Why Cats Poop On Rugs

Dealing With Inappropriate Elimination in Cats

Cat sitting on kitchen rug by food bowls
Virginia Macdonald Photographer ln/First Light/Getty Images

Is your cat pooping on the rug instead of in the litter box? When litter-trained cats poop outside the litter box, it is called inappropriate elimination. This frustrating behavior can be difficult for cat owners to manage. If you are able to figure out why your cat is pooping on the rug and in other inappropriate places, it may be the key to solving the problem.

It May Be a Medical Issue

Before you assume the inappropriate elimination is a behavior problem, it's important to have your cat's health evaluated.

Bring your cat to the veterinarian for a check-up. You vet will talk to you about the behavior and ask if there are other signs, like a change in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy. A physical examination will be done to see if there are signs of a health problem. Your vet may also recommend lab tests and/or radiographs (x-rays).

Something as simple as constipation may cause a cat to defecate on the rug or in another inappropriate area. If your cat had been backed up and suddenly has the urge to relieve herself, she might not be able to get to the litter box in time.

Pain or discomfort may also account for the inappropriate pooping. Maybe your cat has trouble getting in and out of the litter box and waits to defecate until she can't hold it anymore. Or, perhaps the posture she finds most comfortable is easier to achieve on the living room rug. Your vet may discover arthritis and offer a treatment that makes your cat more comfortable.

Be aware that older cats may develop dementia. This may affect your cat's habits and even cause her to "forget" her training. Your vet may be able to recommend medications or supplements to help.

Behavioral Causes of Inappropriate Elimination

Once you have ruled out a health problem, it's time to consider behavior.

There are a few reasons your cat's behavior may have suddenly changed.

  • Undesirable litter box: Perhaps your cat dislikes the size or location of the litter box. Or, maybe she does not like the cat litter you use. Is your litter box clean enough for her?
  • Stress in the environment: Have you recently moved? Is there a new pet in the house? Is there a new human in the house? Even changes as minor as a change in your schedule can cause stress for a cat.
  • Territory marking: If you have recently gotten another cat, your cat may be trying to mark her territory by pooping on the rug.

Stop Your Cat From Pooping Outside the Litter Box

Once your cat has started pooping inappropriately, it can be a hard cycle to stop. There are several steps you will need to take to break your cat's bad habit.

  • Clean up the evidence. Start by making sure to thoroughly clean the areas where your cat has pooped. Launder any items that can go in the washing machine. If your cat has pooped on a bathmat or inexpensive rug, you might just need to get rid of the item. If you are unable to get the area clean enough, your cat will continue to be attracted to the spot.
  • Reevaluate the litter box. Cats want to use ultra-clean litter boxes. They tend to prefer roomy, open boxes as well. If you only have one litter box, add a second one in a different area. Consider putting the second box near the place where your cat has been pooping inappropriately. Use jumbo litter boxes without covers. you may even wish to consider using plastic under-the-bed storage boxes as makeshift litter boxes.
  • Consider the cat litter. If you are using scented litter, switch to unscented right away. While humans may prefer the scented litter to cover up odors, many cats find artificial scents overwhelming and repulsive. Remember that your cat has a much more sensitive nose than you. Your cat may also dislike the texture of the litter. Use a new type of litter in the additional box and see if your cat prefers it. Consider a litter designed to appeal to cats, like Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract
  • Work on training. Your cat may need a refresher on litter box training, especially if she is young or was recently adopted.
  • Deter your cat from using inappropriate areas. If there are a couple of specific places where your cat tries to poop, try to make these areas as unattractive as possible. Lay down aluminum foil or double-sided tape until you cat stops trying to approach these areas. Try to make the litter box the most sensible option.
  • Reduce stress in your home. If there is a new cat in the house, make sure you work to properly introduce the two of them. If it's another animal or even a human, you may need to gradually desensitize your cat from the source of the stress. Make sure your cat has a safe place to retreat. It should have enough space so that the food and litter are not next to each other. 
  • Improve your cat's environment. Play with your cat daily. Consider adding vertical space to give your cat more places to go. Try leaving interactive toys around when you are out. Learn about feline enrichment. A frustrated, bored cat is more likely to act out.
  • Be patient and consistent. A change will not happen overnight, so don't stress out. Just work hard to clean soiled areas, keep the litter box clean and attractive, and keep your cat's environment happy and fun.
  • Consider getting help. If things are not improving and you're at your limit, don't give up. Ask your vet for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist or applied animal behaviorist. It will be worth the investment to have a professional expert in behavior weigh in.