That’s why your cat defecates next to the litter box: it might be your fault

Szénási Szimonetta

2024. February 4 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Occasional accidents can happen, but if your pet consistently chooses to do its business next to the cat litter, there is a reason for it, and it needs to be addressed.


In addition to being annoying when your cat leaves its mark next to the litter box, giving you extra cleaning duties, it definitely doesn’t want to upset you! The behavior can be attributed to various reasons, and it can usually be resolved with a little adjustment.

Health problems

As you probably already know, cats are masters at hiding their pain. So, it is often challenging to recognize if the animal is sick. However, if you do recognize it, there are various minor and major signs that alert you. One such sign is defecating next to the litter, especially if this was not characteristic before.

It is crucial to discuss this because experts suggest that one of the most common reasons people give up their cats is the lack of litter box training. However, this is far from the drastic, painful decision for the animal!

Let’s go through what complaints might prompt your cat to do this:

  • Digestive issues: constipation, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, or other digestive problems that may cause pain during defecation. As a result, the cat may avoid the litter.
  • Joint inflammation: joint inflammation and similar mobility issues can make it difficult for cats to access the litter box. Moreover, it can make the squatting position uncomfortable. Joint inflammation in the legs, especially in declawed cats, can cause discomfort when the cat steps on certain textures, such as cat litter.
  • Diabetes or kidney disease: certain health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease, can lead to increased urination, making cats feel that the box is too dirty or unsuitable for use.
  • Cognitive dysfunction: cognitive dysfunction can cause increased anxiety in cats, making them feel uncomfortable in the litter box.
  • Hair problems: long, soiled hair around the anus can cause pain or discomfort for the cat, which can also lead to avoiding the litter box.

Important Observations

PetMD veterinary experts suggest that before visiting the vet, observe your pet’s urinary, eating, and behavioral habits. Does the cat poop more or less? Has the color or consistency of the stool changed? Does it poop more frequently? Does it eat or drink more or less? Is the cat limping? Is it less active than usual? Does it climb to higher places? Does it behave differently?

Mental issues

Another possibility is that your pet is struggling with some mental difficulties that also affect litter use. Stress and anxiety can be as harmful to our pets as they are to us, so you should strive to provide the calmest environment for the cat.

Many things can cause stress for them: changes in daily routine, the arrival of a new family member or pet, a too noisy environment, and so on.  more detail.

What is essential is that if you believe your cat is reacting to something by ignoring the litter box, try to change it as soon as possible. Or adjust the changed circumstances to be favorable for it again. For example, after moving, get a new, secure scratching post where it can retreat if it needs some peace. Or if a new cat/dog has arrived, arrange it so that everyone can comfortably access their own belongings. It may be that your pet avoids the litter box simply because it is afraid to go there.

It is also worth discussing this with the vet, and with the knowledge of the above, an extra check-up may not hurt to rule out health reasons.

The inappropriate environment

Finally, let’s discuss those owner mistakes that can influence the cat’s hygiene habits. One such mistake is not keeping the cat litter clean enough. You surely know that cats are extremely sensitive to cleanliness, so if they deem their toilet not clean enough, they may decide to do their business elsewhere.

It can also be a problem if the litter box is not in the right place. A too noisy, busy, or drafty environment can disturb the cat during delicate moments. It is not ideal if the litter is in a too narrow space because it can frustrate the animal. Moreover, they do not like it if the toilet is too close to where their bowls are. (Which, let’s admit, is entirely understandable.)

The design also matters. Too high-sided or covered types may not appeal to every cat. Depth is also crucial; most cats are fine with just a few inches of litter.

Pay attention to the filling too! Our pets are quite finicky about this as well.

The golden rule is always to have as much cat litter as you have cats +1. So, even a single cat should ideally have two places to choose from.

cat litter cat mental illness diabetes sick cat veterinarian

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