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10 Reasons Why Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box

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Layne is an animal lover who grew up in a household full of rescued critters. She is a registered veterinary technician.

10 Reasons Why Cats Poop in the House

10 Reasons Why Cats Poop in the House

Why Is My Cat Pooping in the House?

If your cat is pooping outside of its litter box suddenly or regularly, you might be wondering what is causing this behavior. While it might feel like your cat has a personal vengeance against you (maybe you were away at work for too long or had a new friend over), there are some common reasons and causes behind this naughty behavior.

Your cat's behavior could be stemming from medical reasons, or it could be because of something as basic as not liking the type of litter you are using. Find out why your cat keeps leaving poop around the house and how you can get your kitty to stop going to the bathroom everywhere it shouldn't.

Reasons Cats Poop Outside the Litter Box

  1. Change
  2. A new cat has joined the family
  3. Territoriality
  4. Your cat is scared
  5. Your cat dislikes its litter
  6. Your cat dislikes its litter box
  7. Not enough litter boxes
  8. Dirty litter boxes
  9. Your cat is (or was) feral
  10. Medical issues or age
Your cat might not like recent change in the house.

Your cat might not like recent change in the house.

1. Change

Cats are particular creatures, and if you do something radical in your house like knockout a wall, let your partner move in, change your bedroom arrangement, move their litter box, get a new couch, or hang a plant from the ceiling, cats can be bothered by it. While most cats should be well adjusted and can easily adapt to change, others are shy and easily upset.

One way you can help your cat get used to change is with gradual exposure. If your landlord decided to change your carpeting to hardwood floor, you might want to keep your feline in a quiet, secure room (like the study) for several days while they get used to new things. Let them out a little at a time to observe the change, but make sure they have a safe place to retreat to. Even regular construction or street work outside can upset your cat.

Cats are difficult to please and quite territorial.

Cats are difficult to please and quite territorial.

2. A New Cat (Indoor or Outdoor)

Cats are hard to please and introducing a new cat in your household not only welcomes unwanted marking and spraying in some cases, but unwanted poops on the floor, in your bed, behind the couch, in the attic, and so on and so forth. All new indoor cat introductions should be gradual and should often cater to your previous cat's needs, that is, make sure your primary cat has a safe place to go. Always make sure there are enough litter boxes and safe places to retreat to (more on this below).

As for outdoor cats appearing at night or below the window, they may be upsetting your longtime cat. Your cat might feel the urge to mark its territory with scent and feces. While obviously not what you want, your cat is just doing what they think is best. If you have outdoor cameras, scan them for neighborhood feline activity. Otherwise, you can look into some humane deterrents for neighborhood cats.

Your cat might be bothered by wildlife or neighborhood cats outside.

Your cat might be bothered by wildlife or neighborhood cats outside.

3. Territoriality

Cats are territorial, and if there's a neighborhood cat on the prowl (mentioned above), a new dog in the house, a new baby, or wildlife lurking in the neighborhood, your cat might be trying to mark its territory with the smell of its feces. In the wild, wild animals are all about this technique, so don't be surprised if your domesticated cat wants to do the same.


Make sure your cat has its own territory and quiet space and make sure your house is secure from trespassing wildlife. Consider flood lights, sonic deterrents, and other humane wildlife repellents if your cat is upset.

Good for Multi-Cat Households

4. Your Cat Is Scared

Your cat might genuinely be scared. If your cat is not making it to the litter box in time to poop, they might be scared off by a family member, a noise, the shifting of the litter box on the floor, or something similar. While it might be hard to pinpoint what it is that is scaring them off, consider moving the litter box to a safe place for them. A safe place might be more private and away from the commotion. You might even considered a hidden cat bathroom that is built into furniture (like a chest).

Your cat might not like the litter type or box.

Your cat might not like the litter type or box.

5. Your Cat Doesn't Like Its Litter

Cats are picky when it comes to litter. If you switch your cat's litter on them suddenly, that gives them a very good reason (in their cat mind) to poop outside of the litter box. Your cat's dislike may have to do with one or some of the following:

  • texture
  • scent
  • quantity
  • quality

Make sure you stick to the same brand of litter. Even switching one clay litter for another, for example, is enough to upset your cat. They can tell that the texture and scent has changed. In addition, many cats don't like odor coverups (they are loaded with chemicals). They may not like the quantity, quality, or feel of the litter also. Too much litter can be just as problematic as not enough litter.

How to Change Out Your Cat's Litter

If you do have to change out your cat's litter for a better brand, do so gradually. That means first mix 4:1 (old to new), then mix (2:2 old to new), then mix 1:4 (old to new) until you've transitioned them entirely over to the new over the course of several weeks. This is sure to fix the problem. Consider some of the best all-natural cat litter brands.

6. Your Cat Doesn't Like Its Litter Box

Yes, cats (just like horses) can get spooked by things. That means if the litter box is placed somewhere that brings them fear (in too noisy of a place) or if an object once fell from a bookshelf while they were in there scooping and pooping around (for example), they may have developed a fear of the litter box. Similarly, not all cats like the shape or style of a particular litter box either. It may be:

  • too tall
  • too short
  • too small
  • too big
  • too deep
  • too covered
  • too automated (some cats hate automatic scoopers)
  • bad location

It's best not to change out your cat's litter box type on them.

7. Not Enough Litter Boxes

If you have a multi-cat household, you may not have enough litter boxes for the number of cats you have. The general rule is one extra litter box for how many cats you have. That means if you have 3 cats, you should have 4 litter boxes and they should be spaced out, clean, and kept away from chaotic areas of the house and the dog. Cats won't use a litter box out of fear or inaccessibility.

8. The Litter Box Is Too Dirty

If you are not good at keeping your cat's potty clean, they aren't going to use it. Cats can't clean their boxes themselves—they need our help for that. If your cats box has urine that has accumulated around the sides, foul odors (the smell of ammonia) or even dirty litter with traces of poop left behind, your cat is going to avoid using it and go somewhere else.

How to Litter-Train Your Cat

9. Your Cat Is/Was Feral

Feral cats can certainly be habituated and rehabilitated and make wonderful companions, but you will notice that they aren't quite like cats that are bred or come from generations of domestication.

Feral cats tend to have more energy, "wild" instincts, might be more active but still shy, and also revert to weird instincts like hoarding food (digging into bags), and burying their poop and pee (like peeing on the bed). Generally, they will grow out of this once they realize that your house is safe and it's also their permanent territory, but some might need some helpful deterrents to get them to stop. It often comes down to allowing them to feel secure and feel like the house is truly their safe space.

Medical issues can cause a cat to poop in the house.

Medical issues can cause a cat to poop in the house.

10. Medical Issues and Age

It is not uncommon for young kittens to miss the litter box (this is especially true of a litter oof kittens, so offer more potty space) and it is not uncommon for older arthritic cats to miss the box (give them a lot of space, increase the box size, and make it easy for them to get into the box).

Other medical issues that can cause a cat to poop in the house might include intestinal tumors, thyroid issues (causing excess elimination like urination), liver issues, food allergies (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, and even musculoskeletal injuries (it physically hurts to get to the box).

Visit Your Veterinarian

You will want to take your cat to the vet if you suspect that they have an underlying medical issue. The vet will likely do a physical and checks like bloodwork, radiographs, and possibly ultrasound if they find something suspicious.

It's not uncommon for kittens to miss the litter box.

It's not uncommon for kittens to miss the litter box.

Is It Poop or a Hairball—What's the Difference?

Some cat parents might think they are finding poop around the house and in their bed or on the floor, but it might actually be a hairball. Hairballs come out of the digestive tract like a cylindrical tube and can be shaped very similarly to cat poop and even similar in color. They are not all that uncommon and are generally part of the normal grooming process for cats. You might find these hairballs on the carpet, in blankets, behind furniture, under furniture, and so on and so forth. If you are wondering if it's truly a hairball, read on about how many hairballs are considered normal in cats and how they are treated.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 Laynie H


Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 16, 2020:

Hi Dora, we have our neighbors' cats pooping in the yard all the time as well! Cats are very, very particular.

Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on November 16, 2020:

Hi Liz, thanks for reading. I've definitely experienced a few of these problems but usually with kittens.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 01, 2020:

Interesting information on cats. I like the little fellas and I don't blame them for wanting so much attention. My neighbor's cat used to jump the fence and poop in the same spot in my yard. There were layers of covered poop by the time I found out. I had to wet that spot for days until it became firm. I hope that its owner has provided a comfortable toilet for that cat. Will see if I get her to read your article.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 31, 2020:

This is a very well-structured and useful article for all cat owners. It addresses a problem that many owners encounter at some stage.