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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Eleven years ago I found two abandoned kittens and took them home. They are both neutered males and have always shared an extra large litter box which I clean twice a day. In the last six months, one of them, Smokie, has stopped pooping in the box. He will crawl in to urinate and then step out to poop five inches from it. I had not changed anything about the box, litter, location of the box, and basic routine when this began. I have tried different litter, an additional box, changing locations and scolding since then and nothing is working. My family is becoming fed up with the issue and I am at loss for a solution. Do you have any suggestions?

~ Josephine

Siouxsie: We think we can help you to cope with Smokie’s pooping issue. But we’re going to start by explaining a few basics about the way cats pee and poop.

Cat in the "pee squat"

The "pee squat"

Thomas: There’s a “pee squat” and a “poop squat.” What we mean is that we take different positions when we pee and poop. The photo to the right shows what a cat looks like when he’s peeing.

Dahlia: As you can see, he’s settled in with his back end very close to the litter, so as to avoid splattering urine on his behind.

Siouxsie: This is a pretty easy and comfortable posture to maintain for however long it takes for a kitty to do his business. It’s almost like our natural sitting posture.

the "poop squat"

The "poop squat"

Thomas: The “poop squat,” on the other hand, takes a bit more energy. You see that his back is hunched up high and his back legs are set in a serious crouch.

Dahlia: This particular squat helps keep the cat from getting feces on his britches by keeping his bum high above the surface of the litter box (or, in this case, the toilet bowl).

Siouxsie: Because the poop squat requires a lot of strength, it can be hard for  a cat with sore joints or an overweight cat to maintain that posture for the all the time it takes him to do his business.

Thomas: Often, this is why you’ll see an older cat have no problem peeing in the box, but you’ll find his poop on the floor just outside of it.

Dahlia: So, with those things in mind, what’s a cat caretaker to do?

Siouxsie: First of all, try to have some compassion. I have to admit I have an issue with leaving my poop outside the box, too. It’s mostly because, well, I’m not exactly a kitten anymore (I’m 15), and it hurts my hips to maintain that pooping pose — so when I have to poop, I prop my back feet on the edge of the litterbox and leave my front legs on the floor. As you probably know, there are muscles that contract when we do a No. 2. Sometimes those muscle contractions propel my back feet off the edge of the box and onto the floor. And by that time, I can’t stop the poop from coming out … so it ends up on the floor.

Thomas: The second thing we’d suggest is what we tell anyone whose cat has had a behavior change: Take Smokie to the vet to have a checkup and make sure he doesn’t have any other health issues.

Dahlia: If Smokie is obese, work with your vet to put a nutrition plan together to help him get back to a healthy weight.

Siouxsie: And if it turns out that arthritis or other aches and pains may be causing him to be unable to maintain his “poop squat,” try giving him a glucosamine/chondroitin cat treat as a daily supplement. Mama gives me a Hip Action treat every day, and I get to eat it just before supper. It does help my joints feel better, and I love the taste!

Thomas: But even with a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement, your cat may still have issues with poops outside the box. Fear not, though; there are two solutions that will make it easier to clean up.

Dahlia: First of all, some behaviorists and vets advise using a large litter box with very low sides–perhaps even a cookie sheet. You could probably put the cookie sheet with some kitty litter in it right outside the edge of the box where you usually find Smokie’s poop. This would allow him to bury his waste a little and make it easier for you to clean up.

Siouxsie: Another option, which might be helpful if Smokie poops in different locations around the box, is to put a plastic carpet runner under the box. This will catch the waste and, once again, facilitate cleanup.

Thomas: Another benefit of a carpet runner is that it will catch the litter scatter and keep your cats from tracking litter on the floor.

Dahlia: Don’t scold Smokie. Cats don’t respond to scolding, and it only makes them confused and possibly resentful.

Siouxsie: Scolding could also have the unfortunate consequence of making Smokie think it’s bad to use the litter box at all.

Thomas: So, in short: Take him to the vet and make sure all is well; make it easier for him to poop in an appropriate place that’s easier for you to clean — and finally, encourage your family to have some compassion and understanding for Smokie’s changing needs and abilities.

Dahlia: We hope this helps a little. Good luck, Josephine, and please let us know how things turn out!