Why Does My Cat Scratch The Litter Box Excessively?


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Cat Scratching The Litter Box Excessively

I’m sure most of us are familiar with the sound of our cat scratching the litter box excessively. For some this sound may even cause frustration, like a piece of chalk against the board.

It could happen once in a while, but for some this sound goes on and on until their kitty finally decides that they’re done.

Every cat is different, with their own quirks and habits, but what if this behavior isn’t just some feline bathroom idiosyncrasy?

Why is your cat scratching the litter box excessively? As part of their instincts, your cat could be marking their territory. It could be a sign of stress or some health issue of gastrointestinal nature. The litter box might be too small for your cat or the litter needs changing.

Whatever the reason for your cat scratching the litter box excessively, we’ve got you covered.

Let’s dive into the possible reasons why cats seem to be scratching the litter box excessively.

Why Does My Cat Scratch The Litter Box?

While the act of covering their business is natural, finding your cat scratching the litter box excessively, might also be alarming. This behavior can be caused by numerous reasons, for some, it’s an innocent act and just a matter of habit, for others it might be the first sign of some underlying health or mental problem. Whatever the reason it’s important to determine what’s causing this compulsive behavior and then look for ways to solve it.

Behavioral Explanations

Playing

You might notice a strange sound coming from the litter box right after you’ve cleaned it and realize it’s your cat rolling around in it like crazy. It might have been a common occurrence when they were just a tiny furball or it could’ve occurred during their adult years. The question is why would they think the litterbox is a playground?

The explanation might sound quite simple. This might be more of a kitten behavior and it could simply mean that your cat enjoys digging. Playing and jumping around in it might also remind them of the outside or tap into their natural instincts. In the case of kittens, they might still be in the stage where they can have a good time playing with just about anything

A kitten will usually outgrow this behavior and you can encourage this by distracting your kitty with a play session, slowly pulling their attention away from the litter box, and redirecting them to a more appropriate playtime. In the case of an adult cat, a veterinary consultation might be the best choice, and if you’re ever not sure it’s always best to err on the side of caution and consult your veterinarian.

According to Colleen Wallace, D.V.M. and associate veterinarian at the Cozy Cat Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. if you see your cat spending their time inside the litter box then, “that’s the time for pet owners to be on notice.”

Communication With Other Cat-mates

Having more than one cat might make you think that there’s some excessive scratching going on. But if you think that only one kitty is making this noise then the first step is finding the one responsible. It could be that one or both of your fellow felines scratches the litterbox to let the other cat know that they’ve used the litter box or that they’re currently using it.

Moreso, while they scratch the litter box, they also leave their scent from the scent glands located on their paws. This way they let the other cat know of their existence. It might also be a sign that one cat is claiming the litter box as their territory, at least until the other cat comes and does the same thing. Adding another litter box might minimize this competitiveness.

Make sure that there are no other signs of poor health from both of your cats. You then might have to establish which one is making this sound and determine if your cat scratching excessively the litter box is something that’s caused by some medical or mental problem.

Stress And Anxiety

Another reason why you might find your cat scratching the litter box excessively is stress and it’s important to understand what the source is. Since cats are creatures of habit any change in their environment could trigger their anxiety and sometimes even depression. Cats are complex creatures and a variety of small changes could be fueling depression or litter box anxiety.

Changing their litter box or litter could also trigger a similar response. Perhaps you’ve changed your playtime routine and your feline companion doesn’t get enough attention. These are small changes that you could easily spot and regulate, but there could be something more serious that makes them agitated.

If you’ve moved houses then you might find your cat scratching the litter box excessively as a sign of their distress, even hiding inside it. There could be other signs like yowling in another room, especially during nighttime, or even avoiding and hiding away from you. According to some studies, even healthy cats could act sick when changes happen in their environment.

Bringing another pet could also cause this reaction, not only because they’re stressed, but because they’re also trying to mark the litter box as their own. Try buying another litter box so your cat doesn’t feel like they have to fight for this territory. The same reaction could be caused if you’ve got a new addition to the family or if a new partner has entered your space.

Your cat scratching the litter box excessively can be part of several indicators, so be on the lookout for other symptoms. Loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of hair, weight loss, or gain, could be additional signs. A trip to the vet is necessary to establish that your cat isn’t suffering from a condition.

If there’s nothing wrong with your kitty health-wise, then your vet might recommend an animal behavioralist instead. This step might help you figure out what’s causing your cat’s stress and what are the needed steps to change that.

It’s important to remember that as cat owners we should try and provide for our kittens the right environment to keep them happy. Proper food, plenty of water sources, scratching posts, games, and cuddles are essential for their wellbeing. If you don’t believe me, then you should listen to the experts that truly support this idea.

Medical Explanations

While a cat scratching the litter box excessively can be just an innocent habit, it could also be a sign of something more serious. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s toilet business. The consistency, as well as how much and how often, should be on our mind, whenever you clean their litter box, in order to catch any health issue or condition early on.

Gastrointestinal Issues

To put it simply the excessive scratching might have to do with your cat’s poop. According to ASPCA, a cat’s number-two frequency varies from one cat to another, but the general rule for a cat is once or twice a day. If you notice your cat pooping more than that or less, then it’s important to visit your vet and run a few tests to find the source of the problem.

The quality of your cat’s poop is also important, so when you scoop next time keep your eyes wide open and give them a general inspection. Healthy feces should be dark brown and not too soft or too hard. If they’re solid as a rock or watery, or if there’s blood in them, it might also be a sign of an underlying issue.

Has your cat eaten anything out of the ordinary? Is there a leaf missing from your well-guarded plant? Did you change their diet? If your cat is allowed to go outside, they might have eaten something harmful. All of these, as well as food allergies or the consumption of dairy products, could result in diarrhea.

Your cat’s poop issues might also be rooted in more serious conditions like Hyperthyroidism, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, or even cancer, which can cause great distress. Your cat scratching the litter box excessively may be their way of showing that they’re experiencing discomfort. If their poop is too smelly or watery, they might put extra effort into covering them.

Bacteria, parasites like Giardia, and roundworms are also very common in cats and it doesn’t affect only outdoor cats. These parasites could be transferred from your shoes into your home. These could also result in diarrhea or constipation, which in turn could lead to excessive efforts to cover up their stool.

There are a few medical reasons that may be causing this excessive scratching of the litter box, but self-diagnosing is never the answer. That’s why if you notice any changes in your cat’s stool, litter box behavior, and well-being overall make sure to visit your local vet. There your kitty will get the treatment they need.

Urinary Issues

According to some recent studies, cat owners failed to observe when and how often their cats use their litter box. But excessive scratching can be quite noticeable, and it’s important to try and pay attention to your cat’s toiletry patterns and make sure you observe any changes when cleaning.

The average cat will urinate two to three times a day, suggests Chuck Miller, D.V.M. and owner of Triangle Veterinarian Hospital in Durham, N.C. It’s important to become more vigilant once we notice that their trips to the litter box become more or less frequent than that. Miller also recommends that we keep an eye on any changes in the color or consistency of the urine. Blood is a sign that it’s time to visit your vet!

Your cat scratching the litter box excessively could be a sign of urinary tract disease (FLUTD). This can be a variety of conditions affecting the bladder and urethra of a cat. According to American Veterinary Medical Association, “while FLUTD can occur at any age, it is usually seen in middle-aged, overweight cats that get a little exercise, use an indoor litter box, have little or no outdoor access, or eat a dry diet.”

If you notice your cat using the litter box frequently, but when you clean it there’s not a lot to clean then this could also be a serious problem. Or you might find that there’s an abnormal amount of urine, which could also point to some kind of disorder. Since your cat will be using the litter box more often in both cases, it might seem to you that they scratch the litterbox excessively.

Your cat might also be affected by a kidney disorder, in which case your kitty will produce larger amounts of more dilute urine. Along with the frequent toilet visits, you might notice your kitty drinking big quantities of water. The moment you notice that something has changed, in your kitty’s litter box routine, and your cat scratching the litter box excessively, then you should visit your vet for the appropriate tests.

If there’s an issue with your cat’s urine, then your kitty might have to take a urinalysis test. This test will report the physical and chemical properties of urine. This way your vet will be able to assess the health of the kidneys and urinary system, but also reveal any other possible problems in other organs.

Biological Explanations

Instincts

A cat scratching the litter box excessively can be part of their natural instincts. Your kitty might simply be trying to cover up their business in the most thorough way possible. As they’d do in the wild, so predators won’t be able to track them down.

Some cats will dig a hole in the litter beforehand to make room for their poop. Or perhaps there’s not enough fresh litter so they’re trying to move around the dirty parts to make room.

If your feline companion is a digger and then a coverer then it’s only natural that you might think they’re scratching the litter box excessively. There are of course cats that are extra possessive of their litter box, so they’ll scratch hard and leave their sent. Turning this behavior into a message for the next cat.

It’s Just Another Scratching Post

I’m sure you’ve seen your kitty arching their back as they dig their claws into their scratching post and sometimes to our disappointment into the corner of our couch. In a sense scratching the litter box could also be part of their claw sharpening technique.

According to the Human Society of the United States, “Scratching is normal, instinctive behavior and you don’t want to discourage it completely. Instead, your goal should be getting your cat to scratch acceptable objects, like a scratching post.” Unless of course, you don’t mind the sound of them scratching their litter box.

Finally, your kitty might have some litter particles stuck to their paws and they simply are trying to get rid of them by scratching. This can happen if the litter box wasn’t cleaned in time or they’re suffering from diarrhea. In that case, pay attention to your kitty’s health and establish if they need to be seen by a professional. You could also help them get clean with some cat-friendly wipes or a bath.

Litterbox Issues

If you’ve established that your kitty is healthy and there are no major changes in their behavior that would indicate stress or depression, then the problem might simply have to do with your litter box and/or litter.

Litter Box Isn’t In A Private Location

This is something I can truly relate to. You see, one of my cats is really shy when it comes to his litter box time. Every time I came into the bathroom to get something and found him there doing his business he’d meow or run away. After a while, he’d return and scratch the litter box excessively. It all changed once I moved the litter box into a quieter spot.

Cats can be quite private when it comes to their toilet moments. It makes sense since that’s one of the times they need to relax and drop their guard. So, make sure your kitty feels secure when they’re using the litter box to avoid any stress around this matter. A closed litter box could also give them a sense of privacy in case you don’t have a spare room.

Litter Box Too Small

The size of the Litter box definitely matters! Kittens might require a litter box that’s open and easily accessible, while bigger cats might need more room to get into a comfortable position. Closed litter boxes can be especially tricky. If your kitty doesn’t fit properly inside, then unwelcome accidents might occur.

Some cats might prefer a closed litter box without a flap, and some will only feel comfortable in an open one. If you find your cat’s business outside of the litter box or if you see them scratching the sides or the floor around the litter box excessively, they might simply not fit in there properly or they don’t know how to use it.

While scientists might agree that there’s no major difference between a covered and uncovered litter box, cats can still have a preference. You might even have to try a few litter boxes before finding the perfect one for your kitty, but it will be worth it!

Not Enough Litter

Your cat might even have a preference in the amount of litter they need. The less litter the louder the scratching sound, while too much litter might just end up outside of the litter box altogether.

Try to find a balance of litter per litter box size and you might find that your cat scratching the litter box excessively is a long-forgotten history.

Dirty Or Scented Litter

According to this scientific journal cats love and prefer clean litter boxes and who wouldn’t? In fact, they recommend scooping the litter once a day every day, which I find reasonable. I have two cats, so I’ve established a routine of scooping their litter box in the morning and before going to bed. In my experience, the litter also stays cleaner and less smelly for longer.

While scented litter can keep your cat’s toilet smelling fresh, there’s a possibility that your cat mightn’t like it. Your cat scratching the litter box excessively could be their way of telling you that they don’t like the quality or scent of the litter. Some cats might even stop using it and start making their business in unwanted areas of the house.

While covered litter boxes can offer more privacy, they could seem smellier to your cat. After all, it’s a closed space, but it also has to do with the quality of the plastic and how often you clean the litter box altogether. Some cat parents prefer to give their cats food that reduces the smell of their poop, but before you make that transition make sure that there’s no health issue behind it.

Result Of A Multi-cat Household

There are studies supporting the idea that a good and positive litter box environment improves the well-being of a cat. As mentioned before, having more than one cat in the house can lead to more frequent litter box scratching, because of stress or simply because your cat is marking it as their territory.

The RSPCA recommends that there should be one litter box per cat, and in some cases, a spare one might be even more beneficial. A single shared litter box between two cats can simply cause an antagonistic attitude and in turn excessive scratching.

You can see what happens when both cats decide they need to use the same litter box!

Ways To Deal With Your Cat Scratching The Litter Box Excessively

Going through all the possible reasons why your cat might be scratching the litter box excessively it’s clear that there can be numerous reasons. The first step to deal with this behavior is recognizing the root of the problem and if it is a problem in the first place.

I think the first step would be to look for other clues or signs of distress. If it’s a newly acquired behavior, then you might want to go for a veterinary check-up as soon as possible. Especially if your cat has trouble using the litter box or that their business looks less “healthy” than usual.

Cats can be very secretive about their health and pain. Even their purr, which we associate with content could be caused by pain. It’s our responsibility to act fast, even before we see unhealthy signs.

If you and your vet are sure that there are no health or behavioral problems behind this excessive behavior, then perhaps your litter box or litter is the problem. In that case, make sure it’s clean and that it’s a suitable environment for your kitty. If you have a senior cat or a kitty with arthritis, you might need a special litter box like the KittyGoHere on Amazon. We’ve made also made a list of 8 great litter boxes for any special need your kitty might have!

Finally, if it’s simply a quirk or a habit of your feline companion then you could either let them scratch to their heart’s delight or use positive reinforcement to stop it. As stated by a Journal of Veterinary Behavior, “Positive reinforcement training with cats is a useful tool for improving the human-animal bond, treating behavior problems, and teaching novel tasks.”

Instead of shouting, be kind and gentle with your furball. You can call them by their name to get their attention or use a toy to pull them away from their litter box. Keep your body relaxed, pet them when they’re doing well, and give them a slow blink to let them know you’re not angry.

Your cat scratching the litter box excessively could also manifest in different ways. They can scratch the floor and the sides of the litter box. They might kick the litter outside as they dig. You might find some reoccurring accidents which could be connected once again to stress. So, make sure your kitty is happy and healthy the rest can be easily solved with a bit of practice and love.

Closing Thoughts

We finally reached the end of this litter box rabbit hole! I think by now, no cat-owner is surprised when an answer to a simple question like a cat scratching the litter box excessively, ends up being so complex.

Every aspect of a cat’s life is unique and intricate and that’s why we love them and want to know everything about them. It certainly is important to know our cat’s business, especially when it smells like trouble.

So, have you noticed your cat scratching the litterbox excessively? Let us know if your kitty does it for one of the reasons above and how did you handle it?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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