Feline Athleticism & Failure at the Litter Pan

litter pan


I have an elderly female cat, age 18. She has for 10 years pooped next to the litter box, not in it. In the last month she has started pooping all over the living room and dining room carpet. Once in a while it looks like she had poop stuck since it is smeared like she’s dragging her rear end but most of the time it looks very deliberate. I can’t get her to stop. What can I do???

Dr. Nichol:

There is no poop messaging being spelled-out on your carpet. Your cat’s long history of near misses indicates that she’d actually use her pan if it didn’t resemble a septic tank. Cats are fastidious by nature; in the wild they always find a fresh place to scratch and eliminate. Indoor kitties faced with stinky, soggy restroom facilities really want to bury their waste but just can’t take the plunge. So they do it nearby. You are both frustrated.

There are likely other reasons. Painful joints are easily overlooked, especially with the feline AARP set. Climbing up and over the tall sides of their litter box can be mighty uncomfortable. Back pain makes it difficult to bend and clean one’s rear end. Internal wear and tear is another factor; all cats of a certain age have gradually failing kidneys. Their frequent need to take a whiz makes pole vaulting into the loo downright inconvenient.

Your girl needs a thorough physical exam. A blood panel, urinalysis, and x-rays of her hips, back, and abdomen will explain a lot. A special diet and treatment for those tired kidneys, along with medication for joint pain, can lead to a better life and improved bathroom etiquette.

Using the lavatory should not be an Olympic event for an elderly cat. For freedom of choice, provide your girl at least 2 big, new plastic pans. Cut down a portion of one side and add a ramp (etsy.com) for easy access. Scoop the clumping litter twice daily; dump and wash the pans weekly. The pickle ball court is waiting.


For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (drjeffnichol.com). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.