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Pooping Outside the Litter Box

pooping outside the litter box

Your cat may diligently urinate in the box but what do you do if she decides she’d rather leave her solid deposits somewhere else? It can be very confusing for a cat parent when the cat faithfully uses the box for one function but refuses to use it for the other.

Rule Out Medical Issues

Even if you’re absolutely certain that the problem is behavioral, you need to have your cat examined by the veterinarian to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical problem. There are a number of medical issues that could be causing your cat to feel uncomfortable about pooping in the box. If she experiences constipation, for example, she may associate the box with her discomfort and attempt to go somewhere else. If your cat is older and has arthritis, it may be difficult for her to perch on the litter substrate in order to eliminate solids. If you have a covered litter box, she may feel cramped in there while perching in position to poop.

There are a number of intestinal problems (inflammatory bowel disease for example) that commonly result in cats defecating outside of the box. The cat may experience cramping and the discomfort causes her to try to eliminate wherever she is at the time. She may also become so uncomfortable that she can’t make it to the box.

When you take your cat to the veterinarian, try to bring along a sample of her stool so the veterinarian can run some tests and also examine the appearance (for signs of blood, mucous, hair, etc). If you’re unable to bring a fresh sample, the veterinarian will be able to get one but it’s much more comfortable for your cat if you can bring one along. Just make sure it hasn’t been sitting in the litter box too long. You can also take the sample, seal it tightly in a plastic bag and place it in the refrigerator — although for many people this is an unacceptable option. Keep in mind that the veterinarian doesn’t need a huge sample. He/she needs just enough to do some testing and also to be able to examine the consistency of the stool.

Don’t overlook the very important first step of visiting the veterinarian if your cat is pooping outside of the box. I have lived with a cat who had inflammatory bowel disease and know how much pain he must’ve felt when his intestines starting cramping. I also have a number of clients who have cats with intestinal problems. Getting your cat diagnosed and on appropriate medication (and in some cases, prescription formula food) as soon as possible will be most important.



Survival Instincts

There are some cats who don’t like to defecate in the same area used for urination. For some cats it may be that urination has more territorial connection or it may just be a quirky feline instinct. Regardless, a simple solution you can offer is to make another box available for defecation. Don’t place the box right next to the original box or it’ll just be regarded as one big box and your cat will still not poop in it. In many cases you can put the second box in the same room (depending on the size of the room), but in other cases, you’ll have to locate the second box elsewhere. Your cat will certainly let you know when the location pleases her.

Safety Issues

It typically takes a cat a bit longer to defecate than urinate. In a multicat household where there is even the smallest amount of tension, it may be too stressful for a cat to hang out in the litter box long enough to poop. If the box is covered, wedged in a corner or hidden in a closet, this truly reduces the cat’s escape potential. She may feel it’s safer to poop in another location that allows her to have a better view in case an opponent is coming. The location she chooses may also give her a better opportunity to get out of there more safely.

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The solution in this case may be to provide uncovered boxes and to make sure there are enough boxes located through the house. Don’t place them in hidden, cramped areas that may cause your cat to feel trapped or confined. In many cases, all you’ll have to do is remove the lid from the box. Covered boxes are often to small and low for a cat to feel she can comfortably perch on the litter for defecation. They also limit the cat’s escape to just one way in and out. Should another cat come by, the one who is in the litter box can be vulnerable to an ambush.

Substrate Preference

Some cats, for whatever reason only they seem to know, have a substrate preference when it comes to the feel of the litter for defecation versus urination. Perhaps it has something to do with the amount of time they spend in that perching position for pooping. If you think that might be the case, offer another litter box with a litter that has a different texture. In general, cats prefer a soft, sandy texture when it comes to the litter substrate.

If your cat is defecating on the floor or other hard surface and won’t go in the litter box no matter what type of litter you use, try an experiment and set out an empty litter box. If the cat does eliminate in the box when there’s no litter, keep the box available to her (clean it every time she poops) and then you can eventually try adding a scant amount of litter in the box. If she continues to accept that you can add gradually increase the amount.

Last But Not Least: Cleanliness

A cat may decide that the box is too dirty if there is any waste already in there. She may urinate but then feel it’s now not clean enough for her to then use for defecation. Understandably, you can’t stand over the box 24 hours a day with a litter scoop in your hand in order to remove waste the nanosecond it touches the litter. Just make sure you’re scooping at least twice a day and have more than one litter box so there will be a greater chance that kitty can find a clean patch of litter for defecation.

Want More Information?

Your veterinarian should be your first stop whenever there is any kind of litter box problem. Have your cat examined and if she gets a clean bill of health, talk with your veterinarian about your specific litter box set-up. If you’d like more specific information on litter box issues, refer to any of Pam’s books including Think Like a Cat and the brand new release, CatWise. Pam’s books are available at bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website.

Note: This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis. Consult your veterinarian about any changes in your cat’s litter box habits.

Pam's books are referred to as the cat bibles by behavior experts, veterinarians and cat parents worldwide


Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.






7 Responses to Pooping Outside the Litter Box

  1. Very informative and well written article! When I first got my cat, she started pooping outside the litter box because it was too small. We got a bigger litter box and voila.. Problem fixed!

  2. We replaced our covered commercially made litter boxes with 3 modified (entrance cut out, sharp edges removed) sterilite see-through plastic bins available at Walmart for $11. We are not using the lids. Extra-Large litter boxes cost 4 times that. Not only did that immediately fix the pooping-outside-the-box problem, they are incredibly easy to clean. Instead of sitting/crouching down to clean them, we can stand using a stand-up pooper scooper and so much easier to see. We’ve also noticed less litter being dragged outside the box, presumably because our girls don’t feel they have to “run” out of the box when they’re done because of the “ambush” issue which we had never considered but which makes perfect sense. We thought it would smell more, but it actually smells less. Our felines love them. Great article. Thank you!

    • HI. I am having a lot of trouble with my female cat pooping outside the litter box. Would you be able to send a picture of your modified litter box. Our male cat is always trying to play with her. And he’s sneaking up on her at the most inconvenient of times.

    • Anyway i can see your new litter box? I am having issue with my cat pooping out of the box for years. I have tried all kinds of things like he has right now 4 litter boxes. It worked for a bit but he back to pooping out of them now. Can send them to this email with subject litter box so I dont over look it. Thanks

    • really helpful.Thx

  3. Another issue that should be addressed in the article is overcleaning the litterbox. There is a conversation going on in one of my groups about a person who used strong cleaning agents, and her cat is now going outside the litterbox due tot he odor of the cleaning agents.

  4. I have only one cat, an entire room dedicated to him, his toys, food etc. He has pooped in the box since I got him and suddenly, he’s decided he doesn’t want to poop in the box. I keep the urine clean and the substrate is soft and doesn’t leave any urine smell. I clean it every day regardless. There is no top on the box and nothing has changed. I really don’t get why he has to poop on the spare bed in his room. So frustrating. If he at least pooped on the floor it wouldn’t be an issue.

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