How to Stop Cats From Pooping 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 box, it's called inappropriate elimination. This frustrating behavior can be difficult for cat owners to manage. The key to solving the problem, though, is figuring out why your cat is pooping on the rug or other inappropriate places.

Why Do Cats Poop on Rugs?

Out of all the places in a home, it seems that rugs are popular targets for inappropriate elimination. There's something about that soft fabric that attracts cats. Perhaps it's the fact that rugs are easy to knead and paw at like litter, or maybe it's the scent. You may never know for sure why your cat seems to prefer the rug, but many cat owners report this same issue.

Cats are often mysterious, so getting to the bottom of the problem will take careful observation, and you'll need to eliminate the potential causes one at a time. But no matter where your cat is going, if it's outside the litter box, there are a few possible explanations for it.

Medical Issues

Before you assume the inappropriate elimination is a behavior problem, it's important to have your cat's health evaluated. During the checkup, your vet will talk to you about the behavior and ask if there are any other signs, like a change in appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, or lethargy. She'll also examine your cat for signs of a health problem. She may recommend lab tests and/or radiographs (X-rays) as well.

Something as simple as constipation may cause a cat to defecate on a rug or in another inappropriate spot. For example, if your cat has been backed up and suddenly has the urge to relieve itself, it 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 it can't hold it anymore. Or perhaps the posture the cat finds most comfortable is easier to achieve on the living room rug. Your vet may discover a condition such as arthritis and offer a treatment that makes your cat more comfortable.

Be aware that older cats may develop dementia. This can affect your cat's habits and even cause it to "forget" years of training. Your vet may be able to recommend medications or supplements to help in this situation too.

Behavioral Causes

Once you've ruled out a health problem, it's time to consider behavior. There are a few reasons your cat's habits may suddenly have changed:

  • Undesirable litter box: Perhaps your cat dislikes the size or location of the litter box. Or maybe it doesn't like the cat litter you use. Is your litter box clean enough for your fastidious cat?
  • Stress in the environment: Have you recently moved? Is there a new pet or human in the house? Even something as minor as a change in your schedule can cause stress for a cat.
  • Territory marking: If you've recently brought home another cat, your cat may be trying to mark its territory by pooping on the rug.

How to Stop Inappropriate Pooping

Once your cat has started pooping outside the litter box, it can be a hard cycle to stop. There are several steps you'll need to take to break this bad habit and you'll need to keep up with them religiously to stop this behavior.

illustration of ways to stop your cat from going to the bathroom outside the litter box
Illustration: Elnora Turner. © The Spruce, 2018 
  • Clean up the evidence. Start by making sure to thoroughly clean the areas where your cat has pooped. If you're unable to get the area clean enough, your cat will continue to be attracted to the spot. 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. 
  • Reevaluate the litter box. Cats want to use ultra-clean litter boxes and tend to prefer roomy, open boxes. 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. Try switching to jumbo litter boxes without covers. You can even consider turning a plastic under-the-bed storage box into a makeshift litter box.
  • Consider the litter. If you're 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 do. Your cat may also dislike the texture of the litter. Use a new type of litter in the second box and see if your cat prefers it. You can also consider a litter specially designed to appeal to cats, like Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract
  • Work on training. Your cat may need a refresher course in litter box training, particularly if the cat 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, attempt 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. Do your best to make the litter box the most sensible option.
  • Reduce stress in your home. If there's a new cat in the house, make sure you properly introduce the two of them. If it's another animal or even a human, you may need to gradually desensitize your cat to the source of the stress. Make sure your cat has a safe place to retreat when needed. Also be sure there's enough space so that the food bowl and the litter box aren't next to each other.
  • Improve your cat's environment and play with your cat daily. Consider adding vertical space, like a cat tree, to give your cat more places to go. Try leaving interactive toys around when you're out and learn more about feline enrichment. A frustrated, bored cat is more likely to act out.
  • Be patient and consistent. Change won't happen overnight, so don't stress out. Just work hard to clean the soiled areas, keep the litter box clean and attractive, and maintain a happy and fun environment for your cat.
  • Consider getting help. If things aren't 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 an expert weigh in.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.