How do we convince our cat to stop pooping in front of her litter box?
March 14, 2012 9:47 AM   Subscribe

One of out cats has decided that she will only poop in front of her litter box. This is a new and unpleasant habit. What can be done to fix this behavior?

Our lovely one year old cat Maggz has taken to dumping her load directly in front of her box. This started a few weeks back; before that she never had any problems with where she went (well, except for a brief use of the clothes hampers for a toilet when she was younger, but that issue worked itself out quickly and with ease). She's been fine with sharing the box with our other cat, another female two months younger than she is. They get along great, for what it's worth, becoming fast friends upon introduction.

She only poops outside the box - no peeing whatsoever. Occasionally she'll try to cover her out-of-the-box turds with litter from inside the box. I suppose it's the thought that counts. She couldn't ask for a cleaner box - I clean it twice a day and a few days ago we got one of these self-cleaning boxes, which she happily pees in. I should note that the pooping in front of the box thing started before we introduced the fancy new box.

We thought she might've been thinking that the newspaper we had laid out on the floor under and around the box was the proper place to go, but she continued to do the unspeakable deed after I replaced it with a plastic mat.

We're stumped. She's happy, well-adjusted, and is given much love and attention. She plays, purrs, and is affectionate. While not a lap cat, Maggz is social and hangs out with my girlfriend and myself whenever we're around. She seems to be a bit more intelligent than most of the cats I've had and exhibits a healthy level of curiosity. We found her when she was about four or five weeks behind our house, mewing in a flowerpot. She took to using the litter box right away and, as I said, used it up until a few weeks ago. There have been no changes at all in either her life or ours.

What do we do? How do we get her to poop six inches to the east?
posted by item to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you taken her to the vet since this behavior has started?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:51 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

We thought she might've been thinking that the newspaper we had laid out on the floor under and around the box was the proper place to go, but she continued to do the unspeakable deed after I replaced it with a plastic mat.

That may be because she did it there once and smells that this is the place she goes now. Try removing the mat and moving the litterbox over top of the place where the mat/newspaper was. If that works, you can slowly move the litterbox back where it was.
posted by amro at 9:54 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

And anecdotally, the above method worked with my cat.
posted by amro at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2012

I used to have a cat who would start doing that out of nowhere for seemingly no reason. We always moved the litter box to a different side of the room, and that seemed to fix the problem. Of course, a year or so later he'd start doing it again, so then we'd just move the box again. It wasn't an ideal situation but it did work.
posted by something something at 9:55 AM on March 14, 2012

I will try moving the box as soon as I finish typing this sentence.
posted by item at 10:01 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

How big is the box? One of our guys does this, and our working theory is that the box is too small/too low-sided and they're just all HURR DURR WONDER WHERE MY BUTT IS I GUESS THIS WILL DO.
posted by mendel at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

How big is she? My cat was doing this for awhile because he is a big cat(part maine coon) and also a little overweight, so he had some trouble getting into his box. For now I've taken the top off and he has been pooping in the box ever since.
posted by fromageball at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2012

Small cats, big (enough) box. Oh and she's been to the vet.
posted by item at 10:05 AM on March 14, 2012

Will they use a box with a lid on it? That may very well fix it, she won't be able to use the litter box at all (one leg on it, etc) unless she's inside it.
posted by zug at 10:08 AM on March 14, 2012

I have had this issue with various cats. The causes were varied: one cat hated a lidded box, one cat had a stomach issue, one cat had an accident and then would keep peeing and pooping in the accident spot, and one cat was really old and would get confused when the little door on the front of the box would sort of close on her back and she'd be all OH I GUESS MY BUTT IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE THEN even though it was hanging halfway outside of the box. The solutions were, respectively: remove lid, take to vet for treatment of stomach ailment, clean the everliving fuck out of the accident spot with enzyme cleaners, and remove lid. All aforementioned cats now poop in the appropriate location.
posted by bedhead at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2012

My cat started doing the same thing inexplicably. No change in litter, diet or routine. It didn't matter how clean the litterbox was or where I moved it, she'd decided that she would only poop on the floor just outside the box. I even got her a huge second box. She'd pee in the boxes but poop on the floor just outside of them. The only thing that compelled her to start pooping in the litterbox again was when I started put her food and water dishes on the floor near the litterbox, and that solved the problem instantly.

Thanks for the reminder. It's been a couple of months now without an incident, and she probably deserves another chance to try eating in the kitchen again like a civilized cat.
posted by Balonious Assault at 10:11 AM on March 14, 2012

-Will they use a box with a lid on it?

The box I recently purchased - and linked to in my question - has a lid.
posted by item at 10:12 AM on March 14, 2012

Try adding another box. Rule of thumb is one box per cat (sometimes plus one more, even). And I'd vote for an open-topped box; they like to be able to see who's coming from all sides and then the closed top doesn't contain the smells.
posted by Lettuce_Leaves at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

We once moved our cat's litter box a few feet away from its original location, which she dealt with by pooping in the box's previous location (aka the floor). When we moved it back, she went back to doing her business in the cubicle. If it's just a matter of a few inches, I'd try moving the box so that it covers her Special Pooping Place and hoping that the other cat doesn't start going in the space left by the previous box.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:21 AM on March 14, 2012

I have one cat and two litter boxes. She mostly pees in one and poops in the other. I would say at a minimum you need need two litter boxes.
posted by dgeiser13 at 10:26 AM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

Absolutely use an enzyme cleaner on the spot. I like to use 409 or bleach or something first because well, ew. And then I follow with the enzyme thing and let it dry on the spot (I don't wipe the enzyme stuff off).

One of our cats is extremely fussy about the state of the (automatic!!) box - if we don't clean the whole thing every month or two, he starts pooping on the floor in front. Even if we fix the box, the behavior continued until I hit on the enzyme thing above. It seems to fix the "poop here!" smell.

I know everyone says you need one box per cat. We have two cats, and that was a large factor in our choice of an automatic box. (Always clean for the next guy). Finding a spot for one box in a small house or an apartment is always a pain. Hopefully some of the tricks posted above will help and you don't have to go the two box route.
posted by WowLookStars at 10:38 AM on March 14, 2012

How many cats do you have? You should have at least that many litterboxes. Sometimes they like to pee in one and poop in another. Sometimes one cat claims one box and the other says fuck you I'll shit on the floor.

Aside from the number of litterboxes, I totally agree that the smell of the floor is causing/exacerbating it. We have the exact same problem and solved it by using (hardwood) floor cleaner. Apparently it doesn't smell like an appropriate place to shit, so they don't.

Also where's your picture? You've been around long enough to know the rules.
posted by desjardins at 11:10 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd add that in addition to cleaning the floor—after the next time, maybe move the poop into the box so the cat can see/smell it and it given an additional cue that THIS IS THE SPOT.
posted by Eicats at 11:21 AM on March 14, 2012

Nthing getting another box: a good friend of mine is a cat behaviorist and he says probably around 90% of the litter box issues he hears from clients are solved by adding another litter box.
posted by smirkette at 11:49 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Absolutely get another box. The aesthetic / floorspace annoyance resulting from multiple litterboxes reduces to nonexistent when you compare it to the alternative of Floor Poop (or worse). Cats are territorial, and litter boxes are serious business to them, so if medical stuff is ruled out it's absolutely worth at least trying.

That said, I have become sort of an evangelist for the "modified storage container" litter box concept since it's worked so incredibly well in my 4-cat household. Here is a picture of one of my boxes as an example.

Basically the idea is that you go out and find the biggest, cheapest plastic storage bin you can. I've gotten some ginormous ones at the Container Store in their "clearance" section for as little as $2.50 (seriously) simply because they're missing lids, which I don't need anyway.

Then you cut a little dip in one end/side of the box to make entry and exit easier for the cat. In my experience this cuts down hugely on litter-scatter without making nervous kitties too wary to get inside all the way (which can occur with fully covered boxes). The key to dissuading lazy "I don't care where my butt is" poopers is making the cutaway bit low enough so that they're not discouraged from getting in, but that they can't actually hang their ass out the edge.

All that said, another thing to watch out for regardless of your setup is the fact that some cats occasionally have an "I'M A MONKEY LOL" moment. More to the point, my 10-year-old Siamese actually manages to fling turd-torpedoes out of the box so that they land on the floor (she kicks litter around like whoah). Needless to say, this phenomenon has contributed to my becoming a very frequent scooper (2 - 3x daily for each box) which is a good thing anyway.
posted by aecorwin at 12:54 PM on March 14, 2012

Oh yeah and two things that humans often like but cats hate are (a) scented litter and (b) litterbox liners. Scented litter smells obnoxiously perfumey to *me*, I can't imagine how vile it comes across to an animal with a far more sensitive olfactory system. And litterbox liners can be very unpleasant on the paws. YMMV, of course, and I am sure with the general weirdness of cats there are probably some that LOVE scented litter (one of my kitties has a bleach fetish) and will ONLY use a box with a liner, but these are probably more the exceptions than the rule.
posted by aecorwin at 12:58 PM on March 14, 2012

I have a cat that does exactly that and after TWO YEARS of attempting to understand and/or correct the behavior I gave up and alternate between two junky old throw rugs in that litter box corner.

Part of the problem was the litter box was covered and she hated that her brother could plan a sneak attack when she was otherwise occupied (I think). There is another litter box downstairs that she doesn't do this with so...I gave up.
posted by readery at 1:08 PM on March 14, 2012

I agree that covered boxes can freak them out, but I have one cat who is a 'percher' - i.e. she sits on the rim of the box like a bird on a perch to do her thing.

Once in a while her sense of direction fails her, and she ends up with her butt hanging out over the floor rather than the box.

Nothing to be done for it, but add a lower litter box below the rim of the main one.
posted by tatiana131 at 1:11 PM on March 14, 2012

We have given up on our cat who does this; he's a huge (20 lbs) Maine Coon, and we have the biggest box we could find, we've moved it, we've put his food next to it, we cleaned...nope. He poops right outside. Once I lost my temper and shut him into the laundry room (where his box stayed) with his clean box, just enough space for him to lay down, and his food and water for 12 hours. Came back to find him sitting to a poop. He'd rather cheat himself out of room to lay down then poop in his damn box.

He's not the sharpest tool in the shed, but then, he didn't always do this; he used to poop inside the box. I have no idea what changed his mind, we don't have any other pets. No health problems, other than a desire to eat himself to death if we would let him.

So OP if none of this works for're not alone.
posted by emjaybee at 2:34 PM on March 14, 2012

I've got one cat and two boxes and clean them three times a day and still she poops outside her box about once a week. I've spent hours observing her behavior and pondering what could be causing this and finally figured it out: Cats are weird.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 5:29 PM on March 14, 2012

I have four cats and three boxes. One of my cats is over 20 lbs and decided he didn't like the lids or they became uncomfortable because of his size. He started pooping and peeing with his head in the box and his rear end/back legs outside of the box. All of the boxes are now lidless. I strongly agree with everyone else you need to add another box. Make sure it's large and doesn't have a lid. Cats, apparently, like having options.

Definitely use an enzyme cleaner on the area she's been pooping. If not, it still smells like "IT'S OK TO POOP HERE".
posted by deborah at 7:13 PM on March 14, 2012

Yeah, I came in to suggest enzyme cleaner (Nature's Miracle or similar). My dog had the squirts once when her food brand changed their formula and then decided, based on the smell, that the kitchen floor had become a Place Dogs Can Poo. This wasn't awesome in the slightest and thankfully, NM cleared it right up. No experience with cats but it seems like a pretty common thing among animals to take these smell cues about where they can deposit their waste.
posted by troublesome at 10:58 PM on March 14, 2012

I had this problem daily for a month. Tried everything.

In a pinch one day, I had to use a substitute litter for a couple of days while I went out of town.

Not one accident. Not one.

Kept with the substitute litter and it was a miracle. No problems since.

Old litter was "Worlds Best Cat Litter." New/substitute was "Tidy Cat."

Go figure.
posted by Thistledown at 5:36 AM on March 16, 2012

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