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10 Reasons Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box & How To Stop It

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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If your cat regularly poops outside of the litter box or has suddenly started this behavior, you are probably wondering what could cause this and how to resolve this unpleasant issue. It can be very frustrating when your cats start creating this kind of a mess, so it’s important to know the reasons that could be causing their behavior and have some insight on how to stop it. That’s where we come in.

We’ll give you the top 10 reasons your cat may be doing their business on unapproved turf and offer you suggestions for how to stop this nasty habit.

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The 10 Reasons Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box

1. Change

Cats are very sensitive animals and they typically do not adapt to change very well. If you suddenly notice your cat is pooping outside the litter box, you may want to consider what kind of life changes have occurred or if there has been any alteration to your cat’s daily routine. Cats can be affected by even the smallest changes that you may not even think about. Rearranging furniture, reconstruction within the home, new objects in the house, and even visitors coming into the home can cause them a great deal of stress.

Larger life changes such as moving to a new home, getting a new roommate, bringing home a new baby, or even pets being brought into the home can cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for some cats which can lead to them going to the bathroom outside of the litter box.

How To Stop It

You can’t prevent change from happening in life, but you can plan for some changes and ensure you are best prepared to assist your cat in dealing with stress. Remember, your cat is bonded with you and your family so providing positive reinforcement and a comforting tone can go a long way. When your cat is pooping in your house, not only is it unpleasant to clean up, but it’s also stressful for you too. Make sure you don’t take your stress out on your cat or punish their behavior. Work to figure out the trigger and act accordingly. Pheromone-containing sprays, plug-in diffusers, and collars can be very helpful in reducing stress for some cats. These pheromone sprays mimic a chemical that cats emit through the glands on their faces when they are feeling calm and open to communication. It works with their brain chemistry and helps reduce stress and anxiety.

In more severe cases, your veterinarian may recommend an anti-anxiety medication to help calm your cat. It’s highly recommended to speak to your veterinarian if your cat is particularly sensitive to changes and you are aware of an upcoming drastic life change.

Cat using cat litter
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

2. Health Issues

Underlying medical conditions could be the contributing factor as to why your cat is going outside the litter box. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, urinary tract infections, and thyroid issues can cause this issue along with many more medical conditions. Pain and discomfort can cause them to go before making it to the litter box.

How To Stop It

Even if you’re certain your cat is pooping outside the litter box due to behavioral issues, you need to contact your veterinarian and have them examined to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing this behavior. Even if they get a clean bill of health from the veterinarian, you can discuss the behavior issues as well. If your cat does have a health issue that is the root cause of them pooping outside the litter box, getting them treatment for the condition is the top priority.

Having an experienced veterinarian assist you with a treatment plan may not only help stop the behavior but will be essential for your cat’s overall health.

3. Dirty Litter Box

The reason your cat is pooping outside of the litter box is as simple as the litter box is too full. Cats are very clean creatures and many of them will be forced to find another location to do their business if they deem their litter box too dirty.

How To Stop It

Thankfully, there is an obvious, easy, and quick solution to this problem. You need to clean your cat’s litter box at least 1 to 3 times daily and provide them with fresh litter as needed.

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4. Fear

Simply being fearful can cause some cats to exhibit this behavior. Noise, repairmen or strangers in the home, and other animals either within or outside the home can spark fear in your cat and cause them to make a rash choice like pooping in the middle of the kitchen or living room. While this is a rare response to fear in cats, it does happen, especially when they are younger.

How To Stop It

Pinpointing exactly what is scaring your cat can be difficult. Granted, there may be obvious reasons depending on the situation. Finding the root cause of their fear and acting accordingly to the specific situation will be the first step in stopping the behavior. Ensuring their litter box is in a quiet, private area can work wonders.

5. Territorial Purposes

Cats can exhibit some pretty severe territorial tendencies and marking their homestead with feces is not out of the realm of possibility in terms of claiming territory. This is a behavior passed down through their wild ancestors. Your cat’s territorial instincts can strike if you bring a new animal into the home or if stray animals or wildlife are lurking outside the home. This may be hard to identify if it involves animals outside the house since your cat can pick up on their scent long before they are noticed by the human eye.

How To Stop It

Make sure your cat has its territory and comfort zones within the home. Consider securing your yard to prevent strays and wildlife from coming too close. If you have brought another animal into the home and this behavior has begun, ensure your cat has its separate litter box in an area that is familiar and introduces new animals slowly. Cats can take a while to adjust to this kind of change.

kittens in litter box
Image Credit: Albina Tiplyashina, Shutterstock

6. Not Enough Litter Boxes in a Multi-Cat Home

If you have multiple cats within your household, there is a possibility you do not have enough litter boxes to go around. Cats don’t always like to share, so it is recommended to have one extra litter box for the number of cats you own. Having too few litter boxes can cause them to get dirty easily or it may simply be that there is too much traffic in and out of the litter boxes so your cat chooses to go elsewhere.

How To Stop It

Thankfully, this problem has an easy solution. Just ensure you have an approximate number of litter boxes within your home so that your cats are comfortable using the bathroom.

7. Dislike of Litter or Litter Box

Cats can be very finicky in terms of their litter box and/or the type of litter used. If you suddenly change the type of litter you use, that could be the cause of them deciding to poop outside the box. It could be as simple as litter scent, texture, or the amount inside the box. Changing the type of litter box your cat uses can also cause this behavior. Some cats prefer open boxes while some prefer covered ones. Size, height, and entry type can also be contributing factors. Hooded boxes with flaps can deter some cats from even entering the box.

Some of the new automated litter boxes make noise and may make your cat fearful or uncomfortable.

How To Stop It

If your cat is new to the home, you may have to go through some trial and error while you get to know them. If your cat has been with you for a while and you already know what works for them, it’s best not to change it on them unless necessary.

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8. Newly Indoor Cat

If your cat was previously an outdoor cat, rotates between being indoors and outdoors, or was feral at some point, you may experience some issues with them popping outside the litter box. While many cats can adjust perfectly fine to indoor life and litter box usage, some have trouble. Cats familiar with the outdoors are used to finding private, safe areas to do their business. Some will attempt to bury their waste and others will just leave it be. You may have issues with some cats going in the litter box but refusing to cover the poop.

How To Stop It

Feral cats can be rehabilitated and make wonderful pets, they can keep some of their wild instincts when turned into indoor house cats, so you want to be patient during the process. Once they become comfortable and recognize the house as their territory, you may notice the behavior stops. On occasion, some cats may leave you resorting to deterrents to assist in the process. It’s important to make them aware of the litter box and have it located in a secure and private area.

If you feel you have tried everything and still cannot get your outdoor or previously feral cat to go in the litter box, reach out to your veterinarian for some assistance.

9. Age

It is not uncommon for young kittens to miss the litter box. After all, they are new to this world and are learning different things every day. Kittens will pick up quickly but don’t be too surprised if you notice them going outside the box at first. Do consider they have just left the comfort of their mom and sibling and time to adjust is necessary. Senior cats may end up pooping outside the litter box as well. As they age, just like us, they can be prone to chronic pain and arthritis. This can make it difficult to get into and out of the box to go to the bathroom.

Older cats are also prone to more age-related medical issues that could be contributing.

How To Stop It

When first bringing home a kitten, ensure their litter box is easily accessible and they can get in and out with ease. Make sure it is an appropriate size and height when first starting out. Have patience with your kitten, if you notice frequent trouble, you can try shutting them in the bathroom with their litter box. Cats don’t like to go just anywhere, and this may prompt the kitten to turn to the litter box to relieve themselves, once this happens, they usually stick to it. If the issue is related to old age, make sure you have a litter box with an easy entry that does not involve jumping too high. Having one where they can simply walk into and out of is going to be your best bet.

If there are medical issues involved, make sure you are working with your veterinarian for treatment.

two cute kittens looking at litterbox
Image Credit: galsand, Shutterstock

10. Poor Litter Box Location

Your cat simply may not prefer the location you picked for their box. Cats like to have privacy, and feel safe and secure when they are going to the bathroom. This is simply a survival instinct from wild cats that have been passed down to our domestic feline family members. Outdoor cats pick quiet and secure areas as well, it keeps them safe from potential predators.

How To Stop It

Consider your litter box’s current location and determine whether it is in a quiet, low-traffic area. If it is not, search for the perfect spot in your home and then introduce your cat to its new location to see how it works out. You may have some trial and error in the litter box location.

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Cat Poop vs Hairball — Knowing the Difference

It’s important to be able to recognize the difference between cat poop and a hairball. Their looks at first glance can be almost indistinguishable. Some cat owners may be convinced they are finding poop around the house but, they are actually hairballs. Hairballs are vomited up from the digestive tract and are cylindrical and similar in color to cat poop. Hairballs are a normal part of a cat’s self-grooming process and may be found anywhere throughout the house.

Telling the difference is easy if you get up close. First, you will notice that a hairball is absent of the very pungent smell of cat feces and if you closely examine it, you will be able to see that it is composed of clumped, wet cat hair. Hairballs are generally no cause for concern, and you can help your cat reduce them by frequently brushing to remove loose hair and feeding moisture-rich diets.

If your cat is excessively throwing up hairballs, contact your veterinarian for some treatment options.

Cat pooping in cat litter
Image Credit: Mariesacha, Shutterstock

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Now that you are familiar with the reasons your cat may be pooping outside the litter box and have some information on how to stop the behavior, it’s up to you to determine what the root cause could be in your situation. Make sure to confirm it is not hairballs you are finding around the house rather than cat poop. It is highly recommended to consult your veterinarian once you notice your cat pooping outside the litter box. You need to rule out any medical conditions that could be contributing factors to this behavior. If it is unrelated to health issues and is behavioral, your veterinarian can work with you to solve the problem if you are unable to do so.

Whether you’ve just brought home a new cat or your long-time companion has begun pooping outside their box, do not give up on them so easily. Many cats are turned over to shelters for this reason when there are some very simple explanations for the behavior and easy solutions.

Featured Image Credit: AjayTvm, Shutterstock

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