While using the litter box is often second nature to cats, an estimated 10% of cats have issues with eliminating outside the litter box at some point in their lives. Finding a surprise outside of the litter box is never fun for any cat parent, but it’s often a sign of a larger issue.
Read on to learn the many reasons that your cat may poop outside the litter box, as well as tips you can use to stop the behavior.
6 Reasons Your Cat May Poop Outside the Litter Box
From medical conditions to simply not enough litter boxes, there are a variety of reasons your cat may be avoiding the litter box. Here are a few of the most common:
1) Potential Health Issues
One of the biggest reasons for a sudden change in your cat’s bathroom behaviors is an underlying health condition. There are a variety of health conditions that can lead to litter box issues.
Often cats will poop outside of the litter box if they’re struggling with constipation or another digestive issue. While the occasional change in your cat’s feces can happen if they’ve changed something in their diet, you should talk to your vet if your cat has prolonged digestive upset.
Diarrhea, for example, can be a sign of several health conditions including hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease.
As cats age, their mobility can also suffer, making it more difficult for them to get in and out of the litter box. Pooping outside the litter box can be a sign that your cat has arthritis or a similar joint issue.
2) Stress or a Change in Routine
Sometimes, cats poop outside the litter box in response to something new or stressful in their life. Cats thrive with routine, and any change to that routine can leave cats feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or even scared.
What causes your cat stress can differ, but common causes of stress include:
- Moving to a new home
- Getting a new pet
- Bringing home a new baby
- Rearranging the furniture
- Moving their litter box
For some cats, small changes can create big stress. Even something as simple as changing the rug in a room can upset your cat, so try to make any changes as gradually as possible.
With enough time, your cat will likely adjust to the change and their litter box behavior will go back to normal.
3) Your Cat Dislikes the Litter or Litter Box
Cats are particular about their environment, especially where they go to the bathroom. If something about their litter box makes your cat uncomfortable, they will refuse to use it.
Understanding your cat’s litter box preferences will take time and adjustment, but one of the most common complaints by cats is having scented litter.
Cats use scent to convey territory, so they want their litter box to clearly smell like them. Scented litter often masks your cat’s natural scent, leaving them feeling frustrated or confused. Your cat may also be uncomfortable with the texture or type of litter that you’ve chosen.
The litter box location, type, and size can also make a difference. Your litter box should be big enough for your cat to freely turn around inside and placed in a quiet area where your cat feels comfortable.
4) Litter Box Cleanliness
Cats prefer to keep their environment clean as they’re fastidious animals. Often, if they have a dirty litter box, they’ll choose to do their business elsewhere.
While some cats may tolerate a certain level of uncleanliness, many will stop using the box after only a few uses.
To combat this, it’s important to clean your cat’s litter box regularly. Scoop the box daily to remove clumps of cat litter or waste, and completely change the litter weekly. It’s also a great idea to thoroughly clean the litter box with an unscented or mild cleaning product weekly as well.
5) Territorial Behavior
Cats are sensitive to smells, and they often use scent to mark their territory. If you’ve recently brought home a new family member, your cat may feel the need to declare their territory to the new cat.
Cats typically mark outside of their litter boxes if they feel like there aren’t enough resources to go around. To help remedy this, it’s important to get each pet their own supplies like food dishes, water bowls, and litter boxes.
If you have multiple cats, a good rule of thumb is to have one litter box for every cat plus an extra, so they never feel like they need to fight over them. It’s definitely better to have too many than too few litter boxes !
6) Your Cat Was an Outdoor Only Cat
If your cat was previously a stray or an outdoor-only cat, it may take them some time to adjust to using a litter box.
Kittens who are exposed to the litter box will typically take to it right away because of their instinct to cover their tracks. If your cat is used to using the bathroom outside, they may not understand the purpose of the litter box yet.
Once your cat has had time to adjust to their indoor environment, they’ll likely outgrow those behaviors. However, you can help them along by making their litter box space as safe and welcoming as possible.
It can also help to show your cat where the litter boxes are located by placing them inside. Don’t block your cat inside the litter box, however. Give them plenty of space to explore, sniff, and move around.
Is Your Cat Pooping Outside the Litter Box?
There are a variety of reasons your cat’s litter box behaviors may have changed. If there’s been a recent change in the house, it’s best to give your cat time to adjust before making any changes to their litter box or their environment.
If nothing else in your cat’s routine has changed, it’s best to bring your cat to a vet for a wellness check. While it’s likely that your cat is okay, it’s always better to stay up-to-date and informed on your cat’s health.
No matter what, it’s important to never punish your cat for pooping outside the litter box. While the issues may feel spiteful, there’s an underlying cause to their litter box issues and punishing your cat can make the issues worse.
Once you find the root cause of your cat’s litter box issues, you can work towards helping your cat feel safe, healthy, and happy in their home.