Cats are fastidiously clean animals. They constantly groom themselves, don't like to be wet or dirty, and bury their waste matter when they use the litter box. But sometimes cats end up tracking their litter and poop outside of their box. Thankfully there are a few things you can do to keep the mess to a minimum.
Why Do Cats Track Litter and Feces?
There are a few reasons why your cat might track litter and feces. Some of these problems are easier to resolve than others.
Kittens learn many behaviors by watching their mothers and litter-mates. Bottle-fed kittens and young rescue kittens miss out on being properly taught how to use a litter box. Many simply benefit from a quick poop-covering lesson. When your cat is in its box, gently take its paws and show it how to cover its poop.
If a cat is in pain it can have difficulty entering or exiting a litter box, or pain covering up its waste. Declawing is an example of a surgery that causes both acute and chronic limb pain in a cat, resulting in reluctance to use its paws or legs to cover poop.
Arthritis, hip dysplasia, or other chronic ailments make it uncomfortable for cats to jump in an out of litter boxes, cover their poop, or self-groom. Talk to your vet if you think your cat is in pain. They can prescribe pain medications or suggest environmental modifications to help your painful cat use their box. For example, switching the location of your cat's box could make it easier for them to use it. Litter boxes with "walk up" entrances, or low-bottomed entryways are easier for cats to use than boxes they have to hop in and out of.
Litter Box Issues
Cats are notoriously fastidious and many will not use a litter box that is less than pristine.
You should have one more litter box than you do cats. This means if you have one cat, you should have two boxes; or if you have two cats, you should have three litter boxes. Boxes should also be placed far enough away from each other that the cat can only see the litter box it's using.
If you determine your cat has an issue with the litter box, chances are you can put a stop to any poop tracking.
Tips for a Cleaner Litter Box
A clean litter box means no poop can be tracked around the house. Some people have success stacking a few litter boxes of the same size on top of each other, with holes in alternating places along the bottom of the box.
When you lift the top box, clean litter is sifted into the box below. You can dump waste collected in the top box into the trash. You then replace the empty litter box on the bottom of the stack, making sure the holes in the bottom of the box are not in the same location as the box immediately on top. For some people, this is a quick alternative to scooping a box. Automatic litter boxes can scare a cat and cause litter box avoidance.
Simple rugs can help keep litter and poop from being tracked throughout your house and there are even specially designed mats that help catch the litter particles. Place one of these mats at the edge of your cat's litter box so that they will walk on it when they exit their litter box.
Some types of litter are designed to help keep litter tracking to a minimum. If your cat is not particular to the litter you are currently using, consider trying one of these products. Different pet brands offer litter that isn't made from clay and might be the solution to your litter problems.
Get a Larger Litter Box
Litter boxes sold in pet stores are often designed for kittens or small cats, not large, full-grown adult cats. If your cat is having trouble finding the right spot in its small litter box, hanging over the edge to eliminate its waste matter, or you are finding urine or feces on the side of the box or outside it, you probably need a larger litter box.
Storage containers, utility tubs, kiddie play pools, and sandboxes all can be used as large litter boxes. Don't feel restricted to what the pet store has available. If you can put litter in it and your cat can easily get into it, then you can use it as a litter box.
Trim the Fur on Your Cat's Feet
Long-haired cats often have a lot of fur in between their toes. If you can keep the fur on their feet trimmed, this means less material for litter and poop to stick to.
Cat poop should be formed, firm, and consistent. If it is watery or especially soft, talk with your vet about your cat's poop consistency.
Soft stools and diarrhea could indicate a health problem such as inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal parasites, food allergy or other issue. Dietary changes, certain cat foods, and stress can also cause loose stools in your cat. Any of these conditions can cause stool to be softer than normal and contribute to poop being tracked around the house. Formed, normal cat stool is more difficult to make a mess of than diarrhea.
Martell-Moran NK, Solano M, Townsend HG. Pain and Adverse Behavior in Declawed Cats. J Feline Med Surg. 2018;20(4):280-288. doi:10.1177/1098612X17705044
New Knowledge and New Treatments for Feline Hip Displaysia. Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines in Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.