Litter Box Solutions

Part 6: Why Do Cats Defecate Outside the Box?

The phrase “think outside the box” is not one you want your cat to take to heart concerning their potty habits. When it involves your cat’s stool or urine, it’s preferred to have them think inside their box! A cat with inappropriate defecation is uncommon in comparison to inappropriate urination, but it could still indicate concerns with your cat’s health and warrants further investigation.

Fecal Marking

Most people are aware that cats can communicate by spraying urine. Well, stool can also be used for the same thing and is termed middening. This behavior is rare in our domesticated indoor felines, but is more commonplace in feral cats and the big cats, such as cougars. When this occurs, feces are usually deposited in open, prominent locations to mark their territory.

Cats can be sensitive to any kind of change and may feel the need to communicate it in different ways. Try and pinpoint if there has been anything new that may be causing your cat stress leading them to middening to identify their territory. Some examples include a new pet or furniture, a recent move, or a stray cat coming near a window.

The Litter Box

If your cat has selected a new place to potty, it may be because they do not like their litter box situation. Litter box hygiene is a very important factor for successful use, so be sure it is cleaned daily to every other day. Cats can have a preference on litter box size, style, and location. They may also desire to urinate in one box and defecate in another. For more tips, check out our previous article Part 2: The Purr-fect Litter Box!

Medical Concerns

There are diseases that can lead to pain and discomfort with using the litter box or cause a cat to associate pain and discomfort with the litter box. Arthritis, other orthopedic pain, or muscular disease and weakness can make it painful or difficult for cats to access a litter box. Be considerate of the litter box size, location, and depth if your cat has one of these conditions. Buy a litter box with lower sides or one they do not need to jump into. Also, find a location on the same floor they generally spend their time on so they do not need to use stairs to potty or just place a box on every floor.

Constipation, diarrhea, or impacted anal glands can cause the defecation process to be uncomfortable causing the cat to associate that pain with the litter box. Senior cats can develop cognitive dysfunction and may simply forget where they are supposed to do their business.

Behavioral Concerns

Finding stool outside the litter box may have other behavioral causes besides middening discussed above. One possibility includes being fearful of the litter box due to a loud noise that occurred and startled the cat during the defecation process. They become afraid that if they go in the box to pass stool it will happen again. Try and find a quiet location for your cat to potty, generally avoiding rooms with appliances.

Sometimes it’s a cat’s household companions that keep them from the litter box. Some housemates may guard the litter box or sit and wait to attack another cat when using the litter box. Passing stool takes longer than urination, so if your cat feels insecure or confined and unable to escape other cats, it will chose a safer location to go. In this situation, avoid covered litter boxes, hiding them in small spaces or sticking them in a corner, and be sure you have plenty of boxes to go around. The rule of thumb is one more litter box than the number of cats in the household.


Cats eliminating outside the box can be frustrating and recognizing the cause that could lead to a change in behavior can be challenging. We recommend visiting your veterinarian to rule out an underlying medical problem and help with identifying a cause.