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Ask Amy: Cat Pooping Outside Box

Why Does Cat Poop Outside Litter Box?

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Cat In Litter Box

Many issues influence litter box allegiance.

Photo Credit: © Amy Shojai, CABC

Question: "Why won't my cat poop in the litter box?"

Muffet has questions and concerns about Rolando, a neutered seven-to-nine-year-old male kitty who lives with her and his 21-year-old neutered cat friend James Earl. Muffet adopted Rolando about a year ago, and he and James Earl get along very well. At the time of adoption, the veterinarian deemed Rolando to be in excellent health other than a needed dental cleaning that was not pressing.

"About two months after he arrived, Rolando began to poop outside the box," says Muffet. "Luckily it's on my tiled bathroom floor so it's not a huge problem for me, but was probably the cause of his ending up in shelter originally. Just this month he's started peeing on my bathroom rug. I replaced rug with an open litter box (the other box is covered) and removed the rug. He is using the pan for peeing, but still pooping at will." She notes that the two litter boxes are both in the master bath, and not near the sleeping or feeding areas. "He sleeps on master bed but that is a different room, and feeding is in kitchen. Besides this issue he is a wonderful, adorable cat and I would never give him away for this or any other reason within my power to control. But it is puzzling and I would like some insight if possible."

Amy's Answer

A cat can be very particular about potty issues. Missing the box can be caused by a variety of health and/or behavioral factors. I like to examine the cat's physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct to help figure out what's going on and find solutions. The H.I.S.S. Test stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers and can work well to narrow down what might be the problem.

H=Health

Cats with health issues such as constipation can decide to "blame the litter box" and find other places to go. At his age, Rolando may also have problems with arthritis that makes it difficult to get in and out of the boxes, or to pose appropriately. Cats that refuse to use the litter box for one function but do use it for the other typically have a health issue prompting the problem.

I=Instinct

Many cats prefer to have a different box for solids and another for liquids. Other times, they just don't want to share the facilities. This is why I generally recommend the 1+1 litter box rule-one box per cat, plus one. So with two cats, ideally three litter boxes should be available.

S=Stress

Cats are by nature emotional creatures. It's wonderful that Rolando gets along well with his cat buddy, but there may be stress issues at work that are not obvious.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

I'm delighted that he's a lovely kitty and that you've made the commitment to keep him no matter what! Hopefully some of my suggestions might help relieve the problem situation.

Cats recently adopted often take a few weeks or months to settle in and feel comfortable enough to reveal their personality-and foibles. It may be that Rolando was still feeling a bit uncertain at first, and was willing to share the litter box. But after two months he decided to make a statement…on the rug.

You've done exactly right by removing the rug and adding a litter box. Bathroom rugs for some reason seem to be common targets. Many of the bath mats have a plastic/rubberized backing that that apparently smell like cat urine to the cat-and so draw them to these areas to eliminate. I also applaud that you've offered both a covered and an uncovered box. Many cats have an aversion to covered toilets because they can't see out while they pose in a very vulnerable position.

First, I'd urge you to have Rolando vet checked. As mentioned under the HEALTH bullet, cats that use the litter box for urine or feces, but refuse to use it for both, very often have a health problem causing this. Second, while the two litter boxes are a wonderful solution, they need to be in two totally different places. Otherwise, one cat can "guard" and own both toilets and keep the other kitty away. Finally, take a look at the surface that Rolando prefers to defecate. I'd try to duplicate that surface or substrate in a THIRD litter box placed in another area of the house. For instance, if he likes tile, leave the box bare. If he's targeting paper, line the bottom with paper-or if carpet, provide a carpet remnant. A very large box or one with lower sides may be more appealing if he's having difficulty maneuvering in the existing facilities. Refer to another Ask Amy for more about cats pooping outside the litter box.

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