Cats Pooping Outside The Litter Box // Cat Litter Box Issues Explained

by | Jul 25, 2021

Inappropriate elimination is a common behavior problem in cats. In fact, the problem is prevalent in about 10% of cats. This may come as a surprise because cats are as fastidious of a pet as they come. A cat pooping on the floor next to the litter box can actually be fueled by their fussiness, but it could also be caused by an underlying health issue. Have no fear, we have all the information you need to say goodbye to make your cat poop problems and thing of the past.

Litter box problems in cats can manifest in several ways, including:

  • Stop using the litter box altogether

  • Only use the box for urination or pooping

  • Cats poop outside the litter box

  • Engage in spray marking or urine marking to mark objects as their property or signify their presence.

Cat Pooping Outside The Litter Box: What Are The Causes?

There are few things more frustrating than walking past the litter box only to find your pet’s poop right next to the place it is supposed to be.

Before trying some measures to stop the issue and get your cat back to using the litter box, there is a need to identify what is causing the behavior in the cat and gather the necessary information to determine why exactly they are going outside the litter box.

The first step would be to have your cat checked by a veterinary professional to ensure that the problem is not caused by an underlying health issue that interferes with your cat’s normal urination and/or defecation.

Medical Conditions That Cause Inappropriate Pet Elimination

The following are common health issues that may cause your pet to do their business outside the litter box. If you are unsure of what’s causing the issue in your pet it’s a good idea to start by consulting a veterinary professional.

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI): Affected cats experience pain when they pee. There is also an increase in the frequency and urgency of urination. A UTI may stop a cat from using the litter box because of these experiences, more so if the litter box is associated with pain and discomfort.

  • Feline Intestine Cystitis: Sometimes called feline idiopathic cystitis or FIC, is an inflammation of the bladder. Two common symptoms include frequent urination and urinating in unusual locations. It’s important cats have a clean water bowl with fresh water as the opposite can exacerbate the issue.

  • Digestive Problems: May cause painful defecation, an increase in the frequency and urgency of elimination, or a decrease in a cat’s control over elimination.

  • Age-Related Conditions: Arthritis and cognitive dysfunction (feline Alzheimer’s disease) are just some age-related issues that can affect older cats ability to get to the litter box before doing her business.

  • Some health issues like Kidney Disease, Thyroid Disease, and Diabetes Mellitus often cause an increase in a cat’s water intake, which eventually leads to more frequent urination.

If your cat is given a clean bill of health by a veterinary professional, the next step would be to address it as a behavior problem. Here are some predisposing factors that you should take into consideration:

Aversion to Litter Boxes

Why do cats poop outside the litter box?

A cat with a strong aversion will do all it can to stay outside the litter box and carry on pooping somewhere else in the house. The cat may have issues with the litter box, the litter, the location of the litter box, or all three. All of these factors can play a role in your cat’s issues with litter boxes.

If your cat has an aversion to the litter box, she may poop various types of surfaces, from carpets to beds to floors to clothes to bathroom tiles. She may continue to use the litter box now and then, depending on how much she wants to avoid the box.

Your cat may hate the size or design of the litter box. It must be spacious enough to allow your cat to perform pre-and post-elimination behaviors and eliminate without hanging over the edge of the box.

Kittens and senior cats like to do their business inside a litter box with low sides because it’s easier for them to get in and out. Cat parents prefer covered litter boxes to contain odor and stray litter. But cats may feel restricted when using covered litter boxes, and also the odor inside may be too much for them.

 Litter Box Location

Like real estate, the litter box location is very important for cats. They want to do their thing in a private area, away from any disturbance or potential threats such as a dog in the house. A cat’s litter box is almost as important to them as a nice restroom is to us, humans. If they do not feel safe or comfortable they will find somewhere to go outside the litter box.

The Number of Litter Boxes

If there are several cats in the household, there is competition for available resources, such as food, vertical spaces, scratching posts, toys, and even the litter box. When the number of litter boxes is not enough, subordinate or submissive cats may be forced to eliminate somewhere else.

Surface Preference

Some cats prefer to eliminate on certain surfaces. When they find a surface they like, they usually keep coming back to the spot. A cat that finds it pleasing to eliminate on clothing or carpets may be unlikely to do it on hard floors.

Cat Urine Spraying or Spray Marking

Urine spraying in cats is a form of marking behavior. The cat deposits small quantities of urine around a certain spot, area or object. A cat’s urine contains pheromones that are unique to her. The signature scent in a cat’s urine will let other cats know of the cat’s presence. It is also a way to establish and mark territory, or a way to attract potential mates.

Spray marking varies from urination as the cat usually sprays urine on vertical surfaces, like walls or the foot of a chair. They don’t squat as they do to urinate. A spraying cat will back up to the vertical target, lift her tail, quiver, and spray urine in several spots. She does all these while standing.

The behavior is common among intact male cats (unneutered) and to a lesser extent in intact females (unspayed). But it’s also displayed in about 10% of neutered males and 5% of spayed females.

Spray marking is also likely to occur in multi-cat households. A cat may engage in the behavior when there is a perceived threat to her territory, such as the arrival of a new cat in the household or when there are new cats in the area. Cats may also spray in response to a new smell or out of frustration.

How To Stop Cat Litter Box Problems

When the underlying cause of your pet’s behavior and health has been identified, you should address it immediately. With time, the behavior can become deeply rooted which can make it more difficult to get rid of.

If there is more than one cat in your home, you should identify the culprit. You can do this by separating them or using a non-toxic stain that can be detected in the cat’s urine. You can ask your veterinarian about this special stain that is given by mouth.

If there are urine puddles in your home, you have to distinguish whether it’s spraying or simple urination. If you can’t keep a close eye on your cat at all times, you can set up a video camera for the purpose.

The provision of a suitable litter box environment promotes optimal well-being and potentially urinary tract health in cats (McGowan et al 2017). Here are some quick tips to remember when addressing litter box issues in cats:

Choose an Appropriate Litter Box for Your Cat

  • Choose a litter box type with low sides for kittens, senior cats, and cats suffering from mobility problems.

  • A large or obese cat needs a bigger litter box. The results of a study that evaluated the response of healthy housebound domestic cats to the simultaneous provision of 2 litter boxes of differing sizes indicate that most cats show a definite preference for a larger litter box than is typically available to them in homes and that other factors such as box cleanliness and location may have a compounding influence on this choice.

  • Most cats prefer a litter box with no cover. A cover keeps the odor inside the litter box which can be overwhelming to the cat. Also, it prevents the cat from having a 360-degree view of her surroundings while she is doing her thing.

  • If you have several cats in your home, make sure there are enough litter boxes for everyone and in different areas of your home. The magic number is equivalent to the total number of cats in the house plus one. So if you have 5 cats, the minimum number of litter boxes should be 5 + 1= 6.

Choose an Appropriate Cat Litter for Your Cat

  • Cats have an extremely keen sense of smell, and a scented litter may be too strong for them. Most cats like kitty litter that’s unscented and has a fine texture. Place about 1-2 inches of litter inside the litter box.

  • Choose an appropriate location for the cat litter box. Place the litter box in areas where there is less household traffic, away from their feeding area. The box should always be easily accessible.

  • If you have a multi-story house, make sure that multiple litter boxes are available upstairs and downstairs. This is particularly important if your cat has mobility issues and has trouble climbing stairs.

Keep the Litter Box Clean

  • Removal of cat poop and clumps should be done daily. Top with fresh, clean litter as needed.

  • The litter box should be cleaned thoroughly at least once a week. The more cats poop in the litter box, the more often cleaning the box needs to be done. Dispose of the old litter properly before scrubbing the box with a gentle, unscented detergent. Dry the box thoroughly before placing it in a new layer of clean litter.

  • Old litter boxes must be replaced. Cracks on their surfaces are favorable breeding grounds for pathogens. Waste can also be deposited deep in the cracks thus, undesirable odors are retained even when you think you have thoroughly cleaned the box. If you can’t get rid of that lingering smell it’s most likely time for a litter box change.

  • If you struggle to keep up with your dirty litter box, there are automatic litter box products that may help you keep up in between thorough cleanings.

Pets can be a tremendous source of joy. But a cat pooping outside of litter boxes is a common and frustrating problem that many cat parents have to deal with at one time or another. Unfortunately, if not resolved, feline house soiling and pooping issues are one of the most common reasons cats are turned over to animal shelters. No one want’s to discover poop around their home, but with a little patience, you can identify the underlying cause and resolve the issue with your pet.

Addressing the problem with a pet can be quite difficult and challenging. Eliminating the behavior depends to a large extent on early intervention, identifying the cause of the behavior, taking in the right information, and putting in the time and effort to solve the problem. Working closely with your veterinarian in addressing your cat’s behavior issue and overall health is also highly recommended.



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