Hidden Meaning: Why Cats Poop Outside Their Litter Box

Key Points

  • It's common for cats to poop outside of the litter box at some point in their lives.

  • This behavior isn't something you should be concerned about unless it happens frequently.

  • Cats are pooping on the floor to let you know that they're unhappy with something, such as a change in their environment or the level of attention they're receiving.

  • The first step is to clean your cat's litter box more frequently and undo any recent changes (different litter, new litter box, relocated litter box, etc.).

  • If the behavior continues, you need to consult with your veterinarian.

It can be alarming when out of nowhere, your cat poops outside the litter box. This may seem counterintuitive, but it's actually a good sign if your cat is peeing in the litter box but pooping on the floor. Not only is it easier to clean up (poop odor doesn't linger like cat pee does), but there's also less of a chance that your cat is experiencing a significant medical issue. If your cat poops on the floor a few times and then stops, you can put it out of your mind and stop worrying.

As a matter of fact, studies suggest that around 10 percent of felines will defecate outside of the litter box at some point in their life. Because it's such a common cat behavior, you don't need to immediately pack your cat up and take them to the vet if it happens once or twice.

When you need to be concerned is if this behavior continues and becomes regular. Then you've got a problem on your hands — a cat who is continually pooping outside the litter box is trying to tell you that something is wrong.

Why Is My Cat Pooping on the Floor All of a Sudden?

As with most things, there's not just one explanation. In fact, if your cat starts pooping next to the litter box or somewhere else in the house, you need to work through several questions to find out what's actually going on.

The best way to address the problem is to start with the easiest explanation first and work your way down the list.

Does Your Cat Have Long Fur?

Cats with longer fur sometimes have "danglers" that get caught on their backsides. When they sprint out of their litter box to take their after-poop run, the dangler comes with them and ends up outside the box on the floor in front of it. If you see poop remnants on their butt, this is likely what's happening.

If your cat doesn't have a track record of getting waste stuck to its backside, move to the next most logical reason.

Cat and clean litter box

Has the Cat's Environment Changed?

Felines are finicky animals and don't do well with change. Even something you think is no big deal can shake up a cat's entire world and lead to them acting out. Here are the most common reasons your cat has decided to send you a message by pooping on the floor.

Your Cat Dislikes the New Litter Box

Let's say you just received a self-cleaning litter box as a gift. You are so excited and think that this is going to save you a significant amount of time and hassle. However, your cat has different ideas.

She hates the new litter box and wants you to know it. She begins pooping directly in the middle of your living room rug to show her disdain. At first, you think it's just a fluke and that she must have just gotten the poop stuck on her butt and accidentally dragged it out of the box. Then the next day, you come home to find another deposit in exactly the same spot. At this point, a pattern is beginning to form.

The only change made is the litter box, so you stake it out to watch her reaction. She goes to the box and takes a sniff. When it begins making a sound, she sprints away in fear. You determine that this must be why she's leaving you smelly presents on the floor. After you switch back to her old box, all of her poop is once again contained in the litter box, and life is back to normal.

This scenario is just one example of a litter box swap leading to unwanted behavior. When you change a cat's routine — like giving them a new litter box — they're going to let you know how they feel about it.

You're Using a Different Type of Litter

Have you recently switched to a different brand of litter to save a few bucks? Or maybe you decided to try an awesome new litter that can detect changes in your cat's urine and underlying medical issues. Well, sorry to say your cat probably isn't a fan.

If she starts pooping outside the box after you've changed her litter, she's trying to tell you that she wants the old stuff back.

Cat inside litter box

You Moved the Litter Box

There are a few reasons why moving the litter box might cause your cat to poop on the floor.

  • Your kitty is having trouble remembering the new location. After looking for a while, she gets frustrated and just squats down wherever she is to do her business.

  • The new litter box placement has annoyed your cat. It's in a noisy spot with too much going on around it. She needs peace, quiet, and privacy to go to the bathroom, and she's not getting that now.

  • Your feline companion just doesn't like change. Even if the box is in a perfectly good new spot that's easy to locate, she might protest the fact that you moved it at all.

Lack of Attention

Whether you started a different job or took up a new hobby, what your cat notices is that you don't have as much time for her as you used to. Before, you were spending hours with her on your lap, petting her to her heart's content. Now, she's lucky if she gets 30 minutes of snuggle time.

Your cat decides to send you a smelly message in the form of cat poop to tell you about her sadness and disappointment.

You Brought in a New Pet

It's always an exciting day when you add another furry member to the family. Well, it's exciting for the human family member. For your cat? Not so much. She isn't pleased that you've adopted a playmate. She was perfectly content to be an only cat, and to show you her displeasure, she poops on your bed.

Is Your Cat Getting the Enrichment That She Needs?

What if there haven't been any changes to your cat's environment? It seems that out of nowhere, she decided the litter box is no longer necessary. Cats act out like this when their needs aren't being met. Make sure that she has places to climb, nooks to hide in, things to scratch, and toys to play with.

What if your cat only poops on the floor at night and is perfectly fine using the litter box every other time? This would also fall under the behavioral issue category and is a sign that she isn't getting enough enrichment.

Is There a Hidden Health Issue To Address?

Once all of the other explanations have been ruled out, then you need to determine if your cat has a hidden health issue. A few common issues will lead to a cat pooping outside the litter box.

Cat and litter box


When a cat has trouble pooping, she may begin to associate the litter box with pain. This will cause her to try and poop elsewhere.

Another way that feline constipation can lead to poop ending up on the floor is if a cat goes into the litter box and starts pushing. Your cat won't be able to get the poop out immediately, so the process begins inside the litter box but ends on the floor in front of it or in another location.

Does your cat's poop appear dry? This may indicate that constipation is the cause of their behavior.


A change in your cat's bathroom habits may be a sign that they have contracted worms. How do you know if your cat has worms? According to Leslie Gillette, DVM, signs to look for include:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Weight loss

  • Distended abdomen

  • Lethargy

  • Poor body condition or dull coat

Take your cat to the vet if she exhibits a change in behavior accompanied by any of the symptoms listed above.

Old Age

If you have an older cat pooping outside the litter box, the cause may be their age. Older cats experience decreased neurological function. This means that they might want to poop inside the box, but they couldn't hold it and ended up going before they made it to the bathroom. Additionally, elderly cats are prone to arthritis, which can make it difficult for them to step in and out of their litter box.

Cat using litter box

How To Stop Your Cat From Pooping on the Floor

This behavior is not something you have to live with. There are some easy, practical solutions that will stop your cat from pooping outside the litter box. Even though this is a solvable issue, many people don't take the time to fix it. Sarah J. Wooten, DVM, explains:

"It’s a primary reason people surrender cats to humane societies and a top consideration in euthanasia decisions made at shelters. It doesn’t have to be like this: it’s often possible to correct the issue."

The sad fact is that some people will choose to rehome their cats rather than get to the root cause of the undesired behavior.

If your cat is pooping on the floor, here are a few things you can do to get them to stop.

More Frequent Litter Box Cleaning

Nobody likes to use a dirty bathroom, and cats are no exception. When your cat poops on the floor, it's possible she's showing you how unhappy she is with the state of her litter box. Try cleaning the box every day. If the behavior stops, you'll know this was the problem.

Do Away With the New Type of Litter

If you recently switched to a new type of litter, change back and see if that corrects the issue. If you haven't changed anything, but your cat has started pooping outside the box, she may have simply decided she no longer likes that litter. You can try swapping to a brand that has less dust and see if that does the trick.

Return the Litter Box to Its Original Location

Your cat may not like where you decided to put her litter box. If you've recently moved it, put the box back in its old spot. If you haven't moved it, try to place it in a low-traffic area that is quiet and contained. This will make your cat feel safe and should curb unwanted behaviors such as defecating outside the litter box.

Go Back to the Old Litter Box

You'll also want to change the litter box back if you've recently gotten one that is self-cleaning. Many cats get spooked by automatic litter boxes, and this will lead to them pooping outside of the box. Changing back to a normal litter box may solve the problem.

Cat sitting with litter box

For elderly cats with arthritis, this may be a good time to get a litter box that is lower to the ground and easier for them to step into.

Change Your Cat’s Food

If your cat is pooping outside the box, she might be constipated or experiencing other gastrointestinal issues. If you only feed your kitty dry food, you should start by adding wet food, so they get more moisture. If that doesn't work, try different brands of food until you land on one that agrees with your kitty's stomach.

Provide Your Cat With More Enrichment

A common reason cats behave badly is that they aren't getting the enrichment that they need. Provide your kitty with a cat tree to climb on, a sturdy scratching post, and plenty of toys. Make sure that you're also playing with them daily. These small changes should stop your cat from pooping in unwanted places.

Take Your Kitty to a Groomer

An easy fix is to take them to a groomer or vet for a sanitary shave. This prevents the poop from getting stuck on their butt and completely solves the problem.

Take Your Cat to the Vet

This is the last step once you've ruled out everything else. If you've tried everything you can think of, but your cat is still pooping outside the litter box, it's time to call and schedule a vet appointment. They will be able to run tests and determine if there are underlying health issues. If the tests come back good, your vet will also be able to counsel you on additional actions you can take to resolve the issue.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are many reasons why cats poop outside of their litter boxes. Remember, if it happens once or twice, you don't need to worry about it. They probably tracked the poop out with them once they were finished doing their business. However, if this behavior becomes a habit, you need to figure out the root cause.

There is probably a simple explanation, but it's imperative that you determine what's going on with your cat. If not, you're going to continue encountering smelly surprises around the house.

The behavior could also escalate if it's not addressed; your cat could become more destructive or begin urinating outside of the litter box as well. You need to solve the issue as soon as possible to avoid even more of a headache in the future.

Long-haired cat inside litter box

Once all of the most likely scenarios have been ruled out, it's time to seek advice from a veterinarian. It could just be constipation; however, there are other medical explanations that are more serious, so please make sure to talk with your vet.

Pooping outside the litter box is a common behavior that shouldn't keep you up at night. If your cat could speak, she would tell you what's wrong. Unfortunately, that's not an option, so this is their way of letting you know when something is upsetting them. It's not the most pleasant method of communication, but you have to admit that it's effective.

Hopefully, you learned something new and can better understand your cat. For more research-backed information on all things feline, explore Cattitude Daily.

Was this article helpful?