What to Do When Your Cat is Pooping or Peeing Outside the Litter Box

Behavior & training
cat sitting by litterbox

Unlike many other types of pets, cats have an almost instinctual ability to learn to use the bathroom in a specific area. Litter box training comes pretty naturally to cats and helps prevent unwanted late-night trips outside as well as the inevitable accidents that come with training other types of pets. However, a cat pooping on the floor or a cat not peeing in the litter box regularly can occasionally become an issue. Luckily, there is often an underlying cause for such issues. With treatment and patience, these issues can be resolved. 

Using the bathroom in the wrong place is often called “inappropriate elimination” or “feline house soiling” in cats. The fact that several terms exist for such an issue should indicate that the problem is not unusual. Many reasons exist for pooping and/or peeing outside the litter box, the most common of which are medical issues, territorial marking, and reactionary measures. 

Why Your Cat May Stop Using the Litter Box For Pooping or Peeing 

Cats instinctively want to eliminate in a litter box, but sometimes cats start pooping or peeing outside the box. A common question from cat owners is, "why is my cat peeing outside the litter box but pooping in it?" and other similar issues. While inconvenient, inappropriate elimination issues often have an underlying cause that can be addressed. Male cats especially may stop peeing in the box while still pooping inside. Regardless of gender, if your cat isn't peeing in the litter box, it starts with determining the reason.  

Cats rely on predictable bathroom habits, so changes in elimination should prompt cat parents to investigate. After ruling out any emergent medical issues, consider that illness, anxiety, or changes in a cat's environment could be provoking the behavior. Patience, detective work and potentially some trial-and-error will be needed, but in most cases, cats can become comfortable using the litter box fully again. 

Not Using the Litterbox for Medical Reasons 

A common cause of cats peeing or urinating outside the litter box is urinary tract disease. Urinary tract infections or feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD, also known as idiopathic cystitis) can be painful, increase a cat’s urge to go, and prevent cats from going normally. Peeing in small amounts in several areas throughout the house, straining to urinate, and blood in the urine are common symptoms. 

Medical issues that cause cats to drink and pee more in general can also lead to a cat not peeing in the litter box. Examples include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney or renal disease

A common disease that may result in a cat pooping on the floor rather than in the box or peeing over the edge of the litter box is arthritis. Arthritis can make lifting the back legs to step over and into the litter box painful. It can also be painful for a cat to assume a normal posture when pooping or peeing. Cats will often poop or pee near the litter box but avoid stepping inside. They may also show other symptoms such as trouble walking, struggling to jump, or pain along the spine when being petted. 

Another type of medical cause for pooping outside the litter box is gastrointestinal (GI) disease. Constipation is common in cats. It can be caused by dehydration from renal disease, hyperthyroidism, megacolon, or other intestinal issues. Usually, cats will use the bathroom very little, strain to poop or pee, and only have small, dry bowel movements. On the flip side, diarrhea or loose stool will also cause trouble getting to the litter box, because the urge to go can come on suddenly. GI infection and stress are common causes of diarrhea. 

Territorial Marking Instead of Using a Litterbox 

Territorial marking, also sometimes called spraying, is very common in cats, especially those who live in the wild. Pooping or peeing in certain places is a normal way to send messages to other cats or creatures in the area. Usually the message is to avoid an unexpected meeting such as, “Hi. This is Fluffy the cat’s tree, move along…” Another message is to demonstrate a readiness to mate. 

Urine and sometimes poop used in a marking manner is usually done in an obvious, high-traffic area (e.g. the middle of the living room, a frequently-used couch). The urine is often sprayed onto vertical surfaces rather than on the floor. This type of marking is also often done on or near a pet owner’s possessions (e.g. laundry, the bed). It is very normal behavior, especially when a new critter is in the household. Since cats don’t talk, they use body language and smell to show what they need to say. 

Reactionary Causes of Avoiding the Litterbox 

Stress and anxiety, often associated with social problems in multi-cat households (especially if a new cat is introduced), are probably the hardest reasons for inappropriate elimination to solve. When a cat is stressed or worried, he will poop or pee outside the litter box to surround himself with his own scent. While that may sound extremely unusual to humans, having his own scent around gives him a stronger feeling of security and confidence in order to better deal with what is happening. Many owners worry that this is done out of spite- a common example reported by veterinarians is a cat pooping on the floor after a veterinary visit. But the poop isn’t so much saying, “Hey mom/dad, I am really mad at you for making me go to the vet.” What the cat is actually saying is, “Holy cow, that was super stressful. My own scents make me feel better because I know what they are and where the come from.” 

Fear or anxiety of the litter box itself can also be a reactionary cause of pooping or peeing outside the litter box. If you use new litter that your cat doesn’t like, you cleaned the box with a new detergent (OR if you haven’t been cleaning the box), or you tried a fancy robot cleaning box that makes weird noises, your cat may just avoid the box and go somewhere else. Similarly, if the litter box is in a place where the cat doesn’t feel safe going, such as in reach of a nosy puppy or toddler, you may find him using the bathroom in a new spot that makes him more comfortable. 

Resolving Litter Box Avoidance 

When a cat stops using the litter box regularly and starts peeing or pooping outside the box, it can be confusing and frustrating for pet parents. But solutions are within reach with some patience and targeted tactics. 

Schedule a Veterinary Visit to Check for Medical Reasons to Avoid the Litterbox 

Start by booking an appointment with your trusted vet. An exam can identify medical issues making litter box use painful or uncomfortable. Also discuss any recent changes at home or to routine that could be causing stress or anxiety. Understanding root causes is key to getting bathroom behaviors back on track. 

Optimize Litter Box Setup 

Evaluate litter box placement. When it comes to placement, think like your cat. Choose a spot that's easily accessible, quiet, and away from high-traffic areas like the kitchen or living room. Imagine yourself using the bathroom – you wouldn't want to feel rushed or exposed, right? The same goes for your feline friend. 

Cats are particular creatures, and their litter box preferences can vary. Experiment with different litter substrates, such as clay, pine, or silica, and see what your cat prefers. Some cats prefer shallow litter boxes, while others like a deeper pool to dig in.  

Temporary cat attractants like catnip can also help restore good associations. Restrict access to previously soiled areas during retraining. 

Reduce Stress Triggers in Your Cat's Environment 

If your beloved feline friend is feeling stressed or anxious due to new pets, people, construction, or loud noises, focus on creating a calming and comfortable environment for them. Here are some tips: 

  • Provide plenty of hiding spots: Cats are naturally cautious creatures, and they appreciate having places to retreat when they feel overwhelmed. Provide your cat with various hiding spots, such as cardboard boxes, cat tunnels, or even just a pile of blankets. 

  • Offer vertical spaces: Cats love to climb, so provide them with cat trees or shelves where they can perch and survey their surroundings from a safe vantage point. 

  • Maintain a consistent routine: Cats thrive on predictability, so try to keep your cat's daily routine as consistent as possible. This includes feeding times, playtime, and bedtime. 

  • Restrict access for new pets: If you've recently introduced a new pet to your home, it's important to give your cat time to adjust. Restrict access for the new pet until your cat is feeling more comfortable. 

  • Thorough cleaning: The smell of a new animal can trigger marking behavior in cats. Ensure thorough cleaning to eliminate any lingering odors.  

If you're unable to sufficiently control external stressors, consider discussing anti-anxiety medications or synthetic pheromones with your veterinarian. These remedies can help cats feel more secure and less anxious, even in the face of unavoidable disruptions. 

Pharmacological solutions should not replace addressing underlying environmental stress triggers. However, they can provide valuable support for cats who are overwhelmed by unavoidable circumstances. 

Remember, the goal is to create a stress-free environment for your cat. With a combination of environmental modifications and, if necessary, medication, you can help your cat regain control of their elimination habits and restore harmony to your feline-human household. 

Get Guidance from Behavior Specialists 

Sometimes, even with your best efforts, your cat may still struggle with litter box issues. In these cases, it's time to call in the professionals. A certified cat behavior expert can assess your cat and home environment to create a customized desensitization plan. These experts have extensive knowledge of cat psychology and behavior and use science-based techniques to help your cat overcome their negative litter box experiences. 

Cat behavior experts can be a valuable resource for cat owners who are struggling with litter box problems. With their extensive knowledge and experience, they can help you to identify the root of the problem and develop a plan to help your cat overcome their negative litter box associations. 

Untangling the Mystery of Cat Peeing and Pooping Outside Litter Box 

If your cat's bathroom habits have taken an unexpected turn, don't despair. Inappropriate elimination issues, while frustrating and messy, often have underlying causes that can be addressed. With a bit of detective work, adjustments to your cat's environment, a generous dose of patience, and consistent positive reinforcement, you can help your feline friend regain control of their elimination habits. 

Embrace Peace of Mind with Embrace Pet Insurance 

When those unexpected medical issues throw a wrench in your cat's daily routine, having cat insurance can provide the financial support and peace of mind you need to navigate these challenges with confidence. At Embrace Pet Insurance, we understand the deep bond you share with your feline companion, and we're dedicated to empowering cat parents with the resources they need to provide their beloved companions with the best possible care. 

With Embrace Pet Insurance, you can rest assured that your cat's health and well-being are always in good hands. We are committed to ensuring the no cat parents ever had to make difficult choices due to financial constraints. Our comprehensive coverage plans encompass a wide range of medical expenses, including those arising from urinary tract infections, bladder stones, constipation, and diabetes – all potential causes of inappropriate elimination. Additionally, our optional pet wellness plan can help you budget appropriately for behaviorist consultations, should you need to seek professional guidance in understanding and addressing your cat's elimination habits. 

With the right support and resources, you and your feline friend can embrace a lifetime of joyful, healthy companionship, filled with playful moments, cuddles, and purrs of contentment. That's what it means to be a true cat parent – providing unwavering love and care for your beloved companion, even when life throws you a curveball, or in this case—a puddle.