My Cat Is Avoiding the Litterbox ? For Everything

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares reasons why a cat might be defecating outside the litterbox.

By Marilyn Krieger, CCBC | Posted: June 3, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My wonderful, exceptionally smart, 11-year-old cat, Charlie Parker, has never had any health issues until recently. Now my cat defecates throughout the house, always where I can see it (in the entry way, in front of the bathroom and kitchen, etc.). My cat’s stool is always hard and round and he leaves about three or four of them. I have talked to him, scolded him, punished him (kept him in bathroom while other cats had breakfast, etc.). He doesn't get the message and when I don't remove the cat’s feces, he leaves more in another place that I am bound to notice. Is he trying to tell me he's sick and to pay attention

A: Your cat’s defecating out of the litterbox is due to an instinctual response to something in his environment or to a medical problem. He isn’t being bad or misbehaving. Instead of scolding your cat and withholding breakfast from him, stop the behavior by first determining the reasons for the behavior and then change the triggers. Take your cat to a veterinarian for a checkup. Maybe your cat is constipated or has another medical issue that is causing him pain or discomfort.

After your cat’s veterinarian rules out any medical conditions that would cause your cat to defecate around the house, approach this as a behavior problem and identify the triggers. The first clue to check out is his relationship with the other resident cats. Inter-cat aggression or status challenges between him and one or more of the other cats may be causing him to mark his territory by defecating in highly visible areas. Another term for this behavior is midden marking.

Let your cat have more acceptable ways to mark his territory and demonstrate his status to stop your cat from leaving calling cards around the house. Place scratching posts and horizontal scratchers in high profile areas for your cat to scratch. Cats have scent glands on the bottom of their paws, so when they scratch objects, they are effectively marking their territory. Vertical territory, such as tall cat trees, high shelves and window perches, placed throughout your house will also help resolve the challenge by allowing all of your cats to demonstrate to each other their places in the flexible cat hierarchy.

Poor cat litterbox locations and management might also cause your cat to defecate outside the litterbox. Make sure that there are large, uncovered litterboxes located throughout your house in areas where your cat won’t feel trapped or possibly ambushed by one of the other cats. Additionally, provide one more litterbox then there are cats. In other words, if you have three cats, then ideally you should have four litterboxes. Dirty litterboxes can also contribute to litterbox challenges. Scoop the cat boxes at least once a day.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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Reader Comments

Cat Editor    Irvine, CA

9/13/2012 12:59:33 PM

MR in Fort Lauderdale, have you taken your cat to the veterinarian to rule out a health problem? A cat's posture is not the same when he defecates as when he urinates. Perhaps squatting to defecate is painful and he associates that pain with the litterbox. Please take your cat to the vet to rule out a health problem. Also, bringing new cats or kittens into the home can be stressful on the resident cat. Be sure to give him a lot of affection and reassurance. Limit the newcomers' space in the house at first, so he knows he still has full-run of the house. There are articles on Cat Channel about new pet introductions and creating a stress-free zone. You also might try an uncovered litterbox and a puppy training pad around the litterbox area to catch any poop that doesn't make it into the box. Good luck!

MR    Fort Lauderdale, FL

9/12/2012 11:14:43

My four-year-old tuxedo kitty (boy) has been pooping in front of, on top of, and beside - but NOT inside of - the litter box since January. Our two kitty home (both four-year-old kitties: brother and sister littermates I've had since they were born) grew plus one the last week of December. A stray kitten in the neighborhood ran inside the house one night, and she sort've adopted us. Two days later...I caught the flu. While I was dying from the plaquge, I had the new kitten in my room, separated from my other two kitties (since I wanted to have her checked out by the vet before totally socializing them). Once I was a little better, I noticed that my little duo had become the Exorcist kitties; they were BOTH pooping outside of the litter box, and they were BOTH projectile vomiting (at impressive distances, I might add). I rushed them to the kitty ER, thinking the kitten might have given them something, but as it turned out, it was I that had given them the flu. Once they got better, my little girl got right back to usisng the litter box (along with our new addition), but my little man just hasn't got back on that wagon.

Since January, our family has grown even more (we took in 3 more kittens; all rescues), and everyone has gotten the hang of the litter system. Except my little man. We've tried EVERYTHING! At one point, I had 7 litter boxes all over my home! I've tried different litters, litter boxes, placements, rooms, etc. No matter what I've done, he poops just outside of the box (but he still pees in the box).

HELP! Please.

Anna    Monte Vista, DE

7/10/2012 7:46:22

Hmm, interesting.

Eileen    New York, NY

5/15/2012 4:53:06

My cat was constipated for awhile until I found the right food for him (Prowl by Honest Kitchen). Anyway, he started defecating outside the box when he was not feeling well. I took him to the vet and he is fine now. But defecating outside the box has now become a habit. I have done everything that has been suggested by 2 vets, an animal communicator, books and articles. Nothing works. Some of the things I have done are: put out 5 litter boxes, used different litters, slowly changed the locations, used Cat Attract litter, put the litter box in the spot where he usually defecates(he then picked a new spot), got bigger litter boxes, got smaller litter boxes… this has been going on for 6 months now. The litter boxes are CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN. He only used one, so I eventually got rid of the other 4. No other animals in my house, nothing new, no new people, no new furniture. Any other suggestions?

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