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Why Does My Cat Poop Outside The Litter Box (7 Potential Causes)

cat pooping outside the litter box

Most cats will develop litterbox elimination problems throughout their lives, whether caused by stress, disruptions, or medical conditions. If you notice that your cat is not using their litter box like they normally do, it can become a concern for our beloved felines. Some issues can cause a long-term litter box avoidance problem, so it is important to understand the root cause of these behaviors so that they can be corrected. Instead of using their litter box, your cat may start to poop or urinate on the floor, furniture, bedding, and rugs.

This can cause a new habit to form and become a daunting task for you to clean up. This article will give you a rundown of the most common reasons for a cat to be pooping outside of the litter box.

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Why Does My Cat Poop Outside The Litter Box (7 Causes)

1. Dirty Litter Box Conditions

Cats are hygienic animals and will typically refuse to use a dirty litter box that has not been cleaned in a while. Your cat has a sensitive nose, and they can easily detect undesirable smells eliminated from their litter box.

The litter box can also foul quickly if multiple cats are using the same litter box and it is not cleaned regularly. If you do not stick to a cleaning routine and ensure that your cat’s litter box is always smelling fresh, then you may find that your cat chooses to do their bathroom business elsewhere.

dirty litter box
Image Credit: SURKED, Shutterstock

2. Negative Litter Box Association

Cats who have had a negative experience using litter boxes in the past will feel too stressed to use them again. This can happen for several different reasons, such as your cat experiencing a disturbance while using the litter box or becoming injured.

They will associate this event as something that happens when they use the litter box and will then avoid it to prevent the problem from happening again. Your cat is vulnerable when they use the litter box, so any discomfort or negative experiences can cause your cat to become fearful of using the litter box again.


3. Medical Problems

Many medical issues can cause your cat to feel like they are in too much pain and discomfort to use the litter box, especially if it is difficult for them to access. Conditions such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), feline interstitial cystitis, kidney stones, or arthritis can cause your cat to be in pain when going to the bathroom. If the litter box is kept in an area that is difficult to reach and requires your cat to exert their bodies, then it may leave them no choice but to urinate or poop where it is most comfortable. These conditions are painful, and your cat will need prompt veterinary treatment.

sick cat
Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

4. Scent Marking

When scent marking, a cat will typically urinate or spray a diarrhea-like poop up against a vertical object such as a wall or piece of furniture. This phenomenon is common in cats who are feeling stressed, trying to mark their territory, or in unspayed and unneutered cats that are leaving scent marks to attract mates.

Many different factors can contribute to your cat urinating or pooping outside of the litter box, so it is important to determine which is the most possible reason your cat is displaying this behavior so it can be resolved. When cats scent spray, it will be a concentrated and small amount of urine or poop from their glands at a time.

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5. Stress

Environmental or psychological stressors in the environment can cause your cat to avoid using the litter box and instead pooping or urinating in abnormal areas of the household. Stressors can include changes in the family’s routine, moving, traveling, or the addition of new pets. Cats are highly sensitive animals so disruptions to their life, even if minor, can cause your cat to feel stressed and in return act abnormally. You may find that your cat sprays or urine marks on furniture and not use the litter box appropriately.

cat poop on the carpet
Image Credit: schankz, Shutterstock

6. Multi-Cat Household Conflict

If you have a lot of cats in the household and not enough litter boxes to accommodate each cat, then some cats might be controlling the litter box and not letting other cats have access to it. This causes stress and confusion in the cats and they do not know where else to do their bathroom business. Other cats in the household may also be marking their territory in the litter box which is warding off other cats.

In this situation, it would be best to have multiple different litter boxes around the house in a different area, so each cat does not have to fight or wait for another cat to use the litter box. One litterbox per cat plus one extra is the typical rule of thumb.


7. Location Preferences

Some cats can become picky with the type of litter box they are using, or the area and surface the litter box is placed upon. Your cat may avoid using the litter box in a location that they do not like, such as a busy area where there are a lot of disruptions.

If the surrounding area is unsanitary or in disarray, your cat may urinate or poop outside of the litter box because they do not feel comfortable using the litter box in the specific location it is placed. It is best to place the litter box in a quiet area (such as a bathroom or office) that is not used much by people so that your cat can feel safer when doing their business.

maine coon on top entry litter box
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

These litter box-related issues can usually be resolved after you have identified the most likely reason for your cat to be pooping outside of the litter box. Some reasons may need the help of a veterinary professional, gentle guidance, or positive reinforcement.

It is important to not make your cat feel bad about pooping outside of the litter box, as this will only cause them to feel more distress and guilty about their behavior. Instead, look for methods that will help combat the issue in the least stressful manner to your feline friend.


Featured Image Credit: Tanya Plotnikova, Shutterstock

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