In this article, I’m going to answer the pressing question:
Why does my cat poop outside the litter box?
And I will tell you:
- Potential causes of the problem
- Preventative measures
- Common questions answered
There are three main reasons why your cat may be soiling or urinating outside of the cat litter box;
- A medical condition
- Marking and spraying
- Litter box aversion
I’ll discuss all three of these causes below in more detail.
Just before I get into the details, it’s worth noting that this type of cat behavior is the main reason why so many cats are put outside.
Rather than having their home turned into a smelly cat toilet, owners place the cat outside to do their business.
Inevitably cat owners will end up disliking their furry firends and wish they never got one, if the problem persists.
Please never think that your cat is being bad, as that is simply not their nature. If they are house soiling, there is always a logical reason for that happening.
Having an understanding of these three main problems, will help many cat owners to understand, how to deal with the problem, in a better way.
Let’s dive right in.
Understand Why Cats Pee or Poop Outside Their Litter Box
There are a few different reasons why your cat may urinate or poop outside their cat litter box.
I have explained those reasons just below:
Problem 1 – Your Cat May Have a Medical Condition
It is quite possible that your cat has some type of infection.
There are a few common ones such as a urinary tract infection, cystitis, feline lower tract urinary disease and feline urological syndrome, urinary tract stones, diabetes and even arthritis.
The majority of these are ailments which affect the cat’s bladder or urethra. The only way to find that out of course is with a trip to the vet.
I know that can be an expensive option, but in the end, it may be the only real option.
However before doing that, it is worthwhile trying to establish if there are any tell tale signs of the above illnesses.
Here are a few simple things to look out for.
- Is your cat urinating a lot and frequently?
- Is your cat straining to urinate?
- Do you hear crying noises when your cat is urinating?
- Is there any blood in the urine?
- Do you notice excessive licking of the genital area?
If you see some or all of these, there is a very good chance your cat has a medical problem, and it is time to take that trip to the vet.
In almost every case when these symptoms are noticed, your cat is not really passing any urine at all.
The cat will also be in quite a distressed state. These illnesses are a lot more common in middle aged and older cats, and those who are house restricted.
In essence they start to get overweight due to lack of regular exercise. When they start to put on weight, then some type of urinary infection is likely to happen.
Problem 2 – Cat Marking and Spraying
Cats speak with each other by marking their territory.
This is also referred to as spraying. Essentially your cat is informing other cats, that this is my space, and you should stay away. For a cat this is a normal means of communication.
That is a very common and natural behaviour for cats. They mainly start to do this when they feel threatened. It is more common with male cats who have not been neutered.
The spraying will start to happen if there are stray cats in the area, and then your cat may start to spray near to windows and doors.
Likewise the introduction of another family pet, may cause your cat to spray.
Conflict between pets is also another reason why your cat may start to spray. In fact any change to your cat’s environment such as moving furniture around, or moving home may lead to this instinctive behavior.
This spraying is quite different to a cat urinating, and the two behaviors often get confused.
With spraying, cats tend to stand very upright and spray some urine against a vertical surface. When a cat is urinating, they tend to squat and cover the area below.
In some cases, cats may also urinate and soil to mark territory. It can be difficult to know the difference, but they are using the marking to state this is my territory and I don’t like or understand the change, so I will make that my own.
If you car has been spayed or neutered this should never happen, and it will only happen if they have not been treated as kittens.
Problem 3 – Litter Box Aversion
If it is not a medical problem, or a spraying problem, then the chances are is that it is directly linked to either the type of litter, the box type, or the condition of the box.
Cats are not all the same in looks or in behavior as I am sure you will know. They will not always like the same type of litter box, nor will they all like the same type of cat litter.
There are quite a few types of litter box available, and many different brands and types of cat litter available.
Quite often you may need to experiment with both litter and litter box, to find the right combination of cat litter box and what type of cat litter, your cat likes the best.
One thing is certain no cat likes a dirty litter box. If you have ever had the misfortune to walk into a dirty washroom, and you saw the toilets not flushed, and urine and paper all over the floor the likelihood is you will move on.
It would be better to have a pee outside than to use that place. A cat litter is the same for your cat. Cat litter boxes and trays should be cleaned 1-2 times per day, and any clumps or poop removed.
That however in itself is not enough. When they urinate, there is a smell, and with a clumping litter it does clump. Those clumps also need to be removed at the same time as any poop is being removed.
Doing both of those will go a long way to keeping the cat litter box a place where your cat is happy to go. With non clumping litters it is hard to do this without constantly replacing the litter.
Daily removal of poop and any clumped litter helps keep the cat litter box fresh and clean, and your cat is much more likely to use it.
All of the cat experts recommend changing the litter completely once a week. When that is being done they also recommend thoroughly cleaning the cat litter box, before putting a new litter back in.
Some people will think it is a bit over the top to do that so frequently. In my opinion it is much better to do that, than risk having your cat using your floor instead.
If your cat has been using the litter box for a while and then stops using it, that is probably down to a smell they do not like.
You can check out my article on cleaning a litter box properly by clicking here.
Why Litter Box Position is Important to Prevent Urinating Outside the Box?
This is actually quite an important thing to understand. Many cat owners get this wrong and it is this exact reason why cats will not use their litter box.
These boxes should not be placed anywhere near where food is stored or is being prepared for the obvious hygiene reasons.
As we know cats like to feel very safe when they are doing their business. That is because they are in a vulnerable position when doing what Mother Nature intends them to do.
You should not place a litter box in a confined space as that makes the cat feel potentially trapped.
A confined space will also smell more, and again our feline friends do not like that.
Try if possible to place the litter box in a low traffic area which is quiet, but also where your cat has a full view of the area.
Litter box placement can make the difference between a cat who always goes in the litter box and a cat who avoids it.
There is a myth that cats like privacy when doing their business. This is not true at all but it is true that they never like to feel trapped.
You can check out my article here on the best place to locate a litter box and why.
The Cat Mindset & Litter Boxes
Sometimes it is a good idea to understand what may be going on in the mind of your cat.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying for one second that I can understand that, but somethings are just important to try and understand.
To the best of available scientific knowledge cats originally came from the desert regions. As such sand provided cats with the biggest toilet on earth.
As these same cats then became domesticated, we needed to provide them with a place to do their business.
It wasn’t until 1947 when cat litter was made from a natural form of clay. Until then many things had been used including ashes and sand itself.
Nowadays we have a whole range of cat litters available, that include organic, clumping and non clumping varieties.
There are also corn, wheat, recycled newspapers and even crystal varieties of litters. Cats actually prefer clay based litters that clump.
There have been quite a few trials conducted to see which litters cats like best, and hands down these clay based litters win every single time.
To take that to the next level cats also preferred those clay based clumping litters that were granular in nature, in other words, smaller granular based litters. In essence that is similar to the sand from whence they came.
Therefore it should not be that big a surprise to us really, that they prefer these finer litters on their paws.
Do Scented Litters Make Cats Pee Outside the Box?
The reason manufacturers started to include scent in litters was simply to counteract the smell of the cat’s urine and poop.
It clearly helps keep the home smell better and is certainly preferable to any type of toilet smell.
The problem is that some manufacturers include scents that quite frankly cats do not like. These scents include anything that is citrus based or floral based.
In addition to the manufacturers using a scent, they also make these litters from synthetic, or not natural materials.
Cats have shown in quite a number of research studies that they do not like synthetic materials and they don’t like scents.
That’s would explain why a cat may pee or poop outside those types of litter choices.
Do Odor Control Additives Make Cats Pee Outside the Litter Box?
What many cat owners may not be aware of is that manufacturers, in an attempt to attract customers, also add what are termed odor control additives.
The purpose of these is of course to help reduce the smell.
The main two additives used are baking soda and activated charcoal. In tests it has been shown that of the two, cats prefer the carbon base charcoal activated option.
That is worth noting, and allows you to change from one to the other, if required.
Many cats do not like either of these additives and it will put them off using the litter. If that happens, then you should change to a non-additive litter that uses granular clay.
Does Litter Box Size Make a Difference to Using the Litter Box?
A recent study was done when cats were provided with a choice of box size. They were provided with three box sizes, small, medium and large.
The results were very clear in that cats preferred a larger litter box, and they used that box more often than any of the other two sizes.
Many of the litter boxes on the market are simply too small. Now although they may be neat and compact, cats do not like being restricted.
I mentioned when locating your litter box that they liked a wide field of vision. Well a small box with a small opening is not that, and many cats will avoid using the box for that very reason.
Summary of How to Prevent or Stop Cats from Peeing Outside their Litter Box
We hope the above information has helped you deal with the problem of cats who stop using their litter box and who start to pee or poop outside the litter box.
If in doubt always check for a medical problem first. There is a good chance that it is cat box aversion, but for cats with a urinary problem, it is a painful one.
It is also one that you do not want to go on without the proper treatment.
Science Direct – Detailed Ethogram of Cat Peeing Outside their box