Cats are usually really neat, tidy animals – especially compared to slobbery dogs! But litterboxes are the exception. What do you do if your cat keeps pooping on the carpet? How do you fix it?
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we’re tackling that problem! A reader asked,
“Cat pooping outside of litter box suddenly, only in one spot. Urinates in litter box still.”
– Sincerely, Kitty Potty Problems
Whenever you notice a change in your cat’s litterbox habits, the vet should be your first stop.
There are TONS of medical concerns that can cause or worsen litterbox problems. Your cat might have a UTI, be constipated, have a GI issue, or even orthopedic pain that can cause litterbox issues. Litterbox issues can also be related to declawing, conflict with the other cats in the home, or chronic anxiety issues!
I’ve heard of arthritic kitties with litterbox problems because climbing into the box when they’re “full” is too painful.
Even if your cat seems healthy, go in to see a feline-specific or behavior-specific vet right away. MANY of my litterbox issue clients eventually find something medically wrong with their cats. Sometimes this takes some detective work – a basic checkup won’t do the trick.
Once you’ve got the medical issues under control (or they’ve been properly ruled out), here’s what else to try:
- Add more litterboxes. If you’ve got 1 cat, 2 boxes should be good. If you’ve got 2 cats, you’ll want 3 boxes. If you’ve got 4 cats, you’ll want at least 5 boxes. You want one box per cat, plus one – and ideally one box per level of your house!
- Experiment with different litteboxes. Sometimes, cats just prefer a bigger box, shallower litter, or a shallower box. My dad’s 17-year-old cat just started doing better about litterbox problems because he got a new box that’s lower. That’s easier for him to step over, so he’s not pooping next to it anymore! Many cats don’t really like covered boxes or top-entry boxes – they feel like a trap.
- Clean those boxes way better. Just like many people, cats often don’t like using a dirty bathroom. Clean the box at least once per day – ideally after each bathroom visit for your kitty. That’s what you do with your own bathroom, most likely.
- Clean offending areas. If your cat can still smell their own excrement (even if you can’t), they’re more likely to use that area again. Use a pet-specific cleaner like Clean Carl’s, not a homemade mixture or vinegar.
- Make sure that the litterbox is well-placed. Your cat probably doesn’t want to be in the middle of a huge open room, but also probably doesn’t want to be tucked into a corner where it’s easy to feel trapped. The box shouldn’t be in the middle of your party room, nor should it be way out of the way in the basement.
- Find litter that your cat likes. Most cats prefer sandy, non-scented litter. Many cats really like World’s Best Cat Litter.
- Increase your cat’s mental and physical stimulation. Play therapy is super important for reducing your cat’s stress levels! I also love all of these kitty puzzle toys. Throw out your cat’s food bowl and replace it with a puzzle feeder. Then add in 5-15 minutes of playtime at least once per day, ideally more, with a “da bird” or similar toy. Avoid lasers. Even if your kitty just wants to watch, continue playing. That’s like watching TV – it’s still fun!
- Consider reducing your cat’s space. Sometimes, fixing litterbox issues requires reducing your cat’s space in the home. If you’re not supervising your cat, consider putting your cat in a smaller space with the box.
- Cat-ify your space. You can also reduce your cat’s stress by giving him more vertical space and more enrichment items. This is super important to your kitty’s mental health! Sometimes, all it takes is giving your cat a bit of a more cat-friendly environment. Scroll down for some ideas on how to do this!
Litterbox issues often take some time to resolve. It’s important to be a good detective to figure out what’s causing the problem, and be diligent about fixing problems.
If you’d like more help, litterbox problems are very well-suited to our email and text subscription package! You can email and/or text me as much as you like for a month, and I’ll help you through a personalized training plan in real time.
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, as a private dog trainer, and with working detection K9s. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her border collie Barley.