My Cat Is Missing the Litterbox

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses issues that could be causing changes in cat's litterbox habits.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: July 24, 2009, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: We have a 4-year-old female cat who is now defecating on the floor outside the litterbox, though she is urinating in the box. In addition to her, we also have one other cat. They’ve been together for three years. Both cats are very affectionate to us and each other. There has never been any litterbox problems with either cat. There are three litterboxes which are scooped twice a day. I change the litter and wash out the boxes once a month. We use natural litter made of ground corn cob, we've always used this type. This behavior started about a month ago and has escalated in frequency. There have been no changes in our family or home. This is extremely frustrating to us and would appreciate any help you can provide.

A: There are many different triggers that could be causing your cat not to defecate in her litterbox. You will have to do a little detective work to determine what is triggering this behavior. Before determining this is a behavior challenge, take your cat to the veterinarian. It’s important to rule out any medical issues that could be causing this. Parasites, constipation as well as other medical problems can cause cats to sometimes not use their cat boxes.

If your cat has long hair, consider giving her a trim around the hindquarters. Cats don’t like the feel of litter and excrement clinging to their fur. Other reasons that could be causing your cat’s bathroom challenge can be related to her not feeling safe and secure when she uses the cat box. There may have been a small altercation between her and her cat buddy which slightly changed their relationship.

Additionally, there may be some neighborhood cats hanging out around your house who are causing your cat to feel insecure. Or there may be some territorial challenges between her and her buddy. Another possible reason for the behavior is that the litterbox situation might not be ideal. Though it worked in the past, something has occurred that may have resulted in the current litterbox configuration not being adequate. Without doing a full consultation it’s hard for me to identify what the actual triggers are.

Even though we haven’t identified the triggers, here are a few additional suggestions that may help the situation:

  • Add one or two cat boxes in other locations in the house. They should be large and uncovered, located in areas where your cat won’t feel like she can be trapped or ambushed. Don’t change the current cat box configuration; instead add new box/es. 
  •  Add Feliway diffusers around the house. These plug-ins slightly relieve stress, helping cats feel a little more secure.
  • Use a good enzyme cleaner to thoroughly clean up the area outside the litterbox where she’s been defecating.


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Reader Comments

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

9/26/2012 10:03:21 AM

Darcy -- This could be from a number of issues. We always tell owners to take their cats to the vet to rule out any medical condition that might disrupt litterbox use (pain when eliminating, etc.). You can also look through our articles on litterbox use here LINK and you can visit our forum to share your story and seek advice from fellow cat owners here LINK

Darcy    Prince George, VA

9/25/2012 2:38:21 PM

I saves a baby kitten from a humgry possuim. The first week i had her i keep her in my bedroom because i was afraid my other cats would harm her. She did fine with the litter box while she was in the bedroom but after i showed her where the litter boxes were she would use them some times but her would do her businesss behond our wood stove and by my bedroom door help i dont want to have to give her away what do i do

Sara    Dexter, MO

9/8/2012 7:38:34 AM

I had know idea that gentle may not like a litter box, because of her hair.

Arleen    Amarillo, TX

6/2/2012 1:02:06 PM

Good article with sensible ideas. I have had this problem since bringing my mother's cat (now deceased) into our home to live. I did add more litter boxes, but a couple of the cats have continued to use the carpet near the boxes. So I closed the door to that room. Now they are going on the couch!!! Can't catch them in the act, so I don't know who is doing it, but I do put protective pads on the couch now.
Feliway diffuser definitely works to calm a grouchy cat and prevent fights, but has not decreased the poop/pee outside the box.

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