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Ask Amy: Cat Pooping Outside of Box

How can I stop my cat from pooping outside the box?

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Maine Coon, Maggi

Maggi has begun pooping outside the litter box.

Photo Credit: © David

Question: “How can I stop my cat pooping outside the box?”

David writes, “I have three indoor cats, two female and one male, who my wife and I love very much. One of these cats is "Maggi" who is a Maine Coon breed at 13 years old. Over a period time and now more frequently she poops near the litter box by the outside door or the tray in front of the litter box in a small closet near the outside door.  

Being an inside cat exclusively I have done the following. I have changed products over time with little success. The products are all clay based non-flush type for multiple cats. (All three cats) share one litter box, which I scoop once per day. The product I use now is Scoop Away. 

Maggi was declawed as a young cat, which we regret so much because she developed a very timid personality compared to other two. I am wondering if you can give us advice of what we can do. It is becoming a definite problem. 

Amy’s Answer 

Hit or miss litter box behavior often plagues cat owners at some point. There can be many causes for a cat snubbing the box, from physical or emotional health issues to environmental or territorial causes. The H.I.S.S. Test helps brainstorm possible causes so that appropriate solutions can be suggested.

H=Health

At age 13, Maggi may have health issues influencing the behavior. If you’ve not had her evaluated by a veterinarian in the past six months, I’d urge you do this right away. Older cats can develop constipation, and long fur of a Maine Coon might contribute to hairballs that prompt constipation. If Maggi experiences a painful bowel movement, she might associate that discomfort with the litter box and choose to eliminate outside of it.

I=Instinct

You’ve taken care of the cleanliness issue by scooping the box each day, bravo! Other issues of instinct may also impact the situation. From your description, it appears that the litter box is in a small closet, near an outside door? I don’t know the ages of the other two cats, or how these kitties all get along (or not!). But cats typically want open sight lines for their toilet, to be able to easily escape or to see who else approaches. It could be that Maggi has become reluctant to enter the closet. However, if she’s still urinating in the box, that argues against this concern. 

S=Stress

Again, I come back to the fact you have three cats, but only one litter box. While they may have willingly shared over the years, most cats do better with multiple boxes. The 1+1 rule (one box per cat, plus one) actually would mean ideally your home should have four boxes. That’s because some cats simply won’t want to share facilities and may “guard” the box to keep others away. When a single box is in a closet or room that can be watched from a distance, the kitty-in-charge can simply communicate with eyes to “stare” and control access. Other times, cats simply want a different box for each function—one for urine and the other for feces. 

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

The fact your cat uses the box for urine but not feces is telling. She seems to know that she SHOULD use the box, since the placement of the bowel movement is near the single facility. I applaud the fact that you scoop daily, and that you’ve tried other litter products in a gradual way. Since that hasn’t yet resolved the issue, let’s look at other options. 

You mention that Maggi is a Maine Coon, a breed known for being larger than the average size cat. Most standard size litter boxes run on the small side. Some big kitties simply hang out when they pose inside the box, and their deposit lands beyond the border. 

Maggi’s age also is an issue. As previously mentioned, a health issue could be at the root of the problem. In addition to constipation, older cats almost always have some degree of arthritis. This may make it difficult for Maggi to “pose” properly inside of the box, and instead she defecates on the floor. 

I’d recommend that you first visit the veterinarian to rule out a health concern. Next, add more facilities. Sometimes that can be a challenge in small apartments, but if at all possible add at least one more litter box. That way, if Maggi’s “blaming the box” she’ll have a new go-to spot without those negative associations. Place it on the opposite side of the house, in an easily accessible place, so that if the other cats are “guarding” the other one, Maggi has another opportunity. Finally, this box should be larger than the standard size facilities, so that if your cat simply is “hanging” over the edge, the bigger size toilet would contain her production. Try using a translucent storage box from a container store. For more information, take a look at these common litter box problems and solutions.

 

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