Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Litter Box? Feline Behavior Problems Explained!

Using a litter box isn’t rocket science, and some cats can learn how to use one even when they’re just kittens. Still, pooping outside the litter box isn’t uncommon. In fact, around 10% of cats end up doing this at some point in their lives.

While it might be frustrating, there’s usually a reason you can address to solve the problem. From medical and psychological reasons to behavioral reasons and personal preference, there are lots of possibilities why your cat might not be using their litter box.

The reason often depends on context, so look through all possibilities and decide what’s most likely to find a solution.

It might be due to a serious health concern, but don’t worry unnecessarily. There’s no need to jump to conclusions if there’s another clear reason why they might be having a few “accidents.”

Reasons Your Cat Could Be Pooping Outside

The good news is that pooping outside the litter box isn’t something you need to worry about – at least not immediately. It might be a cause for concern, but not necessarily. Here are some issues to consider that might help you work out what the problem is.

Health Issues

Just like humans have problems going to the bathroom when they’re ill, so do many animals – including cats! From diarrhea to constipation, your cat’s accident might just be because they’re feeling a bit poorly. If so, it should only be temporary and is unlikely a major health issue.

There’s a range of potential health issues that might cause them to poop outside the litter box.

Digestive Problems

why is my cat pooping outside the litter box

Digestive issues might make it uncomfortable for them to go or even go more often, reducing their ability to control when and where they poop.

Aging

Perhaps your cat is getting a bit old. If senior cats have arthritis, they might find it difficult to get in the litter box. Or their brain might be getting old and confused.

Constipation

cat won't poop in litter box

Alternatively, constipation can make it hard for a cat to poop in the litter box. They might go there and start pushing, but it only comes out once they leave. Have a look to see if your cat’s poop looks dry; if so, that’s a telltale sign of constipation.

It might not be the sexiest thing to do but looking at cat poop helps you understand their health and when to go to the vet. For example, regular diarrhea could indicate bowel or kidney diseases, as well as an overactive thyroid.

Wrong Litter Box Location

We all know how fussy cats can be – from their food right down to where you put the cat’s litter box. And if they’re not happy, you’ll find a big cat poop telling you so.

cat not pooping in litter box

If your cat’s litter box is somewhere with a funny smell, loud noises, or lots of googly eyes staring at them as they go, they’re unlikely to use it while it’s in that location. If your cat is old, though, perhaps they’re not able to remember where the litter box is and should be placed in a more prominent location for them.

Change in the Household

Any change in the household can throw your cat off its game. If you move house, they might feel stressed or not know where the litter box is; if you have a new pet, they might feel stressed and jealous or even become territorial and start marking their territory.

Whenever there’s anything new in their life, it’s best that they’re introduced to them slowly to get used to them. Remember to give your cat lots of praise and encouragement as they adjust to anything new.

Stress

cats pooping outside litter box

Stress is strange and affects everyone. Each human seems to display signs of stress differently, and animals show stress in various ways too – and each cat finds different things stressful too.

Cats tend to be fond of routines, and any deviation might provoke stress. If they suddenly start pooping outside the litter box, consider if there have been any changes to your cat’s routine or living situation. Perhaps they just need to adjust and recover from stress.

Dirty Litter Box

Not only can the litter box’s location upset your cat, but so can the litter box itself. If their litter box isn’t up to a cat’s high standards, they won’t hesitate to let you know what they think in the form of a dirty protest.

If their litter box is dirty and still has waste in it, they might not use it… which is fair enough. It’s understandable why your cat prefers a clean litter box. After all, we’re disgusted when we have to use a dirty toilet that hasn’t been flushed too. Make sure to clean the litter box daily – at least once or twice a day, if not more often.

It could even be the scent of the litter box they dislike. Many cats have sensitive noses, and if you have scented litter, they might turn their noses up at it. Consider getting an unscented litter to see if that helps. The best cat litter you can get could make a world of difference!

They Used to Be an Outdoor Cat

Things change as we get older, and if a cat has always been used to pooping outside, it might need a period of adjustment as they get used to using a litter box inside. Fortunately, cats tend to adjust to this without too much difficulty, although there are some that need more time than other cats.

It’s important that you’re patient with them. Try to give them similar conditions they would have outside, such as a peaceful and private space without anyone looking at them.

Fear

cat keeps pooping outside litter box

Fear doesn’t necessarily mean that your cat is so scared they poop themselves. But they can be afraid of where the litter box is or even the litter box itself.

Make sure the litter box is away from anything scary or loud. And if it’s a new litter box, introduce it to your cat slowly and with positive reinforcement, so they’re not afraid.

Recently Adopted Kitty

It can take cats a while to adjust to a new home, so don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks or even months to settle in. A new cat might not know where the litter box is or might not want to share it with other cats. You might even need to brush up on how to train a cat to use a litter box.

Whatever the issue, make sure their litter box is in a private and accessible place, and give them praise and patience to settle in.

How to Stop Your Cat from Pooping Outside the Litter Box

If cats poop outside the litter box, it’s not the end of the world. And once you actually figure out why they’re doing it, you can solve the problem to stop it from happening again.

Here are a few things you can do and keep in mind to reduce the risk of it happening again.

Keep It Clean

Anyone who’s ever been to a music festival knows how difficult it is to go to the bathroom in a dirty toilet – and the same goes for cats, who famously dislike dirty litter boxes.

cat pooping outside box

To ensure cats poop inside the litter box, keep it as clean as possible. Make sure to clean it out regularly – and be thorough, too since cats have sensitive noses and know when you do a lackluster job.

If you want to make this much easier, you could always invest in an automatic litter box or even find the best flushable cat litter so you can just scoop it straight into the toilet.

Even the best litter becomes less effective at controlling odor after a while, so remember to replace the entire litter every week or so. In fact, you should do more than just scoop out waste and change litter. Once every month, you should wash the whole litter box with mild soap and warm water.

Find a New Location

cat poops next to litter box

If your cat doesn’t like where you’ve placed the litter box, you need to relocate it. They might be fussy because there’s something they’re afraid of, such as a noisy washing machine or a busy room – no one likes going to the bathroom while they’re being watched. If so, try somewhere more peaceful and private.

If your cat is pooping in a specific place they prefer, it might be worth moving the litter box there if possible. After all, they know their preferred location better than you!

If it’s not possible to place the litter box where they tend to go, try blocking this area off. You could even put down some aluminum foil or spray it with a cat-safe deterrent if you need to send a clear message not to go there.

Provide an Adequate Number of Litter Boxes

Perhaps there are not enough litter boxes in your house… We all know cats are adorable, but they’re nevertheless fussy and territorial creatures. Because of this, too few litter boxes can cause them to poop outside the litter box.

So, if you have multiple cats in your house, it might be worth giving them each their own litter box since they’re not always fond of sharing. Having plenty of litter boxes might well solve the problem of pooping outside the litter box. If you have a couple of cats, perhaps as many as three litter boxes might be needed.

Alternately, you might find some automatic litter boxes designed for multi-cat households, as well as some cat litters that absorb odors well enough. Besides, it’s always worth checking out the best cat litter for odor control.

Clean Accidents Thoroughly

why do cats poop outside the litter box

One thing that both cats and dogs have in common is their keen sense of smell. Though a cat’s isn’t quite as strong as a dog’s, it can still lead them to poop in familiar places they’ve been before. If they’ve had an accident in one place, they’ll likely go there again if they can still smell any trace of it.

Since a lingering smell indicates where to go, it’s important that you clean up any accident thoroughly, mopping up more than just what they leave behind. It’s vital that you clean up the smell too, ideally, with an enzymatic cleaner you can find in most pet shops.

When to Call the Vet

While a cat pooping outside the litter box isn’t uncommon at all, it’s not something you should always just ignore – it could well be due to something you should address immediately. Still, we don’t want you to jump to conclusions and worry about your cat unnecessarily. It could be something perfectly easy to sort out, so don’t worry just yet.

However, we don’t want to dissuade you from going to the vet when you actually should. While there’s every possibility that your cat is perfectly healthy and just being fussy, there’s still a chance that your cat is pooping outside of its litter box because of a medical reason that needs to be sorted – especially if the waste itself looks unusual.

A cat pooping outside the litter box once or twice isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm – that could be due to several reasons. If they quickly return to their regular routine, then chances are that you don’t need to worry.

However, if it becomes a more continuous habit and you see no other reason for it, then it may well be a cause for concern.

When you’ve eliminated all other possibilities that might lead to these accidents, it might be worth taking your cat to the vet – even if it’s just to be on the safe side. If there’s something wrong, your vet will help you determine the issue and help solve any problem they might be having.

Conclusion

If your cat poops outside their litter box unexpectedly, the first thing to do is not to scold them – they likely didn’t do it on purpose! Instead, clean it up thoroughly and try to work out why they might have done it.

Perhaps they’re stressed due to a big change or dislike the smell or location of the litter box. If so, make sure the litter box is as clean as possible, find a new location for it, or even provide your cats with extra litter boxes.

If it starts to become a more regular occurrence and you’ve considered every other possibility, there might be a more serious problem you should consult with a vet about.

While it might need a visit to the vet, chances are there’s a simple reason you can sort out to make your cat happy again.

Matt Twinley
Matt spends his days working with Halie, his adorable cockapoo puppy, by his side. Having owned a variety of pets his whole life, Matt is passionate about animals and always feels most at home with a furry friend. He loves learning about animals and how to care for them. When he’s not researching and writing about how best to care for animals and pets, you can find him going on adventures with his dog or writing about mythical animals for his book.

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