Has your cat suddenly started defacating or urinating outside the litter box? It can be frustrating and downright gross to have to repeatedly pick up your cat's, uh, "treasure" off the carpet. Most cat owners have experienced this issue at least once or twice.
For the occasional "outside the box" pooper, it might be a one-off. But if your cat is choosing to go outside his litter box on a daily basis, he's trying to tell you something is up.
It's important to remember that your cat isn't doing this to spite you; cats aren't vengeful creatures. Mr. Whiskers is trying to communicate with you in one of the only ways he can. Here are five possible reasons your cat might be avoiding the litter box.
1. Rule out medical reasons.
Observe your cat when he "goes" and look for signs of straining or discomfort. Your cat might associate digging in the litter box with uncomfortable elimination, so they may begin avoiding going inside the litter box.
If your cat is straining, or cries out while trying to go to the bathroom, it signals that illness (not behavior) is the reason behind your cat's pooping misadventures; a vet checkup is likely necessary.
2. Keep it clean!
Cats are fastidiously clean creatures with extremely sensitive noses. Their sense of smell is approximately 40 times as powerful than us humans! Imagine if you had a roommate and you came home to a stinky bathroom - you wouldn't want to use it, would you?
If you find your cat avoiding the litter box unless it's fresh and clean, try scooping daily to give your cat a nice, appealing place to go. If you have a multi-cat household, you might want to consider a litter scoop that comes with bags attached to make scooping and waste disposal quicker and easier.
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3. Try different litters.
Due to their sensitive snoots, some cats may prefer unscented litters. A perfumed litter might be too strong for a cat's sense of smell. If you are using perfumed litter, your cat might not like the strong scent. Try switching to a non-perfumed litter.
If you're using a granulated litter, try a finer grain clumping litter. Cats may tend to like the feel of finer litters - whether this is because a cat instinctively likes to cover their feces in dirt or sand, or just a weird personal cat preference, cats generally spend over 20 seconds pawing around in the litter. So it's important for your cat to actually want to use the litter you choose.
The depth of the litter also might not be enough for your cat to adequately cover their business. So if you notice some bare patches from where your cat has tried to bury their feces, try increasing the amount of litter you pour.
4. Consider location, location, location.
Even though cats have been domesticated, they can still have strong wild instincts. When your cat uses the litter box, they know they are vulnerable to attack. You want to situate the litter box in a quiet, private location where they won't be disturbed by loud, sudden noises that would scare them away from using the litter box.
If there are other cats in your home, the litter box may be a source of contention. Your other cats may be intimidating your cat during litter box visits, causing them to avoid it and eliminate outside the litter box.
Make sure the box is in a location that offers a clear and easy escape route for your cat and, even better, make sure you have several boxes in different locations so your cat has options.
5. The box is too small.
Your cat might be like Goldilocks: their litter box needs to be just right - not too big, not too small. Your cat's litter box should be at least 1.5x their length for them to comfortably maneuver. A cramped litter box doesn't give your cat the ability to turn around and dig, making their usual bathroom routine uncomfortable.
If you have an older cat who suffers from arthritis, a high-sided box may be making it difficult to get in and out of the box.
Have you had this issue? What solutions have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!