, or behind the furnace or in a storage space. she has not started peeing or pooping on other floors yet which I hope she doesn’t. We talked to our vet about this and they recommended a synthetic pheremone spray for the areas she was going to the bathroom in but that has not helped. Any suggestions? I don’t think it is the noise of the washer and dryer or the furnace as she was fine with them the first month and a half.

  18. when i told my sister she started laughing i was not supriesd how and why would a cat poo just because its his or her space or room is this text a lie i need a real answer
    answer me i need a answer
    #help me

  19. Hi Dr Yin,
    I am quite frustrated at the behaviour of our cute pussycat who poo’s outside the litter box. He is one year old and when we got him as a kitten, he was toilet trained. Unfortunately he watched our other cat who was pooing outside the box (grrr) and picked up his bad habit! The older one now poo’s in the box (Yay!) after much patience and perseverence; we were able to predict when he needed to go and used to place him on the litter box and when he did his business, rewarded him with a small amount of dry food. Unfortunately the young one still poo’s, much harder to predict when he needs to go. We have tried placing him on the toilet when we think he needs to go, usually after a meal, but ends up sitting in the litter box and staring at us with a very confused look on his face. Please, please help! This is really getting so frustrating and embarrassing when we have people over and they stumble upon the poo and the smell!!!! Antonella

  20. Hi not sure if you’ve got any advice? i am feeling a bit desperate about my cats toilet habits! We have a British blue kitten. He came from a breeder fully litter trained at 10 weeks old. We introduced him to one room at a time round the house and emptied his litter tray regularly. He used it no problem. Then after about 5 months we started to let him out side ( he was neuted) We noticed he was now still going in his tray but would often ‘miss’ and poop on the floor next to his tray. This happened on and off for a few weeks, then he stared to randomly wee and poo on the floor right in front of the washing machine which is by the back door of the house, where he comes in from outside. We moved a litter tray into that area as well and it worked! He now used the litter tray in the laundry room and hardly ever went in his room in the office (a large carpeted room, which is where he is kept at night.)
    After another few months, (he was nearly a year old now) he started to ‘miss’ the litter trays again. He poops just by the side of the box and never in the box its self! I have bought every detergent under the sun to make sure he can’t smell any old poop. He still pee’s in the litter box but always poops just at the side of it. I always empty the box after every wee and poo! I don’t know what to do to encourage him to poop in the tray. He has two different trays in the laundry room as someone said he might not like to wee and poo in the same box? We have tried three different types of litter and it just randomly varies which one he pee’s in but he now never poops in any! We have a hard tiled floor and he diggs at it poops and then runs off! He always looks quite stressed when he’s pooping, i don’t know why? He doesn’t ever go to the toilet outside he always comes in to go… Any advice on things to try work be much appreciated!

  21. Our kitten (he’s 4 months old) is peeing (mostly) and sometimes pooping outside his litter box. I am at my wits end with knowing what to do. We did get a puppy also about 1 month ago, and they do wrestle a lot. At times the cat instigates it and sometimes the dog. We’re not getting rid of the dog, but I really need advice about what to do!!! I cannot have him peeing like this in my house. I’m definitely going to try this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *