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10 Reasons Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box & What to Do

Is your cat leaving little presents of poop for you everywhere but inside the litter box? Are you wondering why your cat is pooping around the house all of a sudden? There are a number of reasons why this behavior occurs – medical problems, stress, sometimes even issues with the litter box itself. There are ways you can resolve this problem, so we’ll walk you through what the possible causes are and how to fix them.


The 10 Reasons Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box

1. Diarrhea

If your cat has been having difficulties with diarrhea, it’s possible that she just couldn’t make it to the litter box in time. The urge to go can be quite sudden and uncontrollable, and some cats might just miss the litter box.

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2. Constipation

If a cat experiences constipation, she might have had a painful experience, and she could associate that pain with her litter box. She might be reluctant to use her litter box after experiencing any pain while inside it.

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3. Urination Problems

This is a similar problem as seen with constipation. There are a number of painful conditions that affect your cat’s urinary tract:

  • Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

If your cat seems to frequent her litter box but produces little to no urine, she could have a UTI. This is a very serious health condition that needs to be looked after by your vet immediately.

  • Kidney Stones

Similar to the UTI, if your cat has some kind of blockage, including kidney stones, she will attempt to urinate frequently but will experience a lot of pain. She may cry out while trying to urinate and her abdomen will be quite tender. Again, see your vet as soon as you can.

  • Feline Interstitial Cystitis

This is a medical condition that causes inflammation of the bladder, which causes cats to strain to urinate with little success. Again, there is pain involved, there may be blood in the urine, and your cat will lick herself frequently. Take your cat to your vet immediately if you suspect she may be experiencing any of these medical conditions.

If your cat has experienced any kind of pain while attempting to urinate or defecate, she might think her litter box is to blame and may start to avoid it.

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4. Dirty Litter Box

As we all know, cats are rather finicky creatures, and they have an amazing sense of smell. If the litter box isn’t maintained frequently enough, she may decide that pooping elsewhere is more of a pleasant experience than using her litter. It is recommended to scoop her litter once or twice every day and wash her litter box with soap and water about once a week, but you might be able to get away with it once a month if you use clumping litter.

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5. Litter Box Location

If the litter box is in a loud location, especially if there’s a lot of activity or if it’s not easy for your cat to access, she might start avoiding using it. You want the litter box to be easily accessed (avoid basements or placing it upstairs unless you put a litter box on every floor) and in a quiet, private location.

cat outside the litter box
Image Credit: Jennifer McCallum, Shutterstock
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6. New Stressful Situations

If a new animal or family member has been introduced to your household or you’ve recently moved, your cat may be feeling stressed, which can cause inappropriate elimination. Cats are creatures of habit and prefer a certain amount of stability in their lives, so you can expect unusual behavior when their security has been shaken.

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7. Your Cat is Newly Adopted

This is similar to the previous point. When a cat has been through the stressful situation of being newly adopted, she will need some time to adjust to her new and very different life. You can expect some growing pains while both you and your cat adapt to each other.

animal rescue volunteer taming a feral cat
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock
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8. Problems with the Litter or Litter Box

Again, we know cats are pretty picky, so it’s entirely possible that she doesn’t actually like her litter or the litter box itself. Most cats don’t like litter boxes that have a cover (they don’t want to feel trapped while eliminating) and you need to be sure the box is large enough. How the litter feels on her feet is another factor, so a little trial and error might be in order so you can figure out what kind of litter she doesn’t mind using.

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9. Multiple Cats

If there aren’t enough litter boxes for all of the household cats, this can cause conflict. The general rule is you should have one litter box per cat plus one extra one (if you have two cats, you need to have three litter boxes). At times, one of the cats might start creating a stressful situation by preventing the other cat(s) from using their litter box.

multiple kittens in a litter box
Image Credit: Albina Tiplyashina, Shutterstock
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10. Age and Accessibility Issues

Small kittens and senior cats might have trouble even just getting into their litter box. If the sides are very high or the box is a top-entry, and your cat is older or has physical limitations, she might have a difficult time every time she needs to defecate or urinate.

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The solutions for the problem with your cat pooping outside of her litter box will depend on what situation you find yourself in.

1. Medical Issues

One of the first steps you might need to take is to bring your cat to your veterinarian to help rule out the possibility of it being a medical problem. Your vet can also walk you through any other options, such as stress, and give you some ideas on eliminating the issue.

Veterinarian examining a kitten_didesign021_shutterstock
Image Credit: didesign021, Shutterstock

If your cat has had diarrhea, be sure to treat it, and the litter box problem should resolve itself. Be sure you use an enzymatic cleaner when you clean up any accidents, so she doesn’t keep going back to the same spot.

If she has avoided the litter box due to a painful experience, be sure to start by treating the issue (like constipation). Then you might need to try a few things to get her comfortable with using her litter box again.

  • Try placing your cat’s litter box in a different location and ensure it’s in a space that makes her feel safe. She should feel like she can escape if she needs to, and it should be in a quiet place where other pets and children won’t go near it.
  • If this doesn’t seem to work, try placing a few different litter boxes in other locations to give your cat options.
  • Put new litter that’s a different consistency from her usual litter in the litter box at just about 1 to 2 inches deep.
  • Place toys and treats near her litter box and try playing with her close to it. Just don’t put her food near the litter box, as cats don’t like to defecate or urinate close to their food.

If you’ve tried all of these suggestions and your cat is still avoiding her litter box, you might want to talk to an animal behaviorist.

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2. Stress Issues

There are a variety of ways that stress can cause your cat to poop outside of her litter box, so here are some ideas to help.

  • Start by keeping the litter box clean: scoop waste at least once a day and clean the litter box itself once a week with soap and water and refill with fresh litter.
  • Change the kind of litter you’re using. Some cats dislike scented litter so stick with unscented litter that has a fine texture. They prefer this kind of litter over corn-based or crystal litter. You can set up several litter boxes with different types of litter side-by-side so your cat can choose her favorite. Once she’s shown her preference, remove all litter boxes and continue to use the appropriate litter.
  • Make sure the litter box isn’t covered or difficult for your cat to get into and remove liners. Most cats do not love covered litter boxes or liners. If she’s a tiny kitten, a senior, or has mobility issues, make sure the box has low sides.
  • You need to be sure that the litter box is large enough for your cat. It should be at least 5 times the length of your cat.
  • Make the location in the least stress-free area as possible. You don’t want it next to the front door or next to a noisy appliance (washing machine, for example). If you put it in a small room or closet, make sure you never close the door.
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3. Ongoing Issues

If you’ve changed the litter and removed covers and liners and your cat continues to poop outside of her litter box, then you might need to make the area that she’s using less attractive.

  • Start by cleaning up your cat’s messes with an enzyme-based cleaner, which will eliminate any lingering odors that might continue to draw her to that spot. These can be found at your local pet store or online.
  • Put double-sided tape or something noisy like tin foil down in her preferred area. Cats dislike the feeling of sticky tape on their paws, and the tin foil will be unappealing.
  • If it’s in a room, be sure to leave the door closed or try to make it as inaccessible as possible.
  • Duplicate your cat’s preference. For example, if she seems to always eliminate on a carpet, put some carpet on the bottom of her litter box (or tile if that’s what she gravitates to).
  • Consider using diffusers or sprays of pheromones that are known to help reduce stress in cats. Again, these are easy to find online or in pet stores.
water spray
Image Credit: Squirrel_photos, Pixabay

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What You Should Not Do

There are a number of reactions that you, as a cat owner, should not do when you encounter this problem with your cat. Whether you’ve caught your cat in the act or after the fact, don’t do any of the following:

  • Avoid using any ammonia-based cleaners as urine smells of ammonia, and it might actually continue to draw your cat to eliminate in the same area. Look for enzyme-based cleansers.
  • Never drag or carry your cat and place her in the litter box. Avoid scolding as she won’t understand, and you’ll only cause her to fear you. Along the same lines, don’t ever rub your cat’s nose in the feces.
  • You shouldn’t keep your cat closed up in a small roomwith her litter box for long periods of time (days or weeks).

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There you have it! There are multiple reasons why any cat might start to poop outside of her litter box and multiple methods to address the issues. The most essential factor in all of this is to ensure your cat is in good health and that she is comfortable and happy. If you can’t figure out the problem, do take your cat to your vet to ensure that she’s not suffering from any medical conditions. Vets should be able to help you figure out what the problem is (even if it’s from stress or something else) and help you fix it.

Make sure you have enough places available for your cat to feel safe in, such as cat shelves and trees, and enough toys and playtime to help her feel comfortable and loved. A positive environment will go a long way to help your cat feel safe and secure.

Related read: Pros & Cons of Using Cat Diapers: Is It Right for Your Cat?

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Featured Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock