If your cat is pooping outside the litter box, you’ll want to solve this problem sooner rather than later, and your going to have questions about it. Why do some cats poop outside the litter box? How can you get your cat to poop there? How long will it take for your cat to change their behavior? Here are the answers to all of these questions and more.
So, why does my cat not poop in the litter box? Cats may not poop in the litter box if they don’t like the type of box, its location, the kitty litter, or the surroundings (because of smells or noises). Other times it can be a medical problem.
There’s quite a few potential reasons to explore here.
So, to help you try and identify which one it is for your cat, let’s explore each potential cause further.
Then we will look at how you can, and perhaps should respond, in each contact. So keep reading!
Reasons Why a Cat May Not Poop In The Litter Box
Your cat may not poop in the litter box because they don’t like its location, its size, or the litter. Sometimes a cat can have a bad experience in or near their litter box. Other times it’s a medical problem that’s the cause.
They Don’t Like The Location Of The Litter Box
It could be your cat doesn’t like the location of the litter box – there’s something about it that puts them off, like:
- The smell. It could be something in or near the litter box has an odor that your cat doesn’t like. For example, if the litter box is near anything that smells of citrus or cinnamon, your cat will want to avoid that area. Those odors may be pleasing to us, but they act as natural cat repellents!
- The noise. Cats are highly sensitive to noise levels, so it could be the litter box is too close to a busy part of the house with lots of coming and going. Or perhaps it’s near a window where construction is happening, or there’s lots of traffic that could frighten your cat.
- The competition. If you have several cats in your home, don’t put their litter boxes close to each other. Each cat will prefer their own litter box, food and water bowls, and toys – they don’t like competing for space, so put their belongings in different parts of your home, where possible.
- Their food and water are close by. Cats don’t like to go to the toilet near their food and water bowls, as it’s unhygienic. Cats are naturally clean creatures – you wouldn’t want to go to the toilet in your dining area, and neither does your cat!
Learn more: Can Cats Share A Litter Box?
The Litter Box Is Dirty
Cats commonly stop using their litter box because it’s gotten too dirty.
If a cat can smell a drop of blood in an Olympic swimming pool (and they can), imagine how strong a drop of urine is in their litter box!
Litter boxes should be kept clean – scoop out each poop asap, and remove soiled bits of litter at least once, if not twice a day.
Deodorize and disinfect the litter tray two to three times a week (using pet-friendly products, of course).
They Don’t Like The Litter
Most cats prefer litter with a sandy texture, but there are exceptions.
Note: Despite its convenience, clumping cat litter is a no-no. Cats can ingest pieces of this litter when cleaning their paws, and the pieces will clump together when they reach your cat’s moist stomach, forming a rock that your cat can’t eliminate. Clumping cat litter can cause dangerous intestinal blockages that can have fatal consequences, so the risk isn’t worth it!
They Don’t Like The Litter Box Itself
A litter box should be big enough for your cat to turn around comfortably and be able to dig. Many litter boxes are too small, so your cat may not want to use them.
On the other hand, some cats can feel unsafe if a litter box is too big.
Covered litter boxes can make many cats feel frightened because they feel like they can’t escape quickly if they need to (cats feel more vulnerable when doing their business).
Some cats are unable to access their litter box as easily when they get older due to problems like arthritis.
If your cat has to climb stairs or step over a high side to get into the litter box, it may decide the pain isn’t worth the effort.
They’ve Had a Bad Experience
Sometimes a cat can have a bad experience in or near their litter box and then associate the litter box with that experience.
Perhaps your cat heard a very loud noise or was aggressed by another pet. Or perhaps an eager child mishandled your cat and frightened them.
Some clues that your cat has had a bad experience near their litter box are:
- Pooping near but not in the litter box
- Avoiding the entire area where the litter box is located (even avoiding the room)
- Running in and out of the litter box
Your Cat Has a Medical Problem
If your cat has always used the litter box and then suddenly stops, it could be because of a medical problem, in which case a vet visit is essential.
Many medical problems can cause cats to defecate outside the litter box, such as:
- Urinary tract infections (your cat might associate the litter box with pain)
- Kidney or thyroid diseases (causing your cat to go to the toilet more often)
- Diabetes mellitus (idem)
- Digestive tract problems (making it painful for your cat to poop or causing diarrhea so they can’t get to the litter box in time)
- Cognitive problems (causing your cat to become confused or disoriented)
If you suspect a medical problem, get your cat to the vet asap for a checkup.
How Do I Get My Cat to Poop In Their Litter Box?
You can encourage your cat to poop in their litter box by keeping it clean, removing smells from places they’ve previously soiled, and finding the right type of kitty litter as well as the right type of box that your cat prefers.
Keep The Litter Box Clean
This may seem obvious, but a clean litter box will be more appealing to your cat than an even slightly soiled one.
Keep the surrounding area clean, too, and avoid any strong smells (like air fresheners, which aren’t healthy for pets, anyway).
Clean and Deodorize Places They’ve Pooped
It’s essential to thoroughly remove odors from the places your cat has chosen to poop in.
When your cat poops or pees somewhere, they’re leaving scent markers that encourage them to do their business again in the same spot.
You can purchase pet-friendly products for removing these odors, although often, the best solution is to make your own enzymatic cleaner by dissolving enzymatic washing powder (10%) in water.
Clean the area thoroughly, then rinse with cold water and let the water dry.
Once the water has dried, spray the area lightly with rubbing alcohol and let air dry.
Find The Right Type of Kitty Litter Your Cat Prefers
By trying to find the type of kitty litter your cat prefers, you can save yourself a lot of trouble and speed up the process of your cat using the litter box.
Here’s how to experiment to see what your cat prefers:
- Try two or three different types of litter. Put different kinds of kitty litter in several litter boxes side by side to see which litter your cat prefers. Make sure to use identical litter boxes so that you know your cat is choosing the litter and not the type of litter box.
- Once you’ve found which type, experiment with the depth of the litter. Some cats prefer a shallow layer of kitty litter – less than 2 inches (5 cm) deep. If you have a long-haired cat, they may prefer an extra-shallow layer that enables them to dig to the very bottom of the box. Some cats prefer deeper layers of litter for digging than others, so see what your cat prefers.
Note: If you have to change kitty litters because your cat’s favorite is no longer available, try to make the change gradual. Once you find the closest equivalent, mix a small amount of the new litter in with the old (clean) litter. Each time you change the litter, mix in more of the new brand and less of the old.
This is the cat litter I recommend and use at home with great results with my cats.
Get The Right Kind of Litter Box
As with the kitty litter, it’s essential to know which type of litter box your cat prefers.
If you think your cat is happy with the litter but doesn’t like the box (e.g., they use the litter if it’s outside, for instance), here’s what to think about when choosing a new litter box:
- Look at the depth. Some cats like deep litter boxes that allow for a thicker layer of kitty litter, while others prefer shallow boxes. Older cats may find climbing into a box with high sides more difficult than younger ones.
- Consider whether you get a cover or not. Some cats love covered litter boxes because they feel safe – but other cats feel trapped. Test both options to see what your cat prefers.
- Look at the size. While all cats need a litter box that’s big enough for them to turn around comfortably, some cats prefer a tight turning space, and others prefer extra room.
Whatever type of litter box your cat prefers, try and avoid these two factors:
- Self-cleaning boxes. These might be appealing to us to save time, but many cats are frightened of the noise these boxes make. Think of when you use a public toilet that startles you with a loud flush – not nice, right?
- Plastic linings. Lining a litter box with a plastic bag might make cleanup seem easier, but these liners can get caught on your cat’s claws and cause problems when they’re trying to dig. And if your cat is fond of chewing on plastic bags (as mine is), you won’t want them chewing the liner, anyway.
How Long Will It Take to Get Your Cat to Start Pooping in Their Litter Box?
Because there are so many different reasons why a cat may not poop in their litter box, there’s no set amount of time that it will take for your cat to start pooping there again. The time it takes for your cat to adjust depends on your circumstances and your cat’s personality.
Some cats learn and adapt faster than others.
More nervous cats may take longer to adjust to anything new, taking weeks to settle into any aspect of a new routine (such as a new litter box).
Regardless of how long it takes your cat to poop in the litter box again, it’s crucial to never ever punish your cat for pooping outside the litter box.
Your cat is doing this to communicate something to you that it can’t do with words, so it’s up to you to be patient and kind while you work out what your cat wants.
When pooping outside the litter box, your cat’s main message is confusion, frustration, or anxiety – all of which require gentle understanding and care.
Punishing a cat for pooping outside the litter box will only cause more fear and stress, making the problem much worse.
The more patient you are with your cat, the easier the transition process will be and the sooner you’ll be able to stop cleaning up cat poo from the floor or elsewhere.
Below are some tips to help your cat learn where to poop without frightening or frustrating them in the process.
Other Suggestions To Help Your Cat Poop In The Litter Box
You can also help your cat by creating positive associations with the litter box, discouraging them from going in other areas of your home, and using small amounts of material they already like to get them used to the litter box.
Create Positive Associations with the Litter Box
You can teach your cat that the litter box is a safe place to be to encourage them to use it.
Try spending time with your cat near the litter box – perhaps with cuddle time or playing with their favorite toys.
Note: You may be tempted to reward your cat when they use the litter box, but know that this can make your cat uncomfortable. They don’t see pooping as something to celebrate! In addition, don’t offer treats or other food items near your cat’s litter box, as you’ll be discouraging your cat from going to the toilet there, which is the opposite of what you want! Remember, cats don’t want to go to the toilet near their food or water sources.
Discourage Your Cat From Going In Other Areas
There are things you can do to discourage your cat from going to the toilet in other areas, such as:
- Putting in motion-activated lights (if your cat has chosen a dark part of your home)
- Pinning up curtains so that they’re out of reach
- Blocking access to parts of the house where your cat has been going to the toilet
- Putting your cat’s food and water bowls in the area (once you’ve thoroughly cleaned and deodorized, of course). You are using your cat’s natural preferences to make them go elsewhere
- Lining the area with tin foil or double-sided tape (cats don’t like the feel of these things on their paw pads)
Use Small Amounts of Material They Already Like
You can use what your cat already likes as a way for them to transition to using the litter box.
If Your Cat Likes Carpeting
If your cat has chosen the carpet to poop on, here’s what you can do:
- Line the litter box with a similar type of carpet (without any kitty litter)
- If your cat uses the litter box with the carpet, replace it with a clean piece of carpet and top it with a small amount of cat litter
- Repeat this process, gradually adding more and more cat litter until the litter tray is full
- Eventually, you can take out the carpet and leave the kitty litter!
Note: You may need to roll up the carpeting in your home, block access to it, or otherwise protect it while your kitty is transitioning.
If Your Cat Likes a Hard Substrate (Flooring, etc.)
If your cat likes laminate flooring or another hard surface, try the same process as with carpeting, but use pieces of hard flooring instead of carpet.
If Your Cat Goes Outdoors
If your cat goes outdoors in sand or dirt but still does his business outside the litter box, here’s what you can do:
- Put sand, soil, wood chips, or whatever material your cat has chosen to use into the litter box (without litter on top).
- Once your cat has used the litter box, add a small amount of litter while keeping the layer of sand or soil.
- Gradually add more and more litter to the box (while keeping a supply of clean soil or sand beneath).
- Eventually, your cat will use the litter box without the need for any additional substrate.
Your cat may not be using their litter box for a variety of reasons, from where it is placed to the actual box/litter itself.
Thankfully there are many things you can do, and try, to see if you can resolve this.
And you may even find that it’s a relatively quick fix.
Though if you know, or suspect a medical problem with your cat, do contact a vet.
In those instances, it doesn’t matter where you place the litter box, how many new litter boxes and types of litter you try, or what you do to the surrounding environment, you’ll unlikely be able to resolve it.
Besides, it will also ensure the better health of your cat, which should always be the priority.
Related guides you may want to read:
- Why Does My Cat Not Pee In The Litter Box?
- Why Does My Cat Meow In The Litter Box?
- Cat Not Using Litter Box After Moving [Why & What To Do]
- Why Do Cats Poop In Their Carrier? [And How To Stop Them]
- How Long Can Cats Hold Their Poop? [When To Be Concerned]
- Why Does Cat Poop Smell So Bad? [And The Things You Can Do]
- Why Is My Cat Peeing And Pooping On My Clothes?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.