An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tigress Poops Beside The Box: What Can Be Done?

Dear Greyce,

I am a laid-back, 1 year old indoor cat and live with my two purrsons and another cat, Ebony. She and I have been with the family for over a year (we came about 3 weeks apart – both rescued). We are both spayed. We get along quite well, even sleeping together.

Lately I have stopped using my litter box for pooping. Oh I continue to pee in it, but poop on the floor beside the box.

I usually poop twice a day. Small cigars and mounds. I haven’t had a history of diarrhea of constipation and my anal glands are fine.

My purrsons have changed the type of litter (offering me a choice – clay and clumping) and have added more boxes; and we now have three, large, uncovered boxes (14” x 18”). Two are in an alcove leading to the basement, and the other is upstairs in the laundry room under the sink. We use unscented, recycled newsprint litter. Boxes are scooped right after we use them. Nothing has made a difference!

We are trying the pharmaceutical, Amitriptyline, at the vet's direction. It doesn’t seem to make any difference but I’ve only had 8 doses so far.

My folks are loving and kind and don't punish me for my transgressions. But, I know they are frustrated with my behaviour.

How can I overcome my problem?

I hope you can help me,


Dear Tigress,

How I feel for you. Not being able to use your litter box for pooping must be dreadful for all concerned.

Any cat who poops beside but not in her litter box is speaking in very clear tones. She is saying that there is something wrong either with the box or what is in it. If you didn’t like the location, you would poop elsewhere. So we need to look at the other factors.

Here goes. The usual culprits are:

The kind of box: Sometimes we need for a cover if the box is uncovered, or we need to take the cover off! Usually cats prefurr uncovered boxes (unless they are very shy or are being picked on). Since you don’t appear to by shy and you get along well with Ebony, I don’t think this is the issue.

The size of the box: Usually it’s the case that some boxes are just too darned small and so either the poop falls beside the box (even though you are in it) or you refuse to use it. Your box size strikes me as relatively ample but I will make an additional comment later.

The shape of the box: Now that boxes come with circular ramps and all manner of shapes, some are just too difficult (especially for elderly or infirm cats) to use properly. Again not an issue with you because you don’t have such a box.

The cleanliness of the box: Some are just so filthy that we refuse to use them. Others are cleaned with smelly disinfectants and such, that they become unsavoury as well. Assuming your purrson doesn’t use such smelly stuff and since your boxes are scooped regularly, this doesn’t appear to be an issue. However, some cats object to any waste in the box and will refuse to use it unless it is purrfectly clean.

The litter in the box: Especially for pooping, an act for which most of us like to dig before and after, the paw-feel of the litter is very important. Texture (clay, clumping, pellets, pearls, compressed newsprint) is a purrsonal choice. But most cats prefurr unscented. Again, since you have been offered a choice and it made no difference, and since you have unscented litter, that would not appear to be the cause of the problem. The only thing you haven’t yet tried is ‘pearls’ and that might be an option.

Litter level: Some of us don’t have enough litter in the box to do the digging we need to. Others drown in high litter levels (especially kittens). And some of us just like the smooth surface of the box floor, so want less litter please.

Liner: Some folks put a liner in the box to make it easier to clean. Many of us detest lines because they get caught in our claws.

How far the box is away from anything else. Many people put boxes up against walls and stuff. They don’t leave any room for our tail to hang over the edge. Besides, many of use like to walk around the box in search of the purrfect spot, before we enter. So leaving a good 8 to 12” around all sides of each and every box is a great idea. I can’t comment on your case, since I don’t know the exact position of your boxes. But you figure it out.

This is a long shot, but you may have started to object to sharing the boxes with Ebony. If so, the pharmaceutical might address the problem. Let’s not go there just now because it is a remote possibility at best.
It could be the interaction of the box size and the way you use the box. For example, my former colleague, Simon, would only use corners in the box – and once two of them were used he considered it too full for further use. The box was more than ample in size, but it just didn’t have enough corners for him. So an extra box was added nearby. Yes dear, I know you have another box nearby and it isn’t making a difference.

But it does make the point, that knowing how you poop (and how you used to poop in the box) could be quite helpful. Have your folks observed you using the box to poop before? If so, can you have them describe it? – including how you approach the box, where in the box you enter, the amount of digging before hand, how much you squat, your digging afterwards, and you exit. That might give us some hints. Any by the way, are you by any chance declawed?

In the meantime, here are a few things to try – just try them one at a time, rather than all at once.

Move the boxes away from walls and stuff (as stated above) if they aren’t so already.

In the alcove, try one box with litter and one empty box. Some cats prefurr smooth surfaces (though usually not for pooping, but who am I to say?).

Give Dr. Elsey’s Cat Attract Litter a try. It is specifically formulated to attract you back to using the box. While usually used for cats who don’t want to pee there, I’d say it is worth a try. It comes in two forms: one is an additive for regular unscented clumping litter (not recommended in your case because then you have to buy that too), and one is the litter and the additive combined. It is available at most pet supply stores.

Instead of adding yet another litter box of the same size, try something different. Get one of those large, under-the-bed storage boxes (often used for sweaters) that are available at department-type stores like WalMart or Zellers. They are about double (or more) of the size of your average litter box and are about 6” to 9” high so you can easily get in and out. And they don’t cost an arm and a leg. Yes, they ARE big, but many cats in my acquaintance prefurr them. So it is worth a try.

So dear, get to work on these options. Try each one out – one at a time. Give each one at least 3 - 7 days if not longer before you give up on it. And let me know how it goes.

And by the way, you mentioned that your poop is cigar-shaped and mounds. By mounds I assume you mean puddles of poop? Or did you mean small, round balls? This is an important clue, so do let me know.

Meanwhile I’ll put my thinking cap on, and see if anything else comes to mind.



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