My Cat Is Avoiding the Litter Box … For Everything

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, shares reasons why a cat might be defecating outside the litterbox.

Q: My wonderful, exceptionally smart, 11-year-old cat, Charlie Parker, has never had any health issues until recently. Now my cat defecates throughout the house, always where I can see it (in the entry way, in front of the bathroom and kitchen, etc.). My cat’s stool is always hard and round and he leaves about three or four of them. I have talked to him, scolded him, punished him (kept him in bathroom while other cats had breakfast, etc.). He doesn’t get the message and when I don’t remove the cat’s feces, he leaves more in another place that I am bound to notice. Is he trying to tell me he’s sick and to pay attention

A: Your cat’s defecating out of the litterbox is due to an instinctual response to something in his environment or to a medical problem. He isn’t being bad or misbehaving. Instead of scolding your cat and withholding breakfast from him, stop the behavior by first determining the reasons for the behavior and then change the triggers. Take your cat to a veterinarian for a checkup. Maybe your cat is constipated or has another medical issue that is causing him pain or discomfort.

After your cat’s veterinarian rules out any medical conditions that would cause your cat to defecate around the house, approach this as a behavior problem and identify the triggers. The first clue to check out is his relationship with the other resident cats. Inter-cat aggression or status challenges between him and one or more of the other cats may be causing him to mark his territory by defecating in highly visible areas. Another term for this behavior is midden marking.

Let your cat have more acceptable ways to mark his territory and demonstrate his status to stop your cat from leaving calling cards around the house. Place scratching posts and horizontal scratchers in high profile areas for your cat to scratch. Cats have scent glands on the bottom of their paws, so when they scratch objects, they are effectively marking their territory. Vertical territory, such as tall cat trees, high shelves and window perches, placed throughout your house will also help resolve the challenge by allowing all of your cats to demonstrate to each other their places in the flexible cat hierarchy.

Poor cat litterbox locations and management might also cause your cat to defecate outside the litterbox. Make sure that there are large, uncovered litterboxes located throughout your house in areas where your cat won’t feel trapped or possibly ambushed by one of the other cats. Additionally, provide one more litterbox then there are cats. In other words, if you have three cats, then ideally you should have four litterboxes. Dirty litterboxes can also contribute to litterbox challenges. Scoop the cat boxes at least once a day.

Read more articles by Marilyn Krieger here>>

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Behavior and Training · Cats