Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Litterbox?

CatChannel and CAT FANCY cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares tips on what causes "middening," or cats pooping outside the box, and how to stop it.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

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Cat in Litterbox -- Why Is My Cat Pooping Outside the Litterbox?
Q: We have had Sheila, our female cat, for four years. She is wonderful, loving and a pain in the butt! Sheila is 5 years old, declawed front and back and lives entirely indoors. She travels to Florida with us by air and is a perfect cat, but she will not poop in her litterbox. She will pee and then go to the front door or back door and go on the floor. We have moved the litterbox to the area where she will go on the floor and she will still go on the floor. We are at a loss on what to do.

A: Before approaching this as a cat behavior problem, take Sheila, along with a fresh feces sample to your cat's veterinarian for a thorough checkup. Often medical issues will cause cats to defecate outside the litterbox. Most likely, there are a combination of triggers for your cat's behavior.

Your cat might be middening — marking territory. Based on the areas she is targeting, neighborhood cats or other animals might cause her to defecate outside the litterbox. Start by keeping the outsiders away from your home. Use deterrents that won't harm the animals but will make the exterior of your home an unpleasant place for them to hang out. Deterrents include ultrasonic devices, motion-sensitive water sprayers and repellents such as lemon and Bitter Apple. Cover the windows where your cat can see the neighborhood animals; fabric and paper work well. After the outsiders no longer hang out around your house, gradually remove the coverings.  

Your cat might also have problems with your cat's litterbox and its location. The litterbox might not be clean enough or it may be too small for her. Additionally, it may be located in an area where she could feel trapped. Ideally, you should have two litterboxes available. They should be large, uncovered and scooped minimally once a day. Place the litterboxes in locations where your cat has a great view of the room and can easily identify any potential threat and escape.

Stress from traveling may be a factor as well. Cats need consistency — most do not adjust easily to change. Make your cat's travel as stress-free as possible. Place an item of clothing that has your scent on it in the carrier with Sheila. If Sheila has a favorite toy, put that in the carrier as well. Covering a carrier with a towel will help your cat feel safe and protected. Once you arrive at your destination, put the carrier and cat in a room equipped with a comfortable place to sleep, cat food, water and a litterbox. This will be her sanctuary room. Open the carrier door and let her explore the room on her own schedule. After she is comfortable in her room, open the door to the rest of the house for her.

Another contributing factor is your that cat's declawed.Because your cat's natural defenses have been removed through declawing, she feels vulnerable, causing her to easily stress and react by defecating outside the litterbox.
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Reader Comments

Kimberly    Fort Worth, TX

6/29/2014 9:52:30 PM

My 5 year old cat that we hand raised when she was 5 days old has poo problems. She is litter box trained and doe poo in her box. But for some reason when Im either sick or gone for a period of time or if there's commotion in the house she will poo on my bedroom floor. She does share the house with 4 other cats but there are plenty of boxes and I keep them clean. She is healthy and has no issues that we can tell. She does however seem to get really upset if I'm upset. It took a while to put 2 and 2 together but there's no way I can always have a calm house. I get upset from time to time like anyone. So I've had to invest in a good carpet shampooer and spot bot. I use Natures Miracle to completely rid any trace of smell so none of my other cats will defecate in the same spot. Weird thing is she does it it random spots only in my bedroom. I'm hoping to remove the carpet soon and put down hard flooring so as to make cleaning up easier since she never pees. I guess I have an emotionally fragile cat since none of my 4 other cats behave in that manner. They all get along and play well together so I know it's not a dominance issue. I do think also she gets separation anxiety from me as she is always shadowing me.

Lois    Bay City, TX

11/7/2013 12:03:58 PM

I have a 7 year old Maine Coon, he always pooped in the litter box. I went to my daughters last thanksgiving for 3 days, and he started pooping in front of the litter box and has been for a year. He has been to the vet, had his poop checked, Another litter box, 2 in the house and he still insists on pooping in front.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

7/12/2013 7:08:28 AM

Erin -- It sounds like you had one box for all three cats. The general rule of thumb is one litterbox per cat plus an extra. You even mention understanding that she wouldn't want to go in a dirty box. Use the second box that's in the "cage" and put it in a place with limited traffic but high visibility, so your cat won't feel vulnerable. Keep both litterboxes clean and they will become welcoming places.

Erin    Auburn, MA

7/11/2013 9:33:56 PM

My cat Lilly is 12, she's always used the box. I moved a year ago and even then she used the box. She has asthma and if the box gets really bad and needs a change I haven't blamed her for pooping outside of the box... she gradually started doing it once a week over the past couple months (always right near the box on the floor), then every 5 days, then 3! Once she hit that number I started putting her in a cage at night with her own box (I have 2 other cats, her brother and buddy Grendel). Then the other day she pooped late morning after we were awake (she always did it when we were sleeping). She was imediately placed back in the cage (a mid - sized dog cage). I cleaned the box just last night... she just now in the evening pooped on the floor again!!! I'm so frustrated with her... allas, she's yet again in the cage. I don't know what to do at this point... she knows better because she runs when she does it. She's not pooping in a corner or in any other rooms, just right outside the box, sometimes on the floor matt (very irritating). I love her and just don't know what to do. Please help...

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