Why Does My Cat Scratch The Sides Of The Litter Box

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Cat scratching the sides of the litter box.

If your cat companion is a house cat or uses a litter box, you’re bound to have seen and heard them scratching the side with their claws at times. And when you’re deep in conversation or watching television, the noise can seem to go on forever!

So, why do cats scratch in their litter box? Is this pesky habit normal cat behavior? And if it isn’t, what can cat owners do about it?

Why Do Cats Scratch The Sides Of The Litter Box Before Pooping?

woman cleaning cat litter box

Clean your cat’s litter box at least once every day. Regular, consistent scooping is the single most important part of keeping your cat’s litter box clean and preventing litter box avoidance.

If you’ve paid some attention when your cat is using their litter box, you might notice them scratching around in the cat litter. You might see them pacing around, and scratching the sides of a litter box before they pee or poop. This is their way of finding the perfect spot for their … uh … deposit.

Cats will dig a hole to make it easier for them to bury their scent afterward. It might seem like they change their mind a few times before settling on a place to toilet. This might be because they’re avoiding another cat’s scent or dirty cat litter. Of course, while they’re doing all this digging and scratching, they’re bound to catch the side of the litter box sometimes.

Also Read: Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture and Carpets?

Why Do Cats Scratch The Sides Of The Litter Box After Pooping?

Cat scratching the sides of the litter box after pooping.

Cats often scratching the sides and bottom of the litter box while digging a hole for their “deposit.”

It’s normal cat instinct to bury urine and feces after they’ve used the litter box. This is to prevent them from being located by predators and because they’re very clean animals. It’s also how they leave their scent markings because your cat’s paws have scent glands.

Wild cats, adult cats, and even kittens dig and bury their urine and feces. By scratching the sides of the litter box, they’re making sure they reach the furthest edge of the tray to grab as much cat litter as possible.

Also Read: Why Does My Cat Scratch and Dig Around His Food?

What Does It Mean If Your Cat Scratches The Litter Box Excessively?

Cat exiting the litter box.

Scratching the side of the litter box is perfectly normal cat behavior. However, suppose it seems excessive, or your feline friend seems to be spending a long time digging around.

In that case, they might not be satisfied with their kitty toilet. If this is the case, it’s time to do some detective work to find out what’s bothering them.

They Don’t Like The Cat Litter

Cat using the litter box.

Cats can be very fussy, especially concerning their litter box. So, if you’re noticing your kitty seems unable to find a suitable spot to do their business, it might mean they disapprove of your choice of litter.

Thankfully, there are plenty of options, from gravel, clay, and sand to woodchips, clumping, and non-clumping. Once you find out which your fussy feline likes best, you might find they’re more efficient at using the litter box!

There’s Not Enough Litter

Cat inside a litter box.

While most cases of idiopathic cystitis will resolve on their own, some cats will require treatment. Notably, cats with a urethral obstruction require emergency life-saving treatment as soon as possible.

Perhaps you’re already using the type of cat litter that your kitty likes, but you’re not using enough of it. I get it; the costs of owning a pet add up, and money is tight for many people now.

But, don’t be tempted to use less litter. if you create a deeper layer of cat litter, you’ll make it easier for your cat to bury their poop, and you might find that your cat stops scratching the litter box so much.

Their Litter Box Is Too Small

Cat in the litter box.

We all want to feel relaxed and comfortable when we go to the toilet, and your cat is no different. If your purry pal feels cramped and restricted because their litter box is too small, they might struggle to settle down to use it.

If you choose a bigger one that gives them more space, they might get on with the job quickly and do less scratching about!

They Don’t Like The Type Of Litter Box

Cat in litter box - potential kidney failure symptoms.

Excessive thirst and urination are among the most recognizable symptoms of kidney failure in cats.

You might find that your cat prefers more privacy, so they might feel more comfortable using a litter box with a lid. On the other hand, some cats find that an enclosed litter box cramps their style. So, it’s all about personal preference!

The Litter Box Isn’t In The Right Place

The image showcases a litter box filled with cat litter, resembling a small mountain, potentially emphasizing the importance of maintaining an appropriate amount of litter for feline hygiene.

You wouldn’t want to use the bathroom with an audience, nor does your cat. Cats usually prefer their litter box to be in a quiet, private location, away from the hustle and bustle of family life. If your cat’s litter box is on the main thoroughfare through the house, try moving it to a quieter spot.

The Litter Box Isn’t Clean

Toxoplasmosis and cats: Scooping litter box

Because “old” feces is more likely to contain the oocysts that cause toxoplasmosis, at-risk people should avoid scooping their cat’s litter box.

Cats love cleanliness! If their litter box isn’t clean, they’ll be reluctant to use it. This can mean they spend what seems like hours scuffling around in the cat litter, scratching the sides, trying to find a clean-ish spot.

If your cat’s excessive litter box digging is bothering you, try cleaning it more often. However, ensure you use cleaning products that don’t smell too strongly, as this could also offend your finicky feline.

Also Read: How To Clean Your Cat’s Litter Box According to a Cat Behaviorist

They Don’t Like Sharing

cat litter box

A good guideline is to have one litter box per cat in the house, plus one extra.

Many humans prefer to use their own bathroom rather than a public toilet. After all, it’s not so pleasant to consider that so many others have used the same toilet you’re using. Well, cats think in a similar way. They don’t like to share their litter box.

This doesn’t just mean keeping their litter box clean; it also means making sure you have the correct number of litter trays for the number of cats in your household. A good guideline is to have one more litter box than the number of cats you have. This will prevent competition and bullying and make toileting easier for your feline family.

Also Read: The 5 Best Carpet Cleaners For Cat Urine

They Have Health Issues

Cat litter box

Suppose your cat is frequently back and forth to the tray and passes only tiny amounts of urine. In that case, they might have a urinary tract infection or cystitis. You should contact your vet immediately if you think this might be the case. A blocked bladder, where no urine can be passed, is a serious emergency that mainly affects male cats.

If your cat has a blocked bladder, they may also seem lethargic, grumpy, and painful. Constipation might also mean they dig around in their tray more than usual and don’t produce anything. Both of these conditions require veterinary care.


The image depicts a typical cat litter box, a vital component of feline care and hygiene for waste elimination and comfort.

It can be frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate on something, and all you can hear is your cat clawing at the sides of the litter box. However, it’s important to remember that it’s usually normal cat behavior.

On the other hand, if your cat’s routine changes or if you think your cat is scratching in the tray excessively, you should try some of the above tips and seek veterinary advice if needed.

Also Read: 11 Best Cat Litter Boxes In 2022 – We Tried Them All

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats scratch the wall near their litter box?

Cats like to dig around in the cat litter before they use the litter box. Once they've found the perfect place to poop, they dig a hole, do their business, then bury it. It's all part of normal cat behavior, territory marking, and cleanliness. However, it's normal for cats to scratch the walls near the litter box and the sides of the litter box. This just means they're making sure they're using all the available cat litter.

Why does my cat dig in the litter box for so long?

If your cat is doing excessive scratching in the litter box, it could mean they're not happy with the litter box setup. The solution could be as simple as cleaning it more often or using more cat litter. But you might also need to consider relocating the litter box, using different cat litter, or changing the style of the litter box entirely.

How often do you need to change cat litter?

You should be scooping contaminated cat litter, litter clumps, and poop from the litter box twice a day or more frequently. A complete change of the cat litter should be performed regularly when the litter is dirty or smelly. The exact frequency depends on your cat litter since clumping cat litter makes spot cleaning more effective.

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About Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVETMED MRCVS

Hannah graduated from the Royal Veterinary College, UK in 2011 and began work straight away at a busy mixed practice. Initially, she treated all species, but as the small animal hospital became busier, she focussed on small animals. Hannah is an expert on cat behavior and nutrition.

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