It can be really frustrating when your cat pooping outside the litter box. Using a litter box comes naturally to cats, so if your furry friend suddenly starts avoiding it, there's usually an underlying reason. It could be a medical issue like a urinary tract infection, or something stressing them out in their environment. Maybe they just don't like the litter you're using. Whatever the cause, you'll want to address this inappropriate elimination calmly and patiently. This guide will walk you through effective ways to get your cat back to properly using the litter box.

Tabby cat is squatting outside the cat litter box

2 Reasons Your Cat Pooping Outside the Litter Box

1. A Medical Issue Could Be the Culprit

Sometimes a cat avoids the litter box because they aren't feeling well. Potential medical problems that can cause inappropriate elimination include:

If your cat also seems lethargic, has appetite changes, vomiting or other concerning symptoms, get them checked by the vet right away to rule out a health issue.

2. Your Cat Might Be Stressed Out

Cats are creatures of habit that can get really stressed by changes in their environment like:

  • Moving homes
  • Introducing a new pet or family member
  • Loud construction/remodeling
  • Changes in your daily routine and schedule

Stress may cause cats to start pooping outside the box as a way to mark territory when they feel anxious. Or they simply can't make it to the box in time.

If the vet gives your cat a clean bill of health, look for any stressors or changes in their environment that could be triggering this behavior before trying to retrain litter habits.

The orange cat hid under the bed because he was stressed.

How to React When Your Cat Pooping Outside the Litter Box

Stay Calm, Don't Punish

If you catch your cat in the act of going potty somewhere other than the litter box, don't yell or get mad. Punishing or scaring them will only make the problem worse by creating more stress and fear around the litter box.

Instead, calmly pick up your cat, say nothing, and immediately place them in the litter box. Chances are they'll finish going to the bathroom there after being relocated.

Use Their Scent Trail as a Guide

Since cats rely so heavily on smell cues, you can use the scent trail from their accident to help guide them back to the litter box:

  • Scoop up the poop with a paper towel and place it in the litter box
  • Your cat's excellent sense of smell will recognize that scent trail leading right to the litter box

Clean Up Thoroughly Too

It's also crucial to fully clean and deodorize any accident spots, so lingering smells don't attract your cat back to re-soil the same area.

Use a pet-safe enzymatic cleaner, which utilizes natural enzymes to fully break down and remove every trace of odor from urine and feces.

By responding calmly, leaving scent reminders, and eliminating odors, you reinforce that the litter box is the only proper bathroom for your cat.

How to Set Up the Ideal Litter Box Situation

Location and Number of Boxes

Cats prefer quiet, private spots for their litter boxes away from high-traffic areas. The location should feel safe and easy to access.

The general rule is to have one litter box per cat in the home, plus one extra box. So for one cat have two boxes, for two cats have three boxes, and so on.

Having multiple boxes in different locations prevents your cat from getting "stuck" somewhere far from their only box when nature calls.

Keep Up With Cleaning

A dirty, smelly litter box is a surefire way to deter your cat from using it. Stick to this cleaning routine:

  • Scoop the box daily to remove clumps and keep odors under control.
  • Every 1-2 weeks, empty out all the old litter and give the box itself a thorough scrubbing with an unscented soap or baking soda to remove residues.
  • Replace all the litter completely every 4-6 weeks, more frequently if using clumping litter or having multiple cats.

The bottom line is keeping the litter box as clean and fresh as possible at all times. No cat wants a filthy bathroom!

A black and white cat using the litter box.

How to Attract Your Cat to poop in the Litter Box

Find the Right Litter Type

Cats can be picky about litter, so you may need to experiment with different options to see what your cat prefers:

  • Clumping Clay Litter- Forms hard clumps when wet, easy to scoop. But can be dusty.
  • Non-Clumping Clay - Basic, affordable clay litter.
  • Crystal Litters- Low tracking but need frequent changing.
  • Corn/Wheat/Grass Litters- Eco-friendly but can get smelly.
  • Wood Pellets - Highly absorbent but lacks odor control.

Watch how your cat reacts when trying new litters. If they avoid it or fail to cover properly, they likely dislike the texture or scent.

Get the Litter Depth Right

Litter depth is also important for proper digging and covering:

  • Too Shallow (under 1 inch) - Not enough digging room
  • Too Deep (over 3 inches) - Smaller cats may struggle

The ideal range is 1-3 inches of litter depth. Adjust based on your cat's burrowing behavior.

Open vs Covered Boxes

Most cats prefer open litter boxes that don't feel confined. But covered boxes can help contain odors better.

Box Size Matters

Make sure the litter box is appropriately sized as your cat grows from kitten to adult, with enough interior space to easily turn around.

The key is customizing the litter setup - litter type, depth, box style and size - to your individual cat's needs and preferences through some experimentation. This will attract them to the litter box consistently.

An owner is training a Siamese cat to use the cat litter box

How to Reinforce and Retrain Good Litter Habits

a. Use Positive Reinforcement

The best way to solidify litter box usage is through positive reinforcement training, rather than punishing accidents. Use treats and praise to reward your cat whenever you see them using the litter box properly. Over time, they'll associate that reward with the litter box and be motivated to use it consistently. Just be careful not to inadvertently reward them after having an accident elsewhere.

b. Be Patient and Consistent

Retraining takes patience and consistency - don't get discouraged! Gently place your cat in the litter box at regular intervals when they're likely to need it, like after meals. Reward with a treat and affection every time they go inside. Thoroughly clean any accident areas to remove lingering odor cues that could lead them back to that spot.

Stick with this routine and your cat will eventually get the idea that the litter box is the only appropriate bathroom. It just takes time and persistency on your part.

c. Reduce Environmental Stress

You'll also want to minimize any environmental stressors that could be impacting your cat's behavior and causing litter box aversion. Things like household disruptions, new people or pets, loud noises, or changes in schedules can really throw a cat's routine out of whack. Try to prevent upheaval as much as possible, and slowly introduce any unavoidable changes to avoid stressing your cat out. Having a safe, comfortable space they can retreat to can help too.

With positive reinforcement, patience, consistency and a stable environment, your furry friend will happily use the litter box again before you know it.

Black and white cat is using the cat litter box

Strategies to Prevent Cat Pooping Outside the Litter Box

Make Sure They Drink Enough

Proper hydration is important for preventing urinary issues that can lead to litter box aversion in cats. Make sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water at all times by:

  • Using pet drinking fountains which attract cats to running water
  • Feeding wet/canned food to increase their moisture intake
  • Mixing a little low-sodium broth or water into their dry food

Inadequate hydration can cause UTIs by making urine more concentrated and acidic. UTIs make urination painful, so cats start avoiding the litter box. Chronic dehydration also puts extra strain on the kidneys over time.

Consider Their Diet

In addition to hydration, feeding a high-quality, balanced cat food formulated for urinary health can help reduce litter box problems related to:

  • Urinary crystal/stone formation
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes

Ask your vet to recommend an appropriate prescription diet if your cat is prone to urinary issues.

Stay Up-to-Date on Vet Visits

If litter box avoidance persists despite your hydration efforts, it's time for a veterinary check-up. Your vet can test for underlying medical conditions like infections, kidney disease or diabetes that could be causing the behavior. Early detection is key for effective treatment.

Keeping your cat properly hydrated through diet and caught up on preventative vet care supports a healthy urinary system and good litter habits.

An owner is cleaning the garbage in the cat litter box of an orange and white kitten

Regain Your Cat's Proper Litter Box Habits

While dealing with a cat pooping outside the litter box, there are steps you can take to get their bathroom behavior back on track. Identify potential medical issues or environmental stressors, provide an optimal litter box setup tailored to your cat's preferences, reinforce good habits through positive reinforcement, and support their urinary health with proper hydration and diet. It will likely take patience and consistency, but sticking with proven strategies like these will have your feline friend happily using the litter box again. With some detective work and adjustments, you can solve this smelly issue of your cat pooping outside and regain a clean, odor-free home. Don't give up - commit to making the necessary changes for litter box success.

May 24, 2024 — Feiou Meowant

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