Cats, Pooping and Litter Boxes

April 15, 2011

Wendy ChristensenMany of you have written to me about your cats pooping outside their litter box. This can be just as icky (albeit easier to clean up) than urination outside of the box but requires the same level of attention to eliminate the problem.

First of all, if this is new behavior, pay attention! There could be a medical reason for this so take your fur baby to the vet.  According to Wendy Christensen, cat behaviorist and author of Outwitting Cats, there are a few signs that may indicate your cat is experiencing painful defecation and needs immediate attention.

  • Thin feces (think the width of a pencil) can indicate a partial blockage.
  • If you notice more hair than normal in your cat’s feces, he may be over grooming, a sign of pain, stress or itchiness.
  • Worm segments in the feces, which look like little grains of rice or thin strands of pasta. They may still be wiggling (I know, EWWW).

It’s a good idea to collect a fresh sample of your cat’s unusual poop, stick it in a baggie and show the vet so he or she can make a more accurate diagnosis of your cat’s problem.

Once you’ve ruled out medical issues, consider that your cat may be pooping in random places in order to assert himself.  Wendy gives the following potential reasons for this:

  • Bragging about his status as “top cat.”
  • Issuing a challenge to the existing “top cat.”
  • Trying to gain more territory for himself.
  • Reasserting his turf if a new cat has joined the household.
  • Reacting to a stray or neighbor cat hanging out in your yard.
  • Making his own (stinky) statement about scent-related changes in your house – like new carpeting, furniture or people  – or the change in seasons.

So what can you do about this? Wendy offers these tips:

1. Add another box. Sometimes, cats decide they want to poop in one box and pee in a different box. Also, cats sometimes decide they no longer want to share boxes with another cat or other cats. It’s wise to accommodate them in this regard. Actually, for any out-of-the-box problems, adding another box (once medical issues have been ruled out) often works wonders.

2. Keep the box cleaner. Cats are naturally fastidious and can become more so over time, especially as they become seniors. They can get mighty fussy.

3. Move boxes. Move one or more boxes to a different spot in the house, preferably a quieter or more peaceful spot. If you have multiple cats, one may be “guarding” the box(es). The “box bully” can’t be in two places at once!

4. Change the association. If there’s a medical issue, the cat may associate the box with pain and distress, and so avoid it. This may persist even after the medical issue is taken care of, so you may have to re-site the box somewhat, or provide a completely fresh box so the pain association can be broken.

Another issue that many cat parents ponder is why their cats don’t cover the poop in their boxes. My cat Pugsley does this. And BOY is it stinky!

Well, as Wendy says, that’s the point. Not covering is usually an assertion or communication, meant for other cat(s). In Wendy’s words, “Litter box as letterbox!” I love it.

Do you have a pooping cat problem? What’s the funniest place (or least funniest place) your cat has pooped? Leave a comment below!