Ask a Trainer: Why is my cat pooping on the floor?

It’s no fun to have a cat pooping on the floor. Many older cats don’t use the litterbox well. This frustrating problem can often be solved by changing your litterbox setup and ensuring that your cat is physically healthy and happy.

Any thoughts on how to break Panda, my 17 year old cat, of peeing and crapping outside his litter boxes? He used to crap under the oil tank but now he is starting to use other places in the basement. I’ve been cleaning his litter box more often, but now he won’t use his covered box at all!

Perplexed in Pilsen

Why is my cat pooping on the floor?

We’re glad you asked! Panda is an older gentleman, so kudos to you for getting him this far in life. Many older cats start to struggle with the box as they get older – so you’re not alone.

If we could talk more, I’d ask:
  • How long have Panda’s litterbox habits been imperfect? If this is a sudden change, going to the vet is even more important.
  • How often does he not use the boxes? Does he skip the box once a week when it’s super dirty? Or does he avoid the boxes all the time?
  • Does anything happen right before he stops using the boxes? For example, does he stop using his litterbox after guests visit?
  • Is his poo extra stinky? If so, you might want to change his food and get a vet checkup to ensure that there isn’t a medical problem.

There are many things leading to a cat pooping on the floor. Let’s run through some common scenarios. Remember, it’s possible that Panda is suffering from several of these. Luckily the solutions are similar for all of them!

  1. Your cat is sick. If he’s got a UTI, urinating might be painful. He might learn that peeing inside the box hurts, so he tries peeing elsewhere to see if that helps. Given his age, it’s a good idea to check with the vet to rule out other serious medical concerns. No matter what you do for his behavioral health, we can’t fix anything if he’s physically unhealthy.
  2. Your cat’s bladder control just isn’t very good anymore. Given that Panda’s accidents are limited to the basement, I’m skeptical of this one. If he truly had little bladder control, I’d expect him to have accidents throughout the house. But this is a common reason for older cats to stop using the litterbox.
  3. Your cat is stressed. Many cats don’t deal well with stress. This could relate back to being sick – he might be stressed because his joints ache. Or he could be stressed by something that’s never bothered him before (like the oncoming brutally cold Wisconsin winter). There might be something you’d never notice that’s bugging him – like a raccoon behind the house that’s driving him nuts. Failing litterbox habits are a common symptom of stress.
  4. Your litterboxes aren’t up to snuff. As cats age, they might get more particular about their litterbox setup. He might not like that the litterboxes are all the way in the basement. Did you recently change the litter? Just changing the litter type is enough to set some cats off! Some cats like large, shallow boxes; others like deep, small ones. Many cats don’t like covered boxes at all. He might prefer more litter, less litter, a cleaner box, a bigger box, or just unscented powdery litter.
    • Tip: most cats prefer just a half inch of soft, sandy, unscented litter in an uncovered box. Scoop the box daily and dump it weekly! They don’t want yesterday’s poop or last week’s pee on their paws.

Cat pooping on the floor? Go to the vet.

In order to know which of these problems is plaguing Panda, the first stop should be the vet’s office. Even though Panda is both peeing and pooping on the floor, we need to rule out a UTI or more serious medical concern as the first step. Tell your vet what’s been going on with the box and they’ll run the right tests.

What can you do while you wait for the vet?

Let’s go through the options. Each of these are a good idea to try, so go ahead and do them all!

Even if your 16 year old won’t play like a kitten, he’ll enjoy watching the toys!

  1. Clean the boxes more. Many cats simply won’t use a dirty box. Even if Panda has always been a trooper about getting his paws dirty, he might be getting picky in old age. Try to scoop the box daily or even twice daily.
  2. Add another box. If Panda already has a bad association with the old box, you might be best off trying a new box. If your current boxes are deep and covered, try a shallow box in another area of the basement.
  3. Restrict his space. Depending on where he’s peeing and pooping, a good short-term solution is to block off the areas he’s using as an alternate box. Closing him into a small area (like a bathroom) with his box can also help kickstart litterbox habits.
  4. Super-clean the offending spaces. Get something like Eco 88 or Nature’s Miracle and a blacklight. Go through the house and find all of Panda’s dirty corners and clean the crap outta them. If he’s smelling old pee in a corner of the basement, he might think it’s a good idea to pee there again. So clean it really well using a cleaner that’s made for pet urine!
  5. Add Cat Attract to the litterboxes. This little product is made to help remind cats to use their box. There’s frustratingly little information about what’s in it or why it works. The website just says that it’s natural, they tested it, it works, buy it. I’d be skeptical, but… we use it at the shelter and I know several people who swear it makes a difference. Can’t hurt to try.
  6. Increase Panda’s daily mental enrichment. This could mean playing music when you’re at work, giving him some daily play sessions with a good wand toy (even if he just watches it), giving him daily treats through a puzzle toy, or just spending more time with him. All of this will help reduce his stress level. Remember, stress is often the root of litterbox issues!
  7. Try a Feliway diffuser. Again, this stuff seems like voodoo bullshit. But it works. It’s a calming pheremone that you can put into a wall diffuser or use as a spray. I know plenty of people who swear by it. As far as I can tell, it can’t hurt.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of a training quick fix when it comes to your cat pooping on the floor. Make sure that the litterbox issues aren’t medical. Then your best bet is to improve litterbox setup and decrease stress levels. There are some diffusers and other products that can help, but alone they’re unlikely to solve the problem.

Feel free to schedule a Behavior Helpline Call to ask more questions and go in-depth for solutions specific to your home!

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