Why Is Your Cat Urinating or Pooping Outside the Box (white and orange cat laying on carpet with an accident)

Why Is Your Cat Urinating or Pooping Outside the Box & What Can You Do About It?


There are so many adorable things our cats do: playfully swat our shoelaces, sleep in boxes that are too small for them, and headbutt us when they want attention. So, why has your cat decided to do one of the least cute things ever by pooing outside the litter box? While cats are notoriously out-of-the-box thinkers, this creative expression isn't one cat parents love.

No, your cat hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to use the litter box. So why do cats suddenly poop outside the cat litter box? It’s simple--something is making them uncomfortable. While there are many culprits that can annoy your cat enough to make going outside the box seem to make sense in her little cat brain, knowing where to start can help solve your problem.

So, let’s get to the bottom of this. 

The Most Common Reasons A Cat Has Started to Poop Outside the Litter Box

First and foremost, you’re not alone in this problem. If you’ve been wondering, “What causes cats to urinate outside of the litter box” or, more importantly, “Why is my cat pooping outside the litter box?” These questions pop up all the time because 10% of cats stop using their litter box at some point during their lives. And probably less surprising to you will be that there is a wide range of reasons your cat might decide poo or pee beside the box, under the bed, in the closet or elsewhere.

Here are some reasons cats abandon their boxes for some out-of-the-box business:

1. A Less-Than Super-Clean Box

Cats have super sensitive (and adorable) snoots. And a stinky box can be unbearable for a kitty. In fact, this is the most common reasons your cat will U-turn on her way to her litter box and opt for a less conventional location. 

According to PetMD’s Dr. Lund, a smelly litter box is like the Porta-Potty of the cat world. Just the thought one would make you run in the opposite direction. Regular scooping and thorough box cleaning can go a long way in ensuring your cat's litter box remains a welcoming and hygienic space for them.

2. Litter That Isn’t Pleasant on the Paws

Litter That Isn’t Pleasant on the Paws - Tabby cat sitting in litter box with clay or silica litter which is painful on paws

Again, I suggest imagining walking over gravel without your shoes on. Pleasant? Not so much. And your feet are not even as sensitive as your cat’s! Those sweet little beans aren’t just cute, they contain a high concentration of nerve endings. Their paws are designed to help them explore the world. It’s kind of like a superpower, actually. They can sense changes in pressure, texture, vibrations, and temperature in those dear little toes!

Gravelly cat litter made from clay or corn is like kryptonite to your cat’s toes. Unpleasant textures can make the pain of sharp textures unbearable! This can be magnified if your cat has diabetes or burnt her paws on a scalding summer day. 

If your cat is urinating in the box but pooing outside the box, this is likely the problem. Cats can usually stand the feeling of gravel for the time it takes to pee but not poo.

3. Your Cat Can’t Easily Get Into the Litter Box

If your cat is getting a little older or you recently graduated your kitty to a bigger box, there’s a chance he’s struggling to climb in. Arthritis pain or stiffness can make climbing high walls difficult. The same is true if your cat needs to stoop under a hood or enclosure to get into the box or into cat-pooing-position.  Providing a litter box with lower sides or a ramp for easier entry can be beneficial for senior cats or those with mobility issues. Ensuring that your cat can comfortably access the litter box can help maintain their litter box habits and overall well-being.

And Now for the Neurotic Reasons Your Cat May Choose to Urinate Outside the Litter Box

4. Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Location of the Box

Cats are highly sensitive to their surroundings, and the location of their litter box plays a crucial role in their willingness to use it consistently. If your cat seems to be avoiding the litter box, it may be due to their preference for a specific environment. Simply put, your cat may not like where you've place his or her litter box. Cats typically prefer a quiet, private, and easily accessible spot for their litter box. If the chosen location doesn't align with these preferences, your cat may seek out alternative places to relieve themselves, so it's important to consider their comfort and make adjustments accordingly.

5. Your Cat Has Formed some Negative Associations with Her Litter Box

Your Cat Has Formed some Negative Associations with Her Litter Box - grey tabby cat looking scared

Maybe the dog walked past when your cat was eliminating. Maybe a shadow spooked her. Maybe she had a painful experience when trying to go. Who knows what caused your cat’s negative experience, but she may now connect her box to fear or pain. As a result, your cat may develop anxiety or aversion towards the litter box, causing them to seek alternative places to do their potty business. Understanding and addressing these negative associations with patience and a stress-free environment can help your cat regain confidence in using their litter box.

6. Something In the House Is Causing Kitty Stress

Sometimes trauma can upset a cat’s routine and mental stability. How your cat defines “trauma” is a different story, though. Moving, a new baby, a rough-and-tumble puppy, a long vacation or change in your work schedule: these can cause catxiety (stress or anxiety) in your cat, and result in your cat missing the box.  Recognizing and minimizing stressors, providing a calm environment, and reintroducing routines can help reduce catxiety and promote consistent litter box use.

7. Not Enough Privacy 

In a multi-cat household, the issue of litter box privacy becomes even more critical. When one cat monopolizes the litter box, it can leave others feeling anxious and reluctant to use it. This dominance-related behavior can lead to litter box conflicts, which in turn create stress among the cats. To prevent these tensions and encourage proper litter box usage, provide multiple litter boxes throughout your home, ensuring that each cat has easy access to a private and stress-free space for their bathroom needs. This simple adjustment can significantly reduce conflicts and promote a harmonious living environment for all your kitties.

Common Medical Reasons Your Cat May Be Urinating Outside the Litter Box

While our cats can be a bit crazy, sometimes there are more serious physical problems going on that can make them pee or poop in odd locations. It’s always best to bring your cat to the vet to make he doesn’t have one of these medical issues:

8. Feline Interstitial Cystitis

Feline Interstitial Cystitis is a painful bladder inflammation with neurological origins. This condition can lead to discomfort and increased urgency to urinate, often resulting in inappropriate elimination. Early diagnosis and appropriate veterinary care are essential in managing such medical issues and ensuring your cat's well-being.

9. Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary Tract Infection - Yellow background with stethoscopes and the letters UTI

A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is a common medical issue in cats, and it's important to be vigilant for its symptoms. Cats with UTIs often exhibit frequent urination, and they may only pass small amounts of urine at a time due to the discomfort associated with the infection. If you've every had a UTI, you know what I'm saying... These symptoms can be distressing for your cat and should not be ignored. Seeking prompt veterinary care is essential in diagnosing and treating UTIs to alleviate your cat's discomfort and prevent any complications that may arise from untreated infections.

10. Bladder Stones or Urinary Blockage

Bladder stones or a urinary blockage are serious conditions that can cause severe distress in cats. When a cat is suffering from these issues, they often experience pain, which can lead to vocalizations, particularly when attempting to urinate. Additionally, you may notice that your cat's abdomen is sensitive to touch, and they may exhibit signs of discomfort when you gently press on their tummy. These symptoms should be treated as emergencies, as urinary blockages, in particular, can be life-threatening if not promptly addressed by a veterinarian. Early detection and intervention are crucial for the well-being of your cat in cases of bladder stones or urinary blockage.

So, What Can You Do to Encourage Your Cat to Use the Litter Box, Again?

If your cat has received a clean bill of health and is just experiencing a mental block of some type, there are some techniques you can try to get him back in the box and keep the mess off your floor. 

1. Clean your cat’s box as frequently as you can.

Yes, this may sound like a pain, but there are ways to make it easier. Flushable litter is easy to clean. It just takes a minute to scoop and flush. And you get the added bonus of less tracking. 

Try thoroughly scrubbing the box and changing out the litter more frequently.

How often should you change cat litter? Empty your cat’s entire box once a week while working through an out-of-box issue. Then gradually empty and refill at longer intervals: twice a month or monthly at least.

2. Change your cat’s litter.

It may be a strong fragrance or rough texture, but switching your cat’s litter to something easier on the paws and nose may solve your cat’s potty predicament. Of course, we engineered SoyKitty Litter to feel like feathers under your kitty’s toes and smell like roses (well the cat-equivalent) to your kitty’s nose. Didn’t know I could rhyme, did ya?

3. Move your cat’s box.

Relocate your cat’s box to a more private, quiet, and calm location. A closet usually isn’t the best place since your cat will still want to be able to see if anyone is approaching. He likely won’t want to feel cornered or trapped. This should help when it comes to establishing more positive associations with the box.

If your cat keeps returning to the same spot, try placing a box there. He might be hinting that there’s something about that spot he prefers.

4. Increase cat litter boxes.

If you have a multi-cat family, you want enough boxes so everyone has a turn to go.  It's recommended to have at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra. This means that if you have three cats, you should ideally have four litter boxes in your home.

5. Buy a new litter box.

If you notice that your cat is having difficulty using their current litter box, it might be beneficial to purchase a new one with a different design or features. Opting for a litter box with lower sides or an open-top model can make it easier for your cat to access and use comfortably. The goal is to select a litter box that aligns with your cat's physical capabilities and preferences to ensure they have a positive and stress-free bathroom experience.

The Takeaway On Why Cats Poop Outside the Cat Litter Box

From rough cat litter to stress, there are many reasons your cat has started to poop outside the box. We hope we’ve eliminated some of the mystery why of your kitty’s sudden change in potty habits. Always clean your cat’s accidents thoroughly with an enzyme eliminating detergent to neutralize the odor. Be patient and understanding when it comes to your kitty’s accidents. With time your cat will learn to love his box again.

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