Elderly cats may stop covering their poop and urine due to physical limitations, territorial behavior, and laziness. Although this can be frustrating, senior cats rarely do things without intent. If proper bathroom behavior was taught years prior, failure to cover up leavings during the senior years is most likely not an accident.
Territorial issues can also be a factor. If a cat is trying to flex some alpha muscle, he will leave his urine and feces exposed. This is a sign of marking territory and male dominance. If new cats have recently entered your home, your senior cat could be letting others know who is the boss.
In this guide, we will detail all of these concerns as well as explore many of the other reasons why litter covering have stopped. We will also share some ways that you can solve the issue without taking drastic measures. So, let’s get started.
Toilet Habits of Senior Cats
The bathroom habits of cats can change as they age. As your cat reaches its golden years, the desire to be as deliberate in covering urine and feces may change. This can be due to your cat’s physical health or the notion of no longer caring.
If you have owned your cat from birth, a substantial level of love will have been established. In many ways, this is similar to a marriage. It is not uncommon for cats to accept what you have grown to accept.
If you have never taken a tone with your cat about its litter habits the cat is more inclined to do what is natural. The game of “If you don’t care. I don’t care” can become quite real.
On the other hand, many cats are obedient when it comes to what is expected of them while in the litter box. However, the natural aging process may prevent them from doing what they know is right. That is a much different concern than one of laziness and acceptance. If physical pain has caused your cat to abort covering urine and feces, then a different approach should be taken.
One of the best ways to understand your senior cat’s bathroom behavior is to watch. Although not the most pleasant thing in the world, watching can help you get a clear read on the issue. Is lack of covering being caused by laziness, a territorial power struggle or physical pain. Once you can define the problem, you can work towards a proper solution.
- Can you recall when your cat stopped covering? Is your cat started scratching around the litter box after pooping? If you can remember when the problem began, you might be able to trace it back to a specific event or change in the home dynamic. If the change was sudden, then it is likely not related to health but something within the home or within the litter box itself.
Why Do Cats Stop Covering Poop and Urine?
Cats stop covering their urine and feces for a few core reasons. However, some of these reasons can be more complex than meets the eye. Cats are very particular when it comes to their bathroom habits. Even the slightest change, one that we may not be able to notice, can be dramatic for them.
Let’s detail the most common reasons why cats often abort covering after using the bathroom.
Pain and Discomfort
If the process of using a litter box promotes pain, the act of covering will be aborted, or the box itself will be ignored. This is one reason why some cat owners find urine and poop around the house and on the floor. It has less to do with a cat from hell and more to do with an attempt to avoid pain.
If your cat has severe arthritis and joint pain, tender paws, and a urinary tract condition, both using and covering can be a daunting task.
Let’s explore each issue individually…
- Poor Joint Health: Hard to step into the litter box? Painful to squat? Painful to make the swimming motion needed to cover appropriately? Old cats may poop outside of the litter box to avoid the struggle of stepping up into the box.
- Paws: Tender and infected paws can make standing on and scooping litter very painful. This can eliminate any thought of covering urine and feces. It is not uncommon for senior cats to develop sore paws.
- Urinary Tract Health: Elderly cats often fall victim to urinary tract infections. Using the bathroom in cat litter can be quite painful due to the squatting or sitting position that is needed. Similar to humans, urinary conditions can be harsh, and the process of urination can be very uncomfortable.
Outside is Natural
Even though your cat has reached senior status, the desire to use the restroom outside is still natural. Some older cats ditch the litter box in favor of the great outdoors. This is notably true if your cat was not always a house cat.
The urge to use the restroom outdoors can often cause the following…
- Refusal to cover with litter
- Refusal to use the litter box at all
- Strong demand to go outside to use the bathroom
The first issue could be the toughest to handle. Lack of coverage leads to harsh odors and a buildup of feces. Allow your cat to use the bathroom outside during the day and provide a litter box at night. What your cat is going through could be a phase. Continue to make an effort to push the litter box until your cat has returned to its once trained behavior.
Display of Dominance
Lack of litter coverage can be a sign of dominance. If your senior cat is the ultimate alpha, refusal to cover urine and feces could be a signal to other cats. Staking a claim to the territory, your senior cat could be trying to make a statement.
If your cat is showing a sign of dominance, it could be due to the introduction of new cats to the home. If your older friend now has some younger company, it could be displaying a sign of force. Not covering after each bathroom visit is a deliberate act to make the other cats stand down.
Once your senior cat and the new cat begins to form a trusting bond the lack of coverage will most likely change. Once your cat views the others as a friend rather than foe, proper litter coverage should resume.
Litter Box is Too Small
If you are finding poop on the floor mere inches from the litter box, it could mean that your cat ran out of the room.
Large older cats often have a difficult time attempting to squat in a tight area. If the ability to turn and navigate is limited, your cat can miss the box. Through no fault of its own, your cat may not have enough space to successful make inside the box. Additionally, if your cat does make, it may not think there is adequate room to cover.
Big cats need bigger boxes. Changing your cat’s box could provide the perfect solution if size is the issue.
- If your litter box is just big enough for your cat to stand, the box is too small. There needs to be enough room to walk, pivot, sit, squat, and cover. Ideally, a litter box should be twice as long and wide as your cat.
The Smell and Feel of the Litter
Not all litter has the same smell, and texture and cats can react differently to the different litter. This applies to cats of all life stages.
If you have recently changed your cat’s litter to a new brand, your cat may not be too fond of the change. If your cat has recently stopped covering urine and poop, this could be the reason.
- Try going back to your previous litter brand or make another change. If your cat immediately resumes covering habits, then you will know that the litter was the issue.
Cats, like people, do have a streak of laziness. It can become commonplace for a senior cat to use the bathroom and go about their business. This may serve as a departure from how they once behaved just a few short years earlier.
If your cat has grown lazy, there is not much you can do as an owner. Because senior cats no longer have the energy they once had, most everything is done with the least amount of effort and energy possible. For most owners, this is fair and understandable.
Would you expect a senior person to have the same gusto they possessed when they were 30? If you look at things from that perspective, you can give your cat a pass. As long as they are continuing to use the litter box a touch of laziness can be forgiven.
- If your cat no longer covers their urine and feces you can do the job for them by using a cup. Scoop a small amount of litter, cover the area, and discard the cup. In the big picture, this is a sacrifice that most owners are willing to make.
How to Make Your Elderly Cat Cover Urine and Poop
Although there is no right or wrong way to make your cat resume covering their poop, there are a host of solid ideas you can try.
If there is a specific reason that your cat no longer covers, and you can diagnose the cause, you will be in a much better place.
Consulting your vet can be very beneficial as it relates to medical concerns. Problems regarding paw health, joint health, urinary conditions, etc. can be diagnosed at this time.
Providing a sample of the current litter you are using may also shed some light on the problem. If your vet feels that the litter is of the wrong texture, he or she may be able to advise a more suitable selection.
The most critical area is health. If your cat is no longer covering due to health concerns, those issues must take top priority and be addressed and treated as soon as possible.
Change Litter and Litter Box
The changing of litter and perhaps the litter box can encourage your cat to cover appropriately. Removing all covers and liners from your box(es) can also help.
Another strategy you may wish to implement is to offer your cat a choice of litter types. Most cats enjoy litter that is clumpy and has a fine texture. However, this is indeed not true for every cat.
Consider setting up two litter boxes filled with different types. Allow your cat to make a selection rather than only having one option.
Change the Location of the Litter Box
The placement of the litter box can determine behavior to some degree. If your current box is placed in a high traffic zone, in the living room or in a generally trapped area, your cat may feel uncomfortable. Litter boxes that are in busy areas can pose an issue. Placing food and water near the box is also an unwise decision.
Similar to a toilet, your cat’s box should be placed in a safe and private area. Placing the box off to the side in a separate location will help your cat to feel more at ease and less anxious. By default, this could encourage proper covering once again.
Scoop and Clean the Litter Box Regularly
Scooping the litter box daily is very important. It is the equivalent to flushing the toilet. Quality litter will only go so far if existing eliminations have not been removed.
Clean the litter box once per week. Using warm water and unscented baking soda and unscented soap, scrub the box and replace the litter accordingly.
Keeping things fresh as possible is the key. Even the most marginal of scents can cause a cat to either stop covering or stop using the box altogether.
Accommodate Your Cat’s Physical Needs
Senior cats often struggle with using a typical litter box. Boxes that have high sides can make it difficult for an elderly cat to enter and the act of stepping up can be painful. It is not uncommon for some senior cats to ignore the box entirely if the pain exceeds the desire to use the bathroom in clean cat litter.
To adequately accommodate your cat, consider using a box with low sides or a walk-in side. If your cat does not have to make an effort to enter the box, it may be more inclined to use it properly.
Litter Box Solutions to Avoid
Not every idea will work. Many attempts to encourage your cat to cover its urine or poop can do a great deal of harm.
Noted below are a few methods you should never try…
- Do not rub your cat’s nose in its own urine or feces as an attempt to bait them to use the bathroom or cover eliminations. This is a harmful practice that will only encourage aggression and mistrust.
- Never scold your cat for not using the litter box properly. Never physically lay hands on your cat and attempt to force them to use the box. This is counterproductive and will only anger your cat and cause them to continue their prior behavior.
- Never leave your cat in a small room with a litter box. This will accomplish nothing and only serve to scare your cat. The desire to get out of the room will far outweigh any desire to use or care about the litter box.
- If your cat is using the restroom outside of the box never attempt to clean the area with ammonia. The scent can attract your cat and cause it to use the bathroom in the same area in the future. It is always important to use pet-friendly cleaning tools that are designed for the job. You can find all of the items you need at your local pet supply store.
Older cats can stop covering their poop and urine for a variety of reasons. Identifying why begins with making sure that it is not due to a health concern. If your cat begins peeing and pooping everywhere or pooping just outside of the litter box, this could be a sign.
If the concern is not medical, you will likely be able to get to the cause through a process of deduction. Making changes to both the litter and the litter box may reveal the real issue.
Senior cats have special needs, and many of the behaviors they exhibit are a product of age and physical changes. Never scold your cat for its mistakes. Explore positive solutions and figure out which ones work the best.