Before I understood how important a litter box is to a cat, I regret to say I made some big mistakes. We had our cat’s litter box in the basement, in the furnace room. It was out of sight and out of mind, which meant, it didn’t get scooped or changed as frequently as it should.
One day, when we were cleaning out the crawl space in the furnace room, we realized our cat had started pooping on the floor. We cleaned it up, sanitized the floor, and went back to our normal routine. When he kept doing it, I started researching to try and find a solution.
We worked our way through the list until we found the reason our cat was pooping on the floor.
Why most cats suddenly start pooping on the floor
In most situations, cats start pooping on the floor because they’re unhappy with their litter box situation or are feeling stressed due to a change in their environment.
We realized we needed to improve our litter box routine and start scooping twice a day, as well, we added a second litter box for our cat Josh. However, there were times he pooped on the floor, even when the litter boxes were clean and free of waste.
It was in these situations we realized our cat was pooping on the floor because he was stressed. He was the only cat in the household and he required a lot of our attention. He also wasn’t fond of strangers. So when we went on vacation and had someone house / cat sitting for us, we made the connection between his undesirable litter box behaviour and his stress.
He would also poop on the floor when we would get busy with our work or social life and weren’t home as much.
Stress is different for each cat. Some cats can become stressed when they don’t get enough time with their humans, others may feel stressed when new furniture comes into the house.
If you scoop your cat’s litter box at least twice a day, have one litter box per cat, plus one extra, and you haven’t changed the type of litter they use, it may be that your cat is feeling stressed.
The quick and easy solution in this situation is to start spending more time with your cat.
Give them at least 15 minutes of dedicated playtime each morning and night, but more if you can. Spend time talking to them, petting them, and cuddling them. Also pay attention to their behavior around the house. Do they howl at the window? It may be a new neighborhood cat is in your yard and stressing your cat. Are they eating less? They may have grown tired of the cat food you’re feeding them.
Please also take a look through the 7 detailed reasons below so you can rule them out, and gather more information to correct the situation if your cat is pooping on the floor due to their litter box situation or stress.
1) Health condition
Ruling out a health condition should always be the first step, and they’ll require a visit to the vet. Cats are very good at hiding their illnesses, so although you may not want to stress your cat or your bank account with a trip to the vet, it’s important to do so. Left unchecked, a treatable health condition can become life-threatening.
There are several health issues that can lead to your cat pooping outside of the litter box; not just bowel or intestinal related.
An illness may be causing your cat to have:
If your cat has the sudden urge to go to the washroom but can’t make it to the litter box in time, they may simply go where it’s most convenient.
If your cat is experiencing discomfort when using their litter box, they’re going to associate the litter box with that pain and avoid it. There are a number of reasons your cat may be experiencing pain such as:
- Intestinal disease
- Inflammation of the urinary tract
- Issues with their digestive tract
Health issues that impact your cat using the litter box may be age-related:
- Mobility issues that make it difficult for them to get in and out of the litter box
- Loss of bladder control
- Cognitive dysfunction that leaves them disorientated
There is a wide range of health issues that can impact your cat using the litter box and only a veterinarian can give a proper diagnosis.
Taking your cat to the vet should be the first step when your cat starts pooping outside the litter box.
The vet can run exams, based on the information you provide them. Be sure to mention any other behavior that seems odd or changes that have recently happened in your household, even if it’s not related to the litter box (it can help your vet narrow down the issue).
For example, your cat may be depressed because another household pet recently passed. You may not immediately tie that event to why your cat is pooping outside the litter box but your vet prescribing your cat antidepressants may solve the issue.
Rule out any health issues first, and then start exploring the rest of this list.
2) Your cat is stressed
Although your cat doesn’t have a 9 to 5 job or bills to pay, they get stressed just like you and I do. Their world isn’t as big as ours, so it can be easier to find the source of their stress and try to ease it.
You must remember, to your cat, you’re their whole world (especially if there aren’t any other pets or humans in your home). They need your love and attention.
You may be causing your cat stress if:
- You’re punishing them for their behavior
- You’re stressed (cats can pick up on your mood and energy)
- You’re spending less time at home
- You’re unable to give them as much love and attention as you used to
- You’re fighting with someone else in the home
Although your cat’s “bad” behaviour, such as pooping outside the litter box or scratching furniture, may seem like it’s meant to make you mad and drive you away, it could be a cry for attention.
SOLUTION #1 – Your behavior
If your vet has ruled out health issues, try increasing how much attention you give to your cat.
Instead of getting mad when you discover they’ve pooped on the floor, remain calm and find time to give your cat some extra attention.
Be sure you’re not giving them that extra attention immediately after they poop on the floor, or they may associate getting a reward (your loving attention) with pooping on the floor.
But do take some time that day to pick your cat up, pet or bush them, play with them, or invite them to cuddle with you on the couch or bed.
It’s also important to pay attention to your tone when talking to your cat. Simply speaking to your cat in a loving tone can make a big difference in how they feel.
They may not be able to comprehend the words we’re saying, but they can definitely understand the difference between a calm loving tone in which we say words, versus an angry tone.
If there is a lot of shouting and fighting going on in your household, even if it’s not directed towards your cat, they can still feel that tension and it may be causing them stress.
Try to create as calm and loving atmosphere as possible for your cat.
If you’ve gotten mad after finding poop on the floor and picked up your cat and placed them in the litter box, they may associate that litter box with a punishment.
In this case, it’s important to retrain your cat to associate a reward with using the litter box. Keep a bag of treats close to the litter box and when you hear them scratching in there, wait until they’re finished then give them a treat, a few pets, and some loving words in an encouraging tone.
You may also need to create a new litter box memory by getting a new litter box or moving it to a new area.
SOLUTION #2 – Another animal’s behavior
Watch the interactions between your pets to see if anything unusual is happening. A more dominant cat in a household may guard a litter box to ensure another cat isn’t marking in their territory.
If you have more than one cat, be sure you have at least one litter box for each cat, plus one extra. It may even help to move a litter box to a different area so if one is being blocked, the other is still open.
If a dog is preventing your cat from using the litter box, or from using it in peace, try to find a spot for the litter box that allows your cat to get to it but keeps your dog away. You may try putting the litter box in a storage room and installing a cat door; small enough for the cat to sneak through but too small for the dog to fit.
If you’ve recently introduced a new pet to the household, your behavior towards your existing cat may have changed, in which case, try the suggestions under point A; give your cat some extra attention to see if it improves their litter box behavior.
If your cat is the new pet in the household, they may feel overwhelmed. Try giving them a smaller space to adjust to their new surroundings. You may put them in a bedroom that has lots of light, a cozy bed for them, toys and a scratching post, food and water, and of course, a litter box. Keep your other household pets out of the room to see if having a “safe space” encourages your cat to start pooping in the litter box.
If your cat is an outdoor cat, consider keeping them inside for a few days to see if that improves their behavior. Or, you may consider a catio, to keep your cat within a protective space when they’re outdoors. Although a harness and a leash may keep your cat in your yard, they can be exposed to other animals (such as bigger dogs or coyotes) with no way to escape them.
If another household pet has recently passed, your cat may be grieving, and they may even be depressed. Time will help them heal but you can help them by giving them some extra attention, talking to them in a loving tone, and you may even want to talk to a vet; they can prescribe an antidepressant.
SOLUTION #3 – Their environment
A recent move may have upset your cat and be the cause of them pooping on the floor. Cats are creatures of habit and although you may have had lots of time to prepare for the move, the change will be abrupt for your cat.
Other changes to their environment that could affect how they use (or don’t use) the litter box are new people coming in and out of the house, renovations, or, if they’re indoor/outdoor cat, not allowing them to go outside anymore (or as much as they used to).
Try keeping your cat in a smaller space within the new home for a few days, so they feel safe, become accustomed to it, and aren’t overwhelmed.
Give them a room in the house with a comfy bed, a litter box or two, some toys, a scratching post, and of course, food and water. Be sure to go into that room and spend lots of time with them; you don’t want them to feel as though they’re being punished by being locked in a room away from you.
As they become more comfortable with the space, try letting them out to explore, but keep the space limited or closely supervise them as they explore. Close doors to other bedrooms, the basement, storage rooms, etc. so they have limited space to discover and don’t become overwhelmed. Then slowly allow them into new spaces as they become more comfortable with the space they’re in.
You may also consider placing more than one litter box around the new house until they become accustomed to the new space.
3) Change in diet
If you’ve recently switched cat foods, it may be causing constipation or diarrhea, which can affect your cat’s litter box habits.
If they’re now eating raw food, higher-fiber content food, or even switched from dry food to wet food, it may cause diarrhea and they may suddenly get the urge to go when they’re not close to the litter box. Or, a switch in food in the other direction may cause constipation, which makes using the litter box uncomfortable.
It may not be a complete change in their diet, but rather, a new type of treat, milk, or a few scraps from the dinner table could be upsetting your cat’s stomach. If they’re an outdoor cat, it could even be a well-meaning neighbor feeding them something they’re not used to, or your cat getting into other people’s garbage.
If you’ve recently switched their diet, try reverting back to their old food and see if that fixes the litter box problems. It’s important to slowly introduce a new food by mixing a small amount of it with their regular food and increasing that amount over time. That way, it’s not a big shock to their system.
Pay attention to everything they eat (they may be jumping up on the counter when you’re not looking and taking a few licks from the butter dish) and try eliminating anything you think could be upsetting their stomach.
4) Recent Surgery
Many cat owners have experienced their cat starting to poop outside the litter box after being spayed or neutered. (On the other hand, if your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, they may be spraying outside the litter box to mark their territory.)
Anesthesia or other medications your cat has been prescribed (or given during a vet visit) could cause constipation or diarrhea. Not to mention, your cat will be sore after a surgery. If they strain to poop or experience pain while using the litter box, they’ll associate that pain with the litter box and avoid it in the future.
Check with your vet after the surgery to explain their behavior and the types of poops they’re having. You want to rule out any complications the surgery may have caused.
It’s also important to be sure their wound from the surgery is healing properly. Check for any swelling, redness, or discharge around the wound and contact your vet if something doesn’t look right, or if their behavior continues more than a few days after the surgery.
Try placing a new litter box in the place they like to frequently poop to see if that helps. Or purchasing a new litter box and placing it in a new spot so they no longer associate their old litter box with pain.
5) Litter box inadequacies
If your cat all of a sudden starts pooping on the floor and you haven’t changed a thing with their litter box, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s NOT the cause.
Your cat may feel something has changed. It could be the smell of it due to the cleaners you’ve used, or their odors setting into the plastic. They may have been spooked by something while in their litter box and are now afraid to use it. Or it may be that your cat has changed (e.g. developed arthritis) and their litter box is no longer comfortable for them to use.
Here are some other common litter box problems that could be causing your cat to poop on the floor:
- Litter box is too small – the litter box your cat used as a kitten may be too small for them as an adult.
- Litter box entry is too high – if your cat has mobility issues due to age, an injury, or a recent surgery, they may have trouble stepping into the litter box if the entrance is too high.
- Litter box is covered – some cats prefer uncovered litter boxes over covered. It could be due to the cover making the litter box too confined for them, or the smells that get trapped inside.
- Self-Cleaning litter box – a litter box that moves on its own and makes noises may spook your cat.
- New litter box – cats are cautious of new things and simply the smells of a new litter box may be deterring them from using it.
- Litter box smell – if you’ve cleaned your litter box with a harsh cleaner, such as bleach, your cat may not appreciate the new smell of their litter box.
- Litter box liner – liners don’t always fit in the litter box perfectly and your cat’s claws may be getting caught in the liner as they try to dig in the litter, making things a little awkward for your cat.
One of the easiest and cheapest solutions to test is to have multiple litter boxes. Purchase a new litter box, but don’t get rid of your old one; see if adding an additional litter box (or two) helps.
Although the general rule is one litter box per cat, having more than one per cat can be beneficial.
It helps ensure your cat always has a clean place to go to the washroom (of course, you still must stay on top of daily cleanings), accommodates cats who prefer to urinate in one litter box and poop in the other, and it allows you to test different litter box scenarios. You can:
- Test the additional litter box(es) in new areas while keeping one in its familiar spot
- Test different types of litter in each box
- Text different types of litter boxes (smaller, lower sides, covered/uncovered, etc.)
When purchasing a new litter box, try a bigger litter box with a low entry point to rule out the litter box being too small or high as the cause of your cat pooping outside of it.
If you’ve switched to a covered litter box, try removing the cover to see if they prefer to use it when it’s uncovered.
If you’re using a self-cleaning litter box, try leaving it turned off until your cat gets used to it and keeping their old litter box next to it so they have options.
If you suspect the smell of your cat’s litter box may be causing an issue, try washing the box with a mild dish detergent, as cats don’t like products with ammonia, strong scents, or citrus oils.
6) Litter box location
The location of a litter box is important. The keys to good litter box placement are:
- Easy to access
Each cat is different and you know your cat best.
Although privacy may be key for most cats when it comes to litter box placement, if your cat is particularly clingy with you or more social, they may prefer their litter box to be close to where you hang out (like the living room).
There are some places, such as the garage, that are almost never ideal locations for a litter box.
Purchase a second or third litter box and test out placing them in different areas of the house.
Although the litter box may be in a spot where they once used it with no problem, something may have happened recently while using the litter box (like a loud noise or physical pain) and they now associate that spot with the bad experience.
It’s best to keep one litter box in the general area they’re used to finding it and placing a new one in a different area.
It’s also a good idea to place a new litter box in the spot your cat currently likes to poop on the floor. But it’s also important to clean the floor where they have previously pooped (more on that in the last section “how to stop your cat from pooping on the floor”).
AVOID placing litter boxes in places that are:
- Noisy – a furnace or central vacuum turning on in the middle of them doing their business could spook them and deter them from using the litter box in the future.
- High-traffic – children running past their litter box while they’re using it, or someone coming through the front door and surprizing them could deter them from using the litter box.
- Dark – we all like to be able to see where we’re going to the washroom. Although cats have better night vision than us, they can’t see in complete darkness. They want to feel safe when using the litter box and being able to see that there aren’t any predators around will help.
- Hard to access – if their litter box is in a washroom where the door can be closed for several minutes while someone showers, gets ready, or uses the washroom, it could be preventing your cat from using their litter box when they really need to. Make sure the box is in a place they have easy access to 100% of the time. You also don’t want to put the litter box downstairs if your cat has mobility issues; having to go up and down the stairs each time they need to use the washroom can lead them to finding a more convenient place to poop.
- Undesirable area – your cat will have rooms they like to hang out in and rooms they almost never visit. Although you may want to hide the litter box away in a dark, unused corner of the house, your cat may not appreciate having to go to that space multiple times a day. It’s more important right now to solve the pooping-outside-the-litter-box problem than worry about the placement. So try placing a litter box in one of their favorite rooms.
- Next to food and water – just as we don’t want to eat right next to where we go to the washroom, your cat doesn’t want to either; they’re clean creatures.
7) Type of litter
A dirty litter box is often the cause of your cat pooping on the floor. Cats are clean creatures and if they were out in the wild, they would be constantly finding a new, clean spot to poop.
It may also be the type of litter you’re using that can deter your cat from pooping in the litter box.
Some of the most common litter issues are:
- Scent – litters come scented for the owner’s pleasure, but your cat may not appreciate the flowery smell.
- Dust – finer litters can be dusty when your cat is in there kicking things around. Cats can get allergies, just like humans, and the dusty litter may be aggravating those allergies making using the litter box undesirable.
- Depth – on average, litter should be about 2 inches deep, but your cat may prefer a little more or a little less.
- Texture – clumping litters tend to have a finer texture, compared to the course texture of wood pellets. Your cat may prefer one texture over the other.
- Replacement – each type of litter will have guidelines to follow when it comes to completely changing the litter and filling the box with fresh stuff. Be sure to follow those guidelines so odors don’t deter your cat from using the litter box.
- Litter paws – clumping litters create a paste when your cat urinates. If your cat steps in that paste, it can get stuck to their paws and in between their toes. Cats, being the clean-freaks that they are, don’t like this and that experience may be preventing them from using the litter box.
Try playing around with the type of litter you use and how much litter you place in the box (fluctuate between 2 to 4 inches to see if there’s a depth your cat prefers).
If you purchase one or two new litter boxes, you can test different litters at the same time to see if there’s one litter box your cat uses more.
There are a lot of different litters to try from clumping and un-scented to crystal and wood pellet litters. It will take time to test new litters out but it will be worth it if it helps you solve the “pooping outside the litter box” problem.
Also try increasing how often you scoop the litter box and change the litter altogether. Your cat has a strong sense of smell, so although it may seem clean to you, a just-used litter box may be considered too dirty to your picky cat.
HOW TO STOP YOUR CAT FROM POOPING ON THE FLOOR
In addition to the tips outlined above, here are a few more tips.
Your cat may have had time to build up a habit of pooping in an area other than their litter box.
So it’s important to be patient as you try to find a cause for them pooping outside the litter box and fix it.
It may seem like there isn’t a cause; they’re simply doing it for no good reason. But if they were once trained to poop inside the litter box, and did so willingly, and now they’re pooping on the floor; there is a reason for it.
It’s also important to allow time to correct their habit. Although you may have found a fix, they may occasionally still go back to their old pooping grounds.
Watch for progress, not perfection.
TREAT WITH LOVE AND KINDNESS
As frustrating as it is to deal with your cat pooping on the floor, it’s important to remember: there is a reason they’re doing it.
Although it may not be obvious. They’re either upset with something, or are dealing with an illness.
It’s ALWAYS important to take your cat to the veterinary clinic to rule out any serious issues. Cats are very good at hiding their illnesses so you can’t go by whether or not you think they’re sick. Only a vet can run the proper test to rule out illnesses.
But it’s also amazing how many cat issues can be solved with lots of love and attention.
CLEAN THE AREA REALLY WELL
When a cat can smell their scent, from pooping where they’re not supposed to be pooping, they believe that scent means it’s okay to poop in that spot again.
Or Anti-Icky-Poo (yes, that’s actually the name, but pet owners swear by it).
These types of cleaners will help get rid of ALL of the smells so your cat can’t detect them anymore.
MAKE THE NON-POOPING ZONE LESS DESIRABLE
If your cat has a favorite spot they like to poop outside the litter box, try to make it less desirable to them.
First, clean the area well with an enzymatic cleaner as mentioned above, and try adding a new litter box to that area.
Then try adding something you know they won’t like, such as:
- Texture – cats prefer to walk on smooth, quiet surfaces, so adding something such as tin foil to the area can help deter your cat. Of course, all cats are different so play around with different objects. You obviously don’t want to hurt your cat but prickly surfaces can also deter them. Depending on the area, you may put a mat down and then sprinkle twigs or wood chips, or purchase a plastic mat such as this one for deterring cats.
- Scents – cats don’t like the strong smells of citruses, lavender, mint, coffee, etc. so try adding these scents to the area you want to keep your cat away from.
- Food & water – cats don’t like to defecate where they eat, so it may be beneficial to move their food and water dishes to the spot they’ve been pooping lately.
MAKE THE LITTER BOX & LITTER BOX AREA MORE DESIRABLE
Follow the tips under the litter box location section, but you may also try some scented products on the market that help attract cats and make them feel more at ease.
Feliway has a Cat Calming Diffuser Kit you can plug in by the litter box to help make your cat feel more comfortable and less stressed when near their litter box.
REWARD GOOD BEHAVIOUR
It’s important to not yell or hit your cat if you find them pooping outside of the litter box. It will only further stress your cat and may cause their behavior to worsen, in more ways than one.
When you do find them using their litter box, even if it’s just to urinate (and you know they’re still pooping elsewhere), reward them. It will help them connect good things with their litter box.
You can use positive reinforcements when you notice they’ve just finished using the litter box, such as a “good job” in a loving, soothing tone, or an affectionate pet, or even a treat.
I hope this article helps you solve the problem of your cat pooping outside the litter box.
As frustrating as it is, don’t give up on them.