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Ask the Trainer: My Cat is Pooping Outside the Box!

Cat in Litter BoxDear Jennifer,

Cosmo will be two years old January 4th. He has always been a very clean cat even though he was born to a stray and my niece took care of him. He always used his litter box. About 6 months ago he began pooping at the outside bottom of the box. We keep the box very clean and since he is a large cat purchased him a larger litter box. Now it seems at least once a week or more he will poop on the bathroom floor outside the litter box. He never pees outside the box. If this keeps up my husband said he will have to go. He is neutered and clean in every other way. His box is in the extra bathroom so it does not make sense. Can you please help, I don’t want to lose him?
-Ruth

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I’m at a loss… I rescued my cat 7 years ago from the verge of death when she showed up as a kitten at the family farm. She has been wonderful with using her litter box this whole time, but suddenly she has decided that she only wants to pee in it, but poop on the floor next to it. We’ve changed location, litter, box type, and have finally resorted to putting down newspaper. We clean it daily and I’m lost on what to do. This happened so suddenly and I can’t seem to fix it. Help?
-Kelsey (Mar the cat)

Dear Ruth, Kelsey and Mar the Cat,

Inappropriate defecation can have many causes. Since neither of you mentioned any other cats in the home we will rule out social pressures of a multi-cat household. The next thing we need to rule out is a medical cause. Both of you mentioned that both cats had good habits previously. This makes it that much more important to rule out any and all medical causes.

When a cat has appropriate bathroom behavior and then stops abruptly it could be triggered by a medical problem. Gastrointestinal tract problems, constipation, impacted or full anal glands and even arthritis can play a part in inappropriate defecation. It is extremely important to rule out medical issues first and foremost. I strongly urge you both to consult with your veterinarians first.

Once a medical problem has been ruled out by your veterinarian we can look at other potential causes. I know you have mentioned trying some of these but they are worth noting in case you have missed any of them.

Some cats are extremely fastidious.  Litter box cleanliness is of the utmost importance. Make sure you are scooping it at least twice a day. For some cats, if they have already urinated in their box it is too dirty to defecate in. A second box in the general area can help with this.  Place another box in the general area without putting the box next to the original box.

A change in the box or litter can trigger a change in bathroom habits. In general cats prefer an open large litter box. If you are using a covered box ditch the lid. For some cats, if the litter box is too small, they actually end up hanging off of the side when defecating.  So providing a larger box can fix that situation. I personally use totes made to go under a bed. They are the perfect size (think minimum of 18” x 22”) and less expensive than large commercial boxes.

The preferred litter is an unscented clumping litter. A cat’s sense of smell is 10 times stronger than a dog’s sense of smell.  Perfumed or scented litters are made for humans.  Most can be overwhelming for our feline friends.  You also want it deep enough for them to dig and scratch in so they can cover their waste. Usually three inches is a good standard.

Make sure the location is one with easy access and is a quiet and peaceful place. If it is noisy or they get startled this can also cause a problem. Avoid areas where there are constant or loud noises.

In the case of arthritis you need to make a box easy to enter.  A large under the bed tote can be cut down on one side to make it easier for the cat to enter the box.

Your cat might have a negative association to the box.  This can be caused by any of the above medical conditions or being scared or startled in the box. Another thing that can cause a negative association is if either cat is medium or long haired cat with mats or knots under their tail.  Make sure that there are not any mats or hair in the way. Your cat might need a little bit of a shave back there to clean things up a bit. If hair gets caught while going to the bathroom this can cause pain or discomfort as the hair gets caught and pulls.

With a negative association is important to set up one or two extra quiet and easily accessible spots for a new litter box. Use a new box and try a different litter.  You may find a simple change can make the difference.  Adding a few toys to the area can also help. Do not add food or treats as cats do not like to eat where they go to the bathroom.

Thank you for the question!
Jennifer Mauger, CPDT-KSA

Jennifer is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and owner of both L’Chaim Canine and L’Chaim Feline.  Her interest in working with cats began after going into homes where, although she was working with the dog, Jennifer saw that the cat was also in need of behavior modification and mental enrichment.  She wanted to be able to advocate for the cats from the point of view of a professional.  For more training tips and tricks,  follow her on Facebook by clicking here.

Do you have a training question for Jennifer? Ask her by clicking here.

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