My Cat Is Pooping Outside the Litterbox

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger discusses ways to help a senior cat use the litterbox.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: Feb. 20, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: We have a 20-year-old female cat who pees in her box (she has four) but poops on the rug or under the table. This pooping has begun only in the past few months and has gotten worse. Now she never poops in the box at all. On at least one occasion I caught her getting ready to poop on the carpet, two feet from her living-room box. I put her in the box, and she got out and proceeded to poop on the carpet.

A: You are lucky to have a cat who has lived 20 years, free of major medical ailments. Treasure her, she sounds lovely. Older cats are wonderful but at times they need special considerations since they can suffer from behavior and medical challenges that are age-related.

Before determining this is a behavior problem, please take your cat to a veterinarian for a geriatric exam. It is important to rule out any possible medical issues that she might have that could be causing her not to use the box. She might have parasites, or she may have constipation issues that are causing her to associate the litterbox with pain. It is also possible that she has arthritis and is finding it painful to defecate in the box.

Another concern is her fur length. If she has long or medium-length fur, consider giving her a trim under the tail area. Cats are very clean; they do not like the feel of litter or other remnants sticking to them.

It is not uncommon for elderly cats to develop varying degrees of incontinence and sometimes confusion as they age. Add new and different types of boxes for her. Instead of using conventional litterboxes, provide her with large storage boxes (the type used for stoage under the bed) that have no covers and are shallow. It is important that you leave the existing boxes in their original locations for consistency. Later, after she’s using the new boxes you can slowly take away the unused boxes. After putting fresh litter in the new cat boxes, add a couple of cups of used litter from the original boxes. Her new, shallow boxes need to be located in different areas of the house so that they are near her when she gets the urge.

If your cat continues not using any of the boxes for defecating, consider investing in puppy piddle pads and placing them in front of the cat boxes. The pads are made out of a soft absorbent material that doesn’t leak and make accident clean up fast and easy.

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Reader Comments

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

11/16/2012 10:32:17 AM

Sandy -- This sounds extremely frustrating. The first reason that comes to mind for this is Middening, the act of marking territory with feces. LINK With the older cats gone from the house, the newer cats are vying for their place in the hierarchy. You can give them alternative ways to display this by adding more vertical territory -- shelves, cat trees, etc. Simple "floating shelves" wall units can be good places for cats to perch.

Thank you for taking your cat to the vets to rule out medical concerns, the No. 1 reason cat's miss the litterbox. You've exhausted several reasons already, and I'd like to find a solution for you, so we will forward your question to our behaviorist. I hope that she will be able to address your concerns. Good luck

Sandy    Menomonie, WI

11/14/2012 10:25:13 PM

I have 2 male cats(brothers)around 8 years old. I rescued them when they were small. They came into a house with 2 other cats. The litterboxes are in the lower level of my home, which is finished. Everything was going well,using the boxes. For the past year both of them have started to poop outside the boxes. Not all the time, but most of the time. Recently, I helped my beloved 15yo, cross over the Rainbow Bridge. My other lovely cat crossed over, a few years ago. So, I only have to 2 brothers. They really didn't like the other adult cats. But, when they got older they tolerated each other.
I clean my boxes daily, if not more. Their food dish is in another room, they have clean water daily. I have different kinds of litter in each box. I have taken them to the Vet, nothing medically can be found. They are loved and spoiled. I am at my wits end, they both are pooping outside the box, and not in one area. They poop anywhere downstairs. They don't seem to care where they poop. I have tried every cleaner you can think of to deter them from pooping. Nothing I have tried is working. They will pee in the box. Tonight, one of them pooped on my rug in the kitchen. I am tired of my house smelling like cat poop. And constantly cleaning up after them. Please, I need suggestions to help correct this problem. I do not have a lot of money, so getting a cat behavioralist is out of the question. I love my pets and would do anything for them. But, I would like to come home from work and not spend 45 minutes, picking up feces and scrubbing floors.

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

11/12/2012 11:01:36 AM

Amanda -- You have two big problems here: your cat's runny stool and her litterbox avoidance.

First, address the stool problem. Take your cat to the vet to find out what's wrong. Your cat could be losing nutrients and suffering discomfort while in this condition. LINK Your cat might suffer from allergies and benefit from a hypoallergenic diet, but again, your vet must decide this.

The discomfort from this experience might be causing your cat to eliminate outside the litterbox, a common behavior when something is wrong health-wise. Please discuss this with your vet. Good luck

Amanda    Mt. Vernon, KY

11/9/2012 6:53:01 PM

My cat is 15 years old and she has just started using it outside the litter box. It wouldn't be so bad if she didn't have the runs so bad. I don't have enough space for multiple litter boxes and I can't do that. I already have a shallow, lid-less litter box, and I don't have room to put her in a room by herself. There has to be a quick fix...

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