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Why Does My Cat Pee In The Litter Box But Poop On The Floor? 9 Vet-Reviewed Reasons & Solutions

Written by: Cassidy Sutton

Last Updated on May 9, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

hand picking up cat poop

Why Does My Cat Pee In The Litter Box But Poop On The Floor? 9 Vet-Reviewed Reasons & Solutions


Dr. Maja Platisa Photo


Dr. Maja Platisa

DVM MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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For some, dealing with the litter box is easy. But for other cat owners, not so much. Here’s the thing—cats are finicky creatures, especially when it comes to the litter box. A tiny detail can cause a cat to start leaving special presents for us on the floor rather than in the litter box. The problem is obvious to our cats, but maybe not so much for us.

Cats feel most vulnerable when they’re eating, drinking, and using the bathroom. So, if they don’t feel comfortable with their elimination site, they’ll find a new one. But what happens if your cat pees in the litter box just fine, but poops on the floor?

Let’s explore nine likely reasons why that is.


Please be mindful that this article is not a replacement for veterinary advice. If your cat is passing feces outside of a litter box, it’s important to contact your veterinarian, who can rule out an underlying health issue that isn’t always obvious. This is particularly important if your cat’s feces is loose, they are straining to defecate, they are passing small, hard feces or none at all, they are in pain, they have a reduced appetite or are not eating, they are vomiting, they have bloody or mucousy feces, or they are suffering with mobility issues, arthritis, or other health problems.

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The 9 Reasons Why Your Cat May Be Pooping on the Floor

1. Your Cat Could Be Sick or in Pain

Cats’ litter habits often change due to stress, anxiety, pain, or an underlying illness, and this should be ruled out first by your veterinarian. However, sometimes it can be easy to wrongly misinterpret toileting behavior as something cats do or don’t do on purpose. This is not the case. Cats usually try to show humans that something is off by misusing the litter box.

Some of the causes for this may involve constipation or diarrhea that lead to urgency, straining, and pain that can then be associated with the litter box. Discomfort and pain while posturing to defecate in older cats suffering with arthritis or those with injuries or recovering from orthopedic surgeries can cause them to miss the litter box. Kidney disease and diabetes may cause your cat to urinate more frequently, causing an aversion to using the litter box for defecation as well, particularly when it contains a lot of urine or isn’t clean.

Sick cat medicines
Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

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It’s important to get your cat seen by the vet promptly in case of any changes in their toileting habits so underlying health issues can be ruled out before focusing on other causes, such as behavioral issues, fear, and litter box preferences. 

2. The Litter Box Is Dirty

This detail may seem obvious, but many cat owners sometimes forget about the litter box. Cats don’t have the luxury of flushing their waste as humans do, so if the litter box is dirty, they’ll find a new bathroom.

What to Do:

It’s time to scoop the box! But don’t just scoop all the waste and call it good. When you clean and wash the litter box, add a scoop of new, fresh litter so the box smells better, and your cat can have fresh litter to do its business.

3. Not Enough Litter

Your cat could be pooping on the floor if there isn’t enough litter for them to bury their feces. The amount of litter in a litter box dwindles as your kitty uses it. Pretty soon, the cat boxes are bare-boned, and there’s nothing for your kitty to use except soiled, crusty urine litter.

Two cats in the litter box
Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock
What to Do:

Cats love fresh litter! It will be enticing for your cat to use it. Each time you clean the litter box, add a scoop of new litter to keep the litter as clean and fresh as possible.

4. Your Cat Doesn’t Like the Litter

Cat litter is very different. They all serve different purposes through scent and texture. Cats are picky about their litter box, and this includes the litter. It may be that your cat doesn’t like it if you have changed their litter recently.

What to Do:

Go back to their old litter or try a different litter or two, and see if your cat prefers one litter over the other. To ensure a better litter transition, avoid litters that are scented. Cats’ olfactory senses are astonishingly powerful. Scented litters could deter your cat away from the litter box.

Bonus tip: If you have a scented candle, wax burner, or diffuser burning near the area, remove it and see if your cat uses the litter box. It could be a turn-off for your cat, and it may also irritate their airways. Diffusers and candles are not safe to be used around cats for this reason but also because they can tip the burning candles, leading to injuries and a fire.

5. Not Enough Litter Boxes

If you have multiple cats and one of them is pooping on the floor, you might not have enough litter boxes. The ideal ratio is one litter box per cat plus one extra. So if you have two cats, you should have three litter boxes.

Having multiple cat boxes helps the cat litter stay fresher longer and avoids overcrowding. Your cat doesn’t want to step all over another cat’s waste when it has to “go.”

What to Do:

Do some cat math and figure out how many boxes you should have. Find a spot for each one and see if your cat stops pooping outside the litter box. You can place an extra litter box in the area where your cat is eliminating temporarily until your cat stops defecating outside the box.

6. The Litter Box Is in a Bad Area

The litter box could be next to a loud air vent or a high-traffic area where your cat can’t get privacy. If this is the case, it may be a way for your cat to draw the territory line. It could also be next to their food bowl. Cats don’t want to eat next to their toilet, which is understandable!

cat in a litter box
Image Credit: huoadg5888, Pixabay
What to Do:

Observe the environment where the litter box rests, and compare it to the spot where your cat is defecating. Try moving the litter box to a place where it’s quiet and safe, and your cat can do their thing without interruption. Place another litter box in the area where they were defecating previously on the floor to encourage them to use the box instead, and slowly move the litter box to a more desirable area, or leave it there if suitable.

7. Something Scared Your Kitty

In the wild, cats are most vulnerable when they use the restroom and domestic cats listen to that instinct. Your cat may feel unsafe in their litter box environment and is deciding to defecate elsewhere.

What to Do:

Move the litter box to a different area that’s free of noise. Cat owners should be wary of keeping the litter boxes in the utility room. Loud laundry machines are enough to deter some cats away from the litter box. Try and identify what may have scared your cat and eliminate this stressor. Make sure the toilet is in an area free of other pets, young children, and noise, so your cat can feel more comfortable.

8. Your Cat Can’t Access the Litter Box

Something could be blocking the litter box. Maybe a door shut, or another pet prevents your cat from using the box. Your cat could also be old and is now having difficulty accessing the box due to arthritis and other age-related ailments.

cat peed in shoes
Image Credit: AJSTUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY, Shutterstock
What to Do:

Have the litter box easily accessible for older kitties, with low sides so they can get in more comfortably. Make sure nothing is blocking the entrance to the litter box. If you have multiple pets, see if another animal is refusing access to the litter box.

9. Change in Routine, Stress, or Frustration

There are several potential behavioral reasons why cats may choose not to use their litter box. Lack of mental stimulation and physical exercise, frustration, anxiety, and ongoing stress are just some of the potential reasons. Some cats will use feces to mark their territory, but urine is more common, especially if there is a new cat in the neighborhood or the house. This is referred to as communication-related house soiling. Any change in routine can trigger inappropriate elimination outside the litter box. Changes like new pets, babies, a new home, or new people can cause a cat to feel unsure about their environment.

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Moving the litter box to an area where your cat feels safe is a good start. Go a step further and check if your cat has a space to themselves. Set up cat trees, scratchers, and toys. Ensure adequate mental and physical stimulation and enrich their environment. Conduct any new pet introductions very gradually, allowing both animals to get used to each other. Create a space that your cat will know is theirs. If your cat is stressed, speak to your vet, who may recommend you try the Feliway calming diffuser.


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How to Clean Up Cat Poop

Here’s the scoop on cleaning up your cat’s poop. Cats can sniff out an area where they’ve marked and return to that spot. Plus, if your cat has left a present on the carpet, it can stain. It would help if you cleaned up the mess as quickly and effectively as possible.

Cleaning up cat poop varies based on your floor type, but there are a few tried and true rules to cleaning up cat feces.

  • Always wear gloves: Cats can host T. gondii, the parasite responsible for causing toxoplasmosis. To avoid contamination, always wear gloves when dealing with cat poop – or any poop for that matter – and pick it up as soon as it happens!
  • Apply an enzyme-based cleaner: Cleaning up the mess is the next step. Cat feces is pungent, so using an enzyme-based product will also help keep the area smelling good. Apply a stain and odor remover afterward to discourage your cat from returning to that spot.

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Homemade Carpet Cleaning Solution

To cleanse your carpet of cat poop:

  1. Scrape off as much of the poop from the carpet as you can with something moist like a baby wipe.
  2. Mix a cleaning solution of 2 cups cold water and 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap, but make sure your cat does not come in contact with the solution or the wet carpet. Ensure the liquid dish soap doesn’t have bleach in it, as it’s harmful to cats and will also stain your carpet.
  3. After cleaning the stain, apply baking soda and sit for 10 minutes. Vacuum the baking soda afterward. For an extra cleanse, use Hepper Advanced Bio-Enzyme Pet Stain & Odor Eliminator Spray.
cleaning carpet at home
Image Credit: Syda Productions, Shutterstock

Keeping Your Cat Away From the Area

Place a litter box in the area where your cat likes to go. This won’t prevent your cat from using that spot, but it will encourage them to use the litter box. Try moving the litter box closer to the appropriate area slowly. Plus, you can try different litters this way.

After using a stain remover and deodorizer, apply a safe non-toxic scent to the area. Sometimes the smell of a cleaner is enough to keep a cat away. Another option is to use scents like citrus rind or aromas.

Cats also dislike certain textures like aluminum foil and sticky tape. You can try placing an unwanted surface on the floor to keep your cat away.

Overall, use positivity to keep your cat away from the area. Never punish your cat. This makes your cat afraid of you and doesn’t solve the issue.


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Final Thoughts

It’s stressful dealing with litter box problems. Sometimes the problem is obvious, and other times it takes some investigating to figure out its root. Consult with your vet first, then try the tips we’ve given you and be patient with your cat.

Dealing with cats is like figuring out a puzzle. Remember to be patient with your cat and yourself as well.

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Featured Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock

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