My Cat Doesn’t Finish Pooping In Litter Box: Is This Normal?

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Cats are very clean creatures. I’m sure that many of you have often observed your cat meticulously digging and covering their toilet in the litter box. This isn’t the case for all cats however.

Some cats pee or poop outside of their litter box or even leave the litter box while they’re still in the process of pooping! What is the reason for this?

Especially considering that cats are trained to use the litter box and are such clean pets, it’s a confusing question. In this article, we’ll discuss everything that you need to know.

The Normal Litter Box Routine

cat poop

Cats like to dig into a substrate and then cover this back over again. In the wild, felines cover their feces to prevent attracting the attention of predators.

Before we address any toileting issues, what is the normal toileting behavior of a cat for comparison?

Cats usually learn how to use the litter box (or outdoor compost heaps, flower beds, etc.) from their mothers as young kittens. This is how most newly homed kittens already know how to use the litter box. This is often much to the surprise and relief of their new owners.

Whether it’s for pee or poop, cats like to dig into a substrate (or soil outdoors), use the toilet, and then cover this back over again. This serves many functions in the wild.

This includes covering unpleasant scents, hiding their scent from predators, and allowing them to go unnoticed by other cats. Even though pet cats that toilet indoors aren’t threatened by predators or other cats, they still do the same behavior that their ancestors did.

Signs Of A Toileting Problem

 cat pooping on floor randomly

A cat might pee or poop outside of their litter box as a sign of distress.

Now that we’ve discussed normal toileting behavior for cats, what might you notice if there’s a problem in this department?

The biggest and most obvious sign is that cats might pee or poop outside of their litter box. This can be located around their litter box, or it can be in a completely different area. It might just be pee or just poop or both. For example, cats might use their litter box to pee and then poop outside of the box on the living room floor.

In this article, we’re particularly concerned as to why some cats don’t finish pooping in the litter box. Cats can sometimes do some of their poop in the litter box and some outside of the litter box.

In some cases, they can even be seen leaving (or even running from) their litter box while still in the process of pooping. This isn’t normal toileting behavior and there can be many reasons to explain why this is happening.

Also Read: Is Your Cat Thinking Outside of the Litter Box? Litter Box Acceptance

Why Do Cats Not Finish Pooping In Their Litter Box?

cat litter box

One of the most common reasons is that there’s a problem with the litter box situation.

Cats don’t finish pooping in their litter box for many varied reasons, and these can include discomfort while pooping/defecating or a problem with the cat’s litter box. We’ll go through all of the potential reasons for this now. These reasons can apply to cats that sometimes use their litter box or cats that don’t use their box at all.

1. Litter Box Issues

where to put a litter box

A good place for a litter box is in quiet, easy-to-reach corners that offer privacy for your cat.

One of the most common reasons that I come across in practice, is that there’s a problem with the litter box situation. This includes a range of potential litter box problems including;

  • Location – Cats don’t like litter boxes that are located in a busy, noisy part of the house. They prefer private, secluded areas that they can use in peace. If you have a multi-story house, it’s important to provide litter boxes on each floor.
  • Size – The size of the litter box is a big issue. Many litter boxes that are bought in local pet stores and supermarkets are just too small for the average-sized cat. Litter boxes should be 1.5 times the length of your cat. Your cat should be able to comfortably turn around the box. Anything smaller than this can really turn your cat off from using the litter box as it’s just uncomfortable for them.
  • Substrate/litter material – Cats have very sensitive paws. They can be very particular about the type of litter material or substrate they like to walk on in the litter box. Most cats prefer a soft, fine litter substrate. Avoid using a bulky, hard substrate that might be painful to walk on.
  • Number of litter boxes – Cats need to have enough litter boxes for the number of cats in the house. The rule of thumb is one litter box per cat plus one extra. Anything less might mean that your cat could toilet outside of the box too.
  • Hygiene – Cats are super clean, so if the litter box isn’t being scooped daily and has a lot of soiled material, it’s likely that your cat won’t use it. Clumping litter is ideal for scooping out and litter trays should be cleaned completely once weekly. Avoid using any strong cleaners as this will be offensive to your cat. Avoid using scented litter substrate. I know this might seem cleaner and more pleasant to us, but generally, cats prefer unscented.

Also Read: 5 Best High-Sided Litter Boxes For Messy Cats

2. Stress

cats litter box

When cats feel the need to be territorial, they can sometimes leave their poops uncovered.

Any degree of stress or anxiety can change your cat’s behavior. This can include changing their litter box behavior. Stress can include things like a new baby in the house, a new home, construction work on the home, a change of owner routine, or conflict with other cats.

Conflict with other cats can involve cats that share the same household or outdoor cats. Cats can block each other’s paths to the litter box or even ambush each other in the box (this is particularly common with a hooded or covered litter box).

If cats are feeling the need to be territorial (very common with inter-cat conflict), they can sometimes leave their poops uncovered, which is called middening. They might be doing this to mark their territory.

3. Medical Reasons

covered litter box

Any medical issue that affects the urinary or gastrointestinal tract can affect how cats use their litter box.

This can include inflammation, pain, and infection, e.g. inflammatory bowel disease. For example; a cat that has a tummy upset and diarrhea will need to toilet very frequently and urgently.

It’s very likely that they’ll toilet outside of their litter box (or use a mixture of the box and outside of the box) because they can’t make it in time to the litter box. It could also be that they’ve soiled the litter box already and don’t want to use it again. Cats that are experiencing pain while pooping might be prone to moving around while pooping or pooping in many different places.

Other health issues such as arthritis and obesity along with any condition that causes lethargy or pain, can affect toileting behavior. If your kitty isn’t using their litter box or isn’t finishing their poop in the box, pay close attention to any other symptoms of illness that they might be displaying.

Also Read: Why Do Cats Bury Toys In The Litter Box?

Tips To Help

cat pooping

Ruling out medical problems is very important to understand your cat’s behavior.

If your cat is suddenly pooping outside of their litter box, whether it’s completely or just partially, it’s important to try and find out why. There are many reasons for this as listed above. We need to find out they’re doing it to try and help them.

Ruling out medical problems is very important, especially if your cat is displaying other symptoms or is elderly. Booking a check-up with your veterinarian for an examination can rule out a lot of medical problems. If your cat is older, your vet might decide to run some blood and urine tests. This is to check for underlying conditions e.g. chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism.

Check your litter box situation and make sure that the conditions are ideal for your cat. Check the location, litter box size, litter substrate, and amount of litter boxes. Make sure that you scoop out the litter box daily. Anything that isn’t ideal might deter your cat from using the litter box.

Address any potential causes of stress that your cat might be experiencing. The use of synthetic pheromones can be helpful in any stressful situation despite the cause. In multi-cat households, ensure that your cat has enough resources (e.g. food, water, beds, litter boxes, hiding areas).

If they’ve peed or pooped outside the litter box, clean the areas well and use an enzymatic cleaner. This will get rid of any pheromones or scents that might make them want to toilet there again.

It’s important to never punish your cat for not using their litter box. They’re not using their litter box for a reason and it’s up to us to understand why and to help them.


Cats are very clean pets and naturally use a litter box but sometimes this isn’t the case. Cats can sometimes poop outside of the litter box or not finish pooping in the box. This can be for a variety of reasons. This can include; litter box issues, stress, and for medical reasons.

It’s important to find out why this is happening in order to help them. Booking an examination with your veterinarian can rule out medical issues that could be causing this issue.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Scratch The Sides Of The Litter Box

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why does my cat leave pieces of poop on the floor?

Cats poop outside of their litter box for multiple reasons. This includes litter box problems, stress and medical reasons like a tummy upset or constipation. If there are no obvious reasons as to why this is happening, book a check-up with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems.

Why does my cat sprint out of the litter box?

Cats can sprint out of the litter box if they’ve finished toileting, experiencing pain while toileting or if there’s problems with the litter box situation. Book a check up with your veterinarian to rule out any causes of pain or toileting problems.

Why does my cat run after pooping?

Your cat might be experiencing pain while pooping, especially if they’re having diarrhea or constipation. Book an examination with your veterinarian to check for these issues.

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About Dr. Aisling O'Keeffe MVB CertSAM ISFMAdvCertFB MRCVS

Aisling qualified from University College Dublin as a veterinarian in 2015 and went on to work in a mixture of small animal hospitals here and in the UK, including a cat-only veterinary clinic where she currently works. She has completed a postgraduate certificate in Small Animal Medicine and the International Society of Feline Medicine's postgraduate certificate in Advanced Feline Behaviour. She wrote a children's book called 'Minding Mittens', which aims to educate children on cat behaviour and care. Aisling featured on the RTE tv series 'Cat Hospital'. She is a Fear Free certified vet, which aims to make vet visits as stress-free and enjoyable as possible. In her spare time, she enjoys looking after her pets, which includes 4 felines.

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