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!

Leave a Comment

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

AYankeeCat April 15, 2011 at 11:02 am

HollyCat poops along the front wall of the crawlspace under my house. (There are seven cat boxes for 3 cats – so it’s not that issue.) I just go once a week and pick up the poop. One day last winter I was foraging for HollyCat poop and discovered that the exhaust vent to my furnace had come loose and was venting into the crawl space instead of outside. I cannot see the vent pipe from anywhere in the basement or crawl space other than from actually being at the front wall of the crawl space. I don’t know how long it had been disconnected but it was venting carbon monoxide and it could have been a real problem as houses are shut up tight during the winter here. Thanks to HollyCat’s inappropriate pooping, we were all saved. (And the plumber reinstalled the pipe with a strap to hold it in place this time at no charge!)

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Anna O'Brien April 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm

My parents’ cat Chloe occassionally poops on their Yellow Lab’s favorite pillow – just to maintain her superiority, I suppose :)

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SherryKitty April 16, 2011 at 10:04 am

Not so funny what my Mr. Howie decided would be a good place to poop…
The bathroom sink OMG! Talk about not only STINKY, but he filled up the drain with his
POOP :( Had to run hot-water & poke the poop down the drain with a toothpick (was all I
could think of at the time!!) Now & then I catch him sitting in the sink with a blank stare on his face (like he is in another place) and he is peeing! OMG! Not a dirty litter/box either,
Have had to place a object in the sink now to keep him OUT of it. Lucky for me it’s a half/bath and not used much!!
Howie’s MoM

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helen ferencz April 16, 2011 at 11:47 am

i don’t have a pooping problem,but i have 2 cata,one is 2yrs old,and he is the boss of the house the other is female and will be 1yr old in may.she is farely new.the thing i don;t understand is that when she goes in the litter box she never covers her poop,and when the other guy sees this he runs to cover it up every time she goes this happens.i think this is so cute to watch him clean up behind her.is this ok?

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Katie Cat April 19, 2011 at 2:01 am

Our sisfur Cookie likes to poo on the floor in front of the front door or on the floor in The Girl’s office. The Girl thinks that it might be because sisfur Annie is terribly mean to her. Cookie spends most of her time upstairs under the bed, away from Annie, and only really comes out in the middle of the night. It has been happening a lot less lately, and the humans think that it might be because they are paying much more attention to her.

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Corryn April 19, 2011 at 6:47 pm

This is the EXACT problem that lead me to your site. Wow, how timely is your post?!

I have a 9 year old male cat (Squirt), who is laid-back as can be. I adopted a 5 year old female (Layla) two months ago, who has been pooping in 3-4 different locations around my apartment. She did not previously live with any other cats. I am currently in the midst of several small changes in hopes they will help.

- There are two neighbor cats that roam the halls of the building. I have no problem with this, but am fearing Layla is smelling them under the door and not too happy about it. My vet recommended Feliway, which I tried unsuccessfully (30-some bucks down the drain).

- A couple of weeks after adopting Layla, I went from two litter boxes to one, in hopes that they wouldn’t mind sharing. Squirt has lived with other cats in the past and had no problem sharing a box. I have since added a second box again, in hopes that it would solve the issue. I picked up a Booda Box and neither of the cats has shown much interest in it (with or without the cover in place). I have even tried moving some of Layla’s poops to this box in hopes that she might get the hint, only to find Squirt trying to bury them a little later. hehe

- I have been trying different litters in hopes that it would help, but only go through a bag/box every few weeks of course, so this is a slow process.

I had not previously considered that Layla may be trying to assert herself against Squirt. What can I do to help this possibility?

Layla is such a doll and I’m going to keep trying everything I can think of to help her figure out that my floors are not her bathroom.

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Jen M. May 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm

You may just have to re-litter train her. We have a cat that we retrain every once in a while, and she’s fine for a bit, and then goes back to using the living room floor. *sigh* Sometimes, they just need retraining.

If you’ve never litter trained a cat, what you do is confine her with her box, food and water, a bed, maybe some toys and leave her in there until she uses the box consistently. You pay attention to her, of course. The idea is that she’s confined with the box, so she has the choice of going on the floor, near her bed and food and water or in the box.

Good luck!

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Randi July 19, 2012 at 10:36 am

So are you suggesting to confine them in a bathroom and not bedroom? I live in an apartment and there are not many places that we can confine our cat alone because we have 2 other cats as well. This is so fustrating.

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Randi July 19, 2012 at 10:32 am

My 10 year old indoor cat has just started to poop under my bed right under my head where i sleep. I have 3 cats and they all have always used the same litter box and eat together too. My husband has just recently retired and took over the cleaning of the litter box which I have always done early am before I leave for work and at night around dinner time. I am now wondering if the reason is because my husband sleeps in late and dosent clean the box until when ever he gets up and sometimes forgets to do it at night. I think I will take over the pooper duties again as well as buy another litter box. Should I put the extra box somewhere else in the apartment away from the other? How do you stop all the cats from using both boxes?

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curtis February 16, 2013 at 10:56 am

I have one cat in my house, Lancelot, who is about five months old. When we got him, (about two months ago) he was already litter trained and always used the litter box. His litter box is in the basement of our house. After about one month I started to notice a smell when I would first walk into my house after being out for a while. The basement smelled especially strong of cat urine and feces. I thought, maybe I need to change the litter box more often, so I did. I started to change it about every three to four days and nothing changed. Then I did a little online research on how to keep litter box smell under control. I started washing the litter box every time I changed it, I used litter box deodorizer- a little mixed in with the litter and some sprinkled around it and on the top of the cover. I even went as far as filling up pantyhose with baking soda and hanging a few of those around the basement. None of that worked, it smelled just as bad, if not worse than before. Then today, I had to get into the crawl space, to fix a heating duct that I’m sure my little furry friend helped knock loose. As soon as I climbed up through the opening, I realized that my cat had been doing his buisness in there. The smell was absolutely horrible. I sprayed a can of lysol and sprinkled about ten pounds of baking soda all around the crawl space, concentrating on the areas that had been dug up. Then, I cut a piece of plywood to cover the hole, screwed it to the wall with some cheap hinges on one end, and a latch on the other. There is absolutely no way my cat will be getting into there anymore. So, as long as he doesn’t find another place in the house to use, I’m sure there will be no more problems with a smell. I don’t know how I didn’t figure this out sooner. It’s a good thing that Lancelot doesn’t cover his tracks very well. Playing around in his self proclaimed bathroom, and pulling the wire hanger off of the heat duct, got him busted! Had he not, I would still be battling the smell in the wrong area, and may not have figured it out for some time. I just wish I would have found this website when the problem started. AYankeeCat’s post about her cat pooping in the crawl space, (and possibly knocking her furnace pipe loose-coincidence?) would have guided me in the right direction.

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Del February 16, 2013 at 11:43 am

A few years ago my parents had a cat named Smokey. Raised from a kitten, he had no problems using the litter box, for the first five or so years. Then he began pooping wherever he wanted to, in the middle of the floor, on dirty clothes in the laundry room, behind furiture sometimes, making my mom track down the smell. Soon after this started, he began peeing all over the house (He was nuetered as a kitten and as far as I knew, that would stop cats from marking territory.) The pee was the worst of it. The new couch and loveseat were his favorite places to pee, along with dirty clothes, clean clothes in a laundry basket, he would pull the hand towel off of the holder in the bathroom and pee on that, he pee’d on my younger sisters bed several times, he even pee’d on the couch while my dad was sitting on the opposite end. He had no boundries. Smokey was taken to the vet to check for problems. The vet had no real reason for it, or a solution. My mom tried everything that she had heard of to stop the problem and it just got worse. One day, I visited for a few hours, and when I was leaving, I slipped my shoe on and felt a wet catpoop. My mom was right there when it happened and that was all she could take. After a year or two of cleaning up after him several times a day, and shampooing the couch every week, she decided that smokey had to go. I talked to her and she decided to let me take him out to my friends farm. There he was free to poop and pee and run free with the other cats and chase the birds and get chased by the dogs. He took right to the outdoor life and is doing very well now. Some cats just aren’t meant for indoor living.

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