Why Does My Cat Go Potty Outside the Box?

by The Pet Care Guy on March 11, 2011

As a cat-owner, it’s only a matter of time before you discover that your precious pet has left you an unpleasant surprise somewhere on the floor, usually not too far from his litter box. By surprise, I mean a piece of poop. I asked several cat owners and all have had this happen at one time or another.

The first time I encountered this situation, I wondered if my cat had done it on purpose. But I quickly concluded that it wasn’t a malicious act, but rather just an accident. I thought this because it was just a little bit. It wasn’t as if the cat squatted and left a big pile for me to find.

Plus, my cat has long fur, so I thought maybe it just got stuck on the fur on her rear end and it just fell off outside the box.

To avoid this once-in-a-while event, you can always trim the fur around your cat’s rear end. Be careful and useĀ  clippers that are meant to trim animal fur. If you’re not sure if you can do this yourself, take your cat to a groomer for a trim.

If your cat is leaving you surprises that don’t seem like accidents, you should have the cat checked by your vet to eliminate the possibility of a medical condition. Sometimes an illness will cause a cat to urinate or defecate outside his litter box. And if you have an un-neutered male cat, he might spray urine to mark his territory. For most cats, having them neutered will halt the problem.

If nothing is wrong medically, think about what the cat might be unhappy about. One cat owner I know changed the litter she used for her cat, which the cat hated. She tried meowing about her displeasure for about half a day and when that got no response, she pooped on the lady’s comforter.

At first the owner was angry and disgusted. But after thinking about it, she realized it was her fault. She changed the litter back to the old stuff and the cat went back to using the litter with no problem.

If you haven’t switched kitty litter brands, check to make sure the litter is cleaned often enough. Sometimes cats will balk at using a litter box that is too dirty. And every cat is different. Some cats will use the box even if it’s slightly dirty and others will turn away unless it’s cleaned daily. Also be careful of strong scents. If you use a litter that has too much perfume or use a strong-smelling cleaner to clean out the box, that might turn your cat off and away.

If your box has a cover, try taking it off. Some cats don’t like to feel too enclosed when going to the bathroom. Or maybe the box is too small in the first place. Replace it with a bigger box and see if it makes a difference.

Some cats will avoid using the box if it’s not in a good location. If there is too much foot traffic around the box, the cat might not feel comfortable enough to use it. Just like us, cats like a little privacy. And if you have two or more cats, you might want to consider getting several boxes and putting them in different areas of the house.

Sometimes emotional stress can cause a cat to stop using the litter box. Try to pinpoint what might be stressing your cat and eliminate the cause if you can. Cats like routine. They can get stressed if you just move their litter box, so you can imagine that they might get pretty upset if you move to another house, add a new pet or person to the household, or even if you’re under some stress yourself.

One cat owner I know was worried when she introduced a new cat into the household. She thought her first cat would get angry/stressed and stop using the litter.

So to make the transition easier, she made sure to reassure her first cat constantly, playing with him, giving him extra affection and attention, being more liberal with the treats, and it seemed to work. The cat was annoyed as soon as he saw the new cat, but then adjusted to the situation fairly quickly because he loved the positive attention he was getting while the new cat was in the house.

If your cat is deliberately using other parts of your home as a toilet, he will most likely re-use spots. You can help stop that cycle by making the cat’s favorite spots undesirable. The scent left by the cat will draw it back to the same place over and over, so make sure to clean the area thoroughly and use a good enzymatic cleanser made to eliminate pet odors. Don’t use ammonia-based cleaners because ammonia smells like cat urine, and will draw your cat back to the spot.

You can try different deterrents like placing aluminum foil or wax paper where the cat went (they don’t like the feel of it under their paws). Cats don’t like the smell of citrus, so you might want to place citrus-scented items in the area. You may try double-sided tape, and there are several alarm deterrents, citronella deterrents, and other products that you can try.

As unpleasant as it may be to have our cats eliminate outside of the litter box, remember that punishing your cat by yelling, hitting, making loud noises, or squirting him with water won’t solve the bad bathroom habits. There is sure to be a reason behind your cat’s behavior and it’s up to you to figure out what is wrong and fix the problem.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Amber April 10, 2011 at 10:09 am

We have had our kitty Ozzy for 5 years now. Last year my husband decided because he travels out of town frequently, to get a dog. Not just any dog but a Rottie. Now our dog ruger was introduced as a 8 week old puppy to Ozzy. Unfortunately Ozzy has never warmed up in the slightest to him. Ruger chases him round the hose and Ozzy hisses and growls at him. We do discipline ruger by spraying him in face but he’s still chasing him when we aren’t looking. The cat box is in the laundry room and fairly recent Ozzy will go poop in my sons room. It’s not all the time but it’s happened 3 or 4 times in a 2 month period. The dog is indoor outdoor Ozzy indoor only. I don’t think my kids or husband are willing to take drastic measures yet meaning getting rid of the dog which is what I want to do. How can I stop this gross behavior?

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The Pet Care Guy April 10, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Getting rid of the dog is the easy way out. However, to make this work, all members of the family must be on board and willing to put in the work and to be consistent with training your dog. Your cat Ozzy sounds stressed, and this can lead to the inappropriate potty behavior. With that said, you should have your cat checked out by your vet to rule out any medical reason for Ozzy going potty other than in his box.

I don’t know how you introduced the dog and the cat, but they have not developed a relationship. You will need to start at the beginning. Your dog should be going through obedience training. Either with a professional dog trainer, or by yourselves. You can train your dog, but like I said, every member of the household needs to be part of this, and everything you do with your dog needs to be a training and learning experience. Simple things like sitting and waiting while you put his food down, sitting before putting his leash on, sitting at corners and before crossing the street, and the list goes on. All simple, but necessary steps.

For now, you need to separate your cat and dog, and keep them separate while you work on training. Take something that your cat has his scent on and put this in your dog’s bed. Take something that your dog has his scent on and put it in your cat’s bed. They know each other’s scent already, but we are starting over, so this is important.

Every day, allow your dog and cat to see each other, while keeping them separated. How you do this is up to you. When you do this, you need to have your dog on his leash and under control. If he gets excited, correct him, or remove him. Your goal is to get your dog to act calmly when he sees the cat. This may take some time, and don’t move forward before you can accomplish this.

Once the dog is always calm when he sees the cat, then you can let them closer, but still separated. If you can work your way up to letting your dog and cat be close to each other and your dog stays calm, then you can move on to doing this exercise with both animals in the same room and not separated by a glass door or gate. Do not rush this, and do not let your dog off the leash and out of your control.

If your dog is behaving, and your cat hisses, correct your cat, and move back to the previous steps and start again. A cat that hisses is showing aggression and will spark a response in your dog that you don’t want.

As you progress beyond these initial steps, you must always keep a collar and short leash (about 6 inches long) on your dog so you can quickly grab it and control your dog. I have simplified this process a bit, but you all need to work on this. It may take just a few days, or weeks, or months. There is no quick fix, and it will take all the family’s involvement. Work on these steps, or consult with a professional dog trainer. Remember to always set your dog and cat up for success, not failure.

I invite our readers to add their comments.

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