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Ask Amy: Cat Poop On Rug

How Can I Stop Cat Pooping On Rug?

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cat in litter pan

Some cats like to curl up inside litter pans.

Photo Credit: © Amy Shojai, CABC

Question: “How can I stop cat pooping on rug?”

Nadine lives with two-and-a-half-year-old neutered/declawed Cooper, twelve-and-a-half-year-old neutered Oliver, and recently added six-and-a-half-month-old Basel.  Nadine has provided three litter boxes, one in the master bath next to the tub, another in the first floor bathroom next to the tub, and a covered box in a corner of the living room.

“Cooper will urinate in all boxes, but he prefers to poop on my shaggy antique Moroccan rug or a bath mat in the master bath, if left down,” says Nadine. The behavior began about nine months ago, prior to the kitten’s arrival, but has gotten worse since the kitten came. After a vet check five weeks ago (which apparently found nothing wrong), “I now roll my rug up and cover a portion with a plastic office carpet protector.  I’ve changed litter, to scoopable (was granular when this started). I’ve tried perfume free, perfumed and Cat Attract litter (which worked for a while, before I started rolling my rug up). I clean the box daily. I completely change and clean the boxes about every two weeks. I rinse the boxes with vinegar. I added a covered box to the household, in case he felt the need privacy. I had a fourth box in the living room which I lined with a pee-pee (pad?) to see if he liked the softness. He preferred to sleep in it. I suspect he likes soft things, but I am SO perplexed on how to remedy this. If you accidentally leave the rug unrolled he will go on it. I’d like him to go back to pooping in the box as he did for over a good year. Your advice and help would be so grateful! Thank you for considering Cooper.  

Amy’s Answer

Hi Nadine—my sympathies if you’ve been dealing with this for nine-plus months by now! Those who read this column know what follows--figuring out the cause by looking at potential physical, emotional, and/or environmental factors. I use the HISS Test to evaluate problem behaviors, and it stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers. 

H=Health

Since Cooper has had a veterinary exam, it’s not likely that his behavior currently stems from a health issue. However, it may have initially been prompted by a problem that he remembers. For instance, cats that suffer from a painful bowel movement (perhaps from constipation) may end up “blaming” the box for the discomfort. Even after the problem has resolved, they can continue to associate the litter box as the cause. If he's a very large cat, he may have trouble posing inside the box for a bowel movement and a larger box might solve the problem.

I=Instinct

Cats often decide they prefer one place for urination and another for defecation. Leaving a bowel movement uncovered—out in the open—can be a type of marking behavior. Cats reach social maturity between two to four years of age, so marking may have become an issue due to the aging of Oliver and maturing of Cooper.

S=Stress

Adding a new cat to the household, even when the kitten gets along with the others, does add stress to the equation. You’ve done a marvelous job introducing the newcomer that they get along so well.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

Nadine, I have to congratulate you on all that has already been tried. Bravo! I can tell you’re a savvy cat lover. Many of the steps you've taken work well for common litter box problems.

You mention Cooper defecates on the master bathroom mat, and on the Moroccan rug—where is the Moroccan rug? I suspect it’s in/near your bedroom or office or the room where you spend a lot of time? If he’s using defecation to announce his owned territory, that would make sense as the place that he identifies most closely with you.

So if you’ve done everything right, what else can you do? Well, I like the 1+1 rule (one box per cat plus one) so would recommend adding a fourth box. I’d put in right on or near the Moroccan rug. Placement of Cooper’s stool figures into this equation, so adding a box in a different room might not appeal to him. Rather than the pee-pad, put a rug sample in the bottom—basically recreate what he likes about both the placement and the surface. Once he's using the legal box, you can work on moving it a few inches daily to a more appropriate, convenient place.

Also, I don’t have information about how/whether you cleaned the soiled rugs. There are two potential problems with the rugs. Bathmats and especially the rubber-backed mats are notorious targets of cats. The rubber backing smells attractive to kitties, and washing doesn’t help. I would strongly advise that you either throw out the bathroom rug/mat, or ensure that no cats have further access to it. Why not fold that soiled bathroom rug/mat up and put it inside a fourth box placed near the Moroccan rug?

Carpet backing often is treated with a substance that prevents mold/mildew, but also proves attractive to cats. Once urine soaks into the pile, it can be very difficult to remove the odor because cats can detect such minute amounts and return to the scene of the crime. The defecation should be a bit easier to clean as it’s more a surface stain. You absolutely must use an odor neutralizer product to be effective.

There are several good products, including Anti-Icky-Poo and PetTastic (aka Nature’s Miracle). I also like AtmosClear, Urine-Off and Zero Odor. Each works in specific ways.

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