Why Does My Cat Poop Outside of the Litter Box? · The Wildest

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Why, Cat?!

Why Does My Cat Poop Outside of the Litter Box?

The worst kind of surprise.

Woman frustrated with her cat at home.
Andriy Blokhin / Adobe Stock

Having a cat who poops (or pees) outside the litter box can be unbelievably frustrating. It can ruin relationships between people and their cats. But it shouldn’t. Your cat pooping outside the litter box is their way of telling you something is wrong. It’s not punishment that your cat needs. It’s help. 

Remember, cats aren’t people. They don’t think the litter box is the only appropriate place to go. For a cat to pee or poop where they feel safe and secure, and their instinctual needs are met, is the most natural thing in the world. They’re not choosing to be “bad.” They’re acting instinctually. Something has triggered them to stop using the litter box. There’s either a medical, emotional, or litter box setup issue that needs your help.  

Let’s talk about what that trigger could be and how you can help your cat work through it.  

Medical reasons for inappropriate pooping and peeing

Pooping outside the litter box nearly always has a medical component. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee. But there’s a high likelihood that either a current medical issue is causing pain or discomfort or a past medical issue has created negative associations with the litter box from the pain it caused at the time. 

Anything causing pain or discomfort

Cats are great at hiding medical issues. In fact, house soiling is often the first clue we get that our cats are in pain. This is especially true with pooping outside the box. And it’s not just medical issues related to the digestive system. Any pain or discomfort anywhere in the body can trigger soiling. A thorough vet exam is vital.

Gastrointestinal issues

GI issues are a common cause of pooping outside the box — whether it’s a little constipation, loose stool, or just feeling blah in the belly. Any GI discomfort can lead to your cat soiling something. If your cat’s pooping outside the box comes and goes, that can be an indication of discomfort that also comes and goes. 

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

IBD is a more serious gastrointestinal issue that can lead to chronic vomiting and diarrhea, not to mention substantial discomfort. It can affect the stomach, small intestine, or colon. All of this can certainly prompt your cat to poop outside the box as a way of asking for help and trying to manage their stress. 

Urinary issues 

It’s common for cats to experience urinary issues like crystals, inflammation, and infections. Cats aren’t big water drinkers, thanks to their desert-dwelling ancestors. This leads to highly concentrated urine and urinary issues. This can be especially true for cats on a dry food diet, as cats get most of their daily water intake from food. Urinary issues lead to discomfort or pain, which leads to pooping (or peeing) outside the litter box. 

Arthritis or mobility issues

Arthritis is incredibly common in senior cats. More seniors have it than not. This can cause several issues with using the litter box. First, there’s the general pain associated with arthritis. It can also limit your cat’s mobility.

Squatting to poop may be uncomfortable or impossible. Getting in and out of the litter box can be a challenge. The type or amount of litter can make it difficult to stabilize. These are just some of the issues any cat with arthritis or mobility problems can face — all of which can lead to avoiding the litter box. 

Cognitive decline in older cats

Senior cats can experience changes in their brain health, much like people. Confusion, increased anxiety, and even vision and hearing loss can impact your cat’s litter box use. 

Behavioral reasons for cats pooping outside the box

If it’s not a medical trigger, think about emotional triggers. 

Stress and anxiety

Cats often experience stress in their daily lives, whether boredom, not getting along with another pet, dealing with loud sounds inside or out, or a host of other things. That stress can lead to soiling as your cat tries to let you know they’re feeling some anxiety and need support.

Changes in the home environment

Changes at home often trigger stress that can lead to pooping outside the box. For some cats, it’s as simple as rearranging furniture that does it. For others, larger changes like a new baby or pet have a big impact. Moving is another common high-stress event. And, as we know, stress can lead to soiling. 

Litter box aversion

Issues with the litter box setup are a top reason for pooping (and peeing) outside the box. Cats have very specific, instinctual needs when it comes to their box. The right setup can make all the difference. Even if your cat has been using the same box setup for years before the pooping started, take a fresh look at it. 

Territorial marking

You’ve heard of cats spraying to spread their scent and mark territory. They can do it with poop too. This is called middening. 

How to stop a cat from pooping outside the litter box 

Look at the three categories of triggers: medical, emotional, and litter box setup. It’s time for a bit of detective work and homework. 

Visit your veterinarian 

Have your vet do a thorough exam, looking not just for urinary or digestive issues but anything that could cause pain or discomfort. Think about other changes to your cat’s normal behavior that could inform your vet. Things like eating and drinking more or less, being less active, jumping less, being more aggressive, sleeping more, etc. can all be clues. 

Cleaned soiled areas thoroughly

Cleaning poop spots is much easier than pee spots, which require an enzymatic cleaner. For poop, you can use any disinfectant. But make sure it’s unscented. Even natural cleaners that have a strong scent, like vinegar, can cause a cat to pee or poop over them to cover up the scent. Go unscented and make sure the product is pet-safe. 

Improve litter box conditions

Do some research on litter box setup. That topic alone could be a whole article, if not a short book. Here are the most important points:

  • Avoid covered or enclosed boxes. They limit your cat’s sightline. Cats are vulnerable when peeing and pooping and want to be able to see if any predators are coming. That’s an instinctual behavior, whether there are actual predators in your home or not. 

  • If your cat is having problems pooping in the box, it’s best.

  • Go larger. Most commercial litter boxes are too small. Look for an option at least one and a half times the length of your cat’s body (without the tail). Under-bed storage containers or large, clear storage bins with the lid removed and an opening cut in the side are great options. 

  • Use a fine-grain, clumping litter. It resembles what cats would choose in the wild — dirt or sand. Pellets are too large, can be painful on the paws, and are hard to balance on, especially for senior kitties. And always go with an unscented option. Cat noses are way too sensitive for scented litter. Trust me. It’s a common cause of soiling. 

  • Spread litter boxes throughout your home. Avoid sticking them all in one room. The goal is that if one box feels inaccessible for some reason (dirty, being used, not feeling safe, etc.), there’s another option somewhere else in the home. If not, your cat will find an option that works better for them. 

  • Try a box where your cat is pooping most often. They may be telling you that’s where they need one. 

Reduce stress and anxiety

If you’re aware of a specific stress trigger, work on either removing it or helping your cat feel better about it. You can also reduce stress by adding more play and enrichment to your cat’s day. Have play sessions that make your cat feel like they’re hunting. Use mental enrichment like food puzzles and training sessions to keep their brains active. 

Consider professional behavioral support

Professional support is available for this and many other cat behavior issues. You don't have to suffer, and neither does your cat. Look for a certified feline training and behavior consultant. Many do virtual sessions, so they don't have to be in your area. They can help you find and address potential triggers, work on emotional issues, and get the litter box just right. We’re here to help!

FAQs (People also ask):

Why is my cat pooping on the floor with a clean litter box?

Cats poop outside the litter box due to medical issues, emotional issues like stress or fear, or problems with the litter box setup not meeting their instinctual needs. With a little detective work, you can figure out what might be causing your cat to poop outside the box and work on it. 

Why is my female cat pooping on the floor?

Female cats are just as likely as male cats to poop outside the litter box. It’s not an issue of sex. Something is going on with your cat, either medically, emotionally, or with their litter box setup.

Why is my kitten pooping outside the litter box?

If your kitten is pooping outside the box, look at the same potential causes and triggers you would for an adult cat. It could be that they’re still learning how to use the litter box. But, contrary to what you might have heard, most kittens figure this out quickly and don’t need any special training as long as the box meets their instinctual needs. 


Inflammatory Bowel Disease

LeeAnna Buis hugs a black cat

LeeAnna Buis, CFTBS, FFCP

LeeAnna Buis has adored cats her entire life and thought she knew them inside-out and sideways. But it wasn’t until she worked with a feline behavior consultant that she fully understood how incredible, complicated, and inspiring cats really are.

LeeAnna earned her certification through Animal Behavior Institute, earning the CFTBS designation. She is a certified Fear Free trainer, a training professional member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG), and a member of both the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and Cat Writer’s Association (CWA).