Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I’ve just discovered your website. So charming and so helpful! Perhaps you can answer a question. My mature (probably 14 years) kitty, Maddy, has developed a behavior that is odd. She pees in her box, but poops outside it. To try to address the problem which has been happening for about a month, we have changed to a new box and we scrupulously clean it daily (sometimes more often). She deposits these gifts about a foot from her box, in the same general area every time, so I don’t think that she’s missing the mark, she is deliberately choosing this. What is up with this, and can we retrain her to do the right thing? She does not seem unhappy or unwell from what we can see. Thanks for any advice you can offer.
Thomas: Wow, Louise, thank you so much for your compliments. We’re just purring with delight!
Bella: And we’re even happier, because we’re pretty sure we know what’s going on with your kitty, and what you can do to help her.
Tara: You see, Siouxsie had this problem, too. Mama had to figure it out, but when she did, she couldn’t believe it was so simple.
Thomas: Let’s start with some basics. Cats have a “pee squat” and a “poop squat.” When a cat pees, he settles down into the litter box with his back end just above the litter. That prevents splattering, you see.
Bella: But the “poop squat” is a little different. Obviously you don’t want your bottom right next to the litter when you’re pooping because then you’d get poop all over you!
Tara: So when we poop, we stand on our toes and bend our knees so we can hunch over and give the poop room to come out.
Thomas: That poop squat is more physically demanding than the pee squat, because we have to hold ourselves up and we need more strength in our hips and knees to do it.
Bella: Because cats’ hind ends get a bit weaker and more painful as they age, that makes the poop squat harder to do. What Siouxsie did to compensate for that is that she propped her hind legs on the edge of the box.
Tara: But the muscle movements that make poop come out made her back legs come off the edge of the litter box and onto the floor, and so her poop ended up on the floor, too.
Thomas: Part of Siouxsie’s problem was that she had arthritis in her hips, which made it painful as well as difficult to do the poop squat.
Bella: So, Louise, the first thing we’d recommend is a trip to the vet to see if Maddy has arthritis. They might have to do an X-ray to find out just how advanced the arthritis is.
Tara: Your vet can give you medicine for the pain, which will help with that part of the poop squat problem.
Thomas: We want to add here that you should never give human pain relievers to cats. All of them are toxic to us, and some of them are even fatal!
Bella: Mama got medicine for Siouxsie’s arthritis pain, which did help. But as she got older, she did get weaker in her hind end and started propping her back feet on the litter box again, and the poop ended up on the floor again.
Tara: So, in order to help with the poop on the floor issue, we’d recommend that you get a mat for your litter box. Get one that sticks out at least a foot from the edge of the box. It’ll make the cleanup easier.
Thomas: We recently reviewed the Smiling Paws Litter Mat, which we think is a great choice! It’s nice and big, and it’s easy to clean up. As a bonus, it’ll keep litter from getting everywhere.
Bella: So, Louise, although Maddy’s pooping behavior is probably due to arthritis or the natural hind-end weakness that comes with age, there are some things you can do to help her.
Tara: We hope you’ll take her to the vet and get her checked for arthritis, and then invest in a litter mat to catch any poop that lands outside the box.
Thomas: Thank you for your compassion toward your lovely Maddy and for wanting to do anything you can to help her.
Bella: What about you other readers? Have you had cats that pee in the litter box but poop outside it? What did you do to solve the problem? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Great article. Many, many years ago, we had a 4 year old Siamese named Mousie Tongue (pun on the Chairman) who started pooping on quilts, pillows and all kinds of soft things. The vet I HAD been using diagnosed his problem as a territorial issue. I didn’t believe her and went to a feline only vet who, after extensive diagnostic tests and xrays diagnosed him with Megacolon. Yes, it hurt him terribly to poop. He associated the pain with the box so found other places to relieve himself. Back then, we didn’t know anything about chronic constipation and how it can lead to megacolon. Once he was treated correctly, he started back using the litter box 99% of the time. There are some amazing drugs to day, and diet changes that can help these cats with this very frustrating issue.
My big, long haired girl puts her front paws on the edge of the box to poop. I tried the light litter and it wasn’t heavy enough, so she flipped the box over on herself! I think that spooked her so much she wouldn’t poop in the box. I am now trying a lower sided box with the heavy scooping litter. The lower sides and heavier litter should make the box harder to turn over…at least that’s my hope :)