Even if you have the most well-behaved cat, keeping the litter box (and the area around it) clean is a chore. But when you have a cat who constantly kicks out litter and is excessively scratching at the litter box, that chore becomes a hassle.
As it turns out, a lot of cat parents have this problem. Excessive scratching and other litter box problems can just be a symptom of an underlying issue; behavioral or otherwise. Not only does all that digging and scratching cause all sorts of commotion, it could be a cry for help.
Luckily, there are numerous things you can do to stop this behavior once and for all. But first, we have to try and figure out the root cause of all this scratching and restlessness. This is where things get a little tricky, because obviously not all cats are the same and each environment is different.
If you’ve just adopted a kitten and are experiencing this issue, check out our guide on how to get a kitten to use the litter box before you read this article. There are some basic steps you can try out there first to get you started.
It’s also important to note that a kitten scratching the litter box excessively is very different from a full-grown cat doing so; especially if that cat hasn’t exhibited this behavior before.
Why Do Cats Unnecessarily Dig in the Litter Box?
Cats dig. It’s just what they do. Being very sanitary animals, cats have an instinct to bury their feces. Presumably, this instinct also serves the purpose of keeping potential predators from knowing their whereabouts.
Of course, a common house cat doesn’t have a ton of natural predators to speak of. However, they share those instincts with their wild counterparts; who have very many predators to worry about.
Regardless, an excessive amount of litter box scratching or digging is not normal. Let’s take a look at a few explanations of this behavior.
Behavioral or Environmental Problems
Any changes in a cat’s environmental can potentially lead to changes in their behavior.
Cats enjoy their routine and aren’t keen on even minor adjustments to their surroundings. Something as innocuous as a new piece of furniture can even cause some stress.
One way cats deal with that stress is by scratching the sides and floor of (and sometimes around) their litter box.
To find the cause of this behavior, ask yourself: “Has anything changed in my house recently?” A new pet, a new baby, maybe an uncle or grandma hanging around? Even outside sounds like a backfiring car or a barking dog can stress a feline out.
If you can’t think of anything that’s changed, move on down the list. If you can, do your best to familiarize your kitty with whatever is freaking them out. It will take time, like teaching a difficult cat to learn to love their carrier, but it will work eventually. Then, once the shiny new thing is no longer intriguing, kitty will casually dismiss it as with she does with everything else.
While not usually the most common cause of litter box scratching, health issues are obviously the most important and should be addressed right away.
Sometimes if a cat is having diarrhea or particular gastrointestinal issues they’ll spend some extra time in the litter box. Usually, this isn’t a huge problem and will shortly pass.
However, if you notice frequent urination or constipation, go to the vet immediately. Both symptoms are telltale signs of kidney failure.
As we said before, kittens have been known to play in the litter box from time to time. This is normal behavior and shouldn’t be the cause of too much worry.
Those hunting instincts really show themselves at a such young age. That, coupled with all that energy, is bound to lead to litter on the floor.
This is normally just a phase and should pass it a few weeks.
Not all cats take to burying their food, but some do. Sometimes it will be in the food bowl itself, other times in the yard and sometimes in the litter box. Again. this is very common behavior that you shouldn’t lose any sleep over.
This just comes down to that inherent survival instinct. Same as burying their own waste, burying their food prevents any unwanted predators from finding out exactly where they’ve been.
If you noticed this instinct being triggered it could potentially mean your cat feels threatened. Again, assess your household for any new people or objects that may be the problem.
If you think burying their food is the cause of all the scratching, you can try these tips to get kitty to quit it:
- Don’t leave the food bowl on the ground when the cat has finished. Pick the bowl up, clean up the area and leave out some fresh water.
- Try smaller portions. You should know about how much food your cat needs, so don’t overdo it.
- If you notice the scratching try distracting kitty with some playtime. It will take their mind off of the litter box and tire them out. Win-win.
- If you are using a free-feeding device, trying using a puzzle feeder. This way your cat has to ‘hunt’ for their food.
Litter Box Isn’t Big Enough
A litter box that isn’t the right size is probably the most common explanation for over- scratching. It’s also has the easiest solution- get a bigger litter box!
Think of your kitty’s litter box as their domain or territory. When something about it isn’t exactly right- maybe the type or amount of litter- your cat will make sure you know.
This message can be sent in a variety of ways. Maybe kitty will decide to lay in the litter box or defecate in a corner as an act of rebellion. Or… maybe kitty thinks that scratching will get the message across.
Whatever it is, trying out a bigger litter pan is always a good first step. The worst thing that happens is that it doesn’t help with the scratching. Besides, you should have more than one litter box anyway!
How To Deal With Cat Excessively Scratching in the Litter Box
Digging and scratching inside the litter box is certainly common, as is evident by all the reasons why listed above. Kittens may just be getting some energy out and adult cats may take a fancy to burying their food.
Whatever the motive, it may be causing you and the family some irritation around the house. We all know how loud cats can be when they want to be. Personally, I’ve even had neighbors in my apartment building complain when my cat wouldn’t quit it with the scratching and pawing.
Having said that, let’s look at some solutions we can turn to to put a stop to this behavior.
Clean the Litter Box
Most humans clean their homes regularly because they don’t like living in filth. Well, believe it or not, cats feel the same way about their litter boxes. If only they could clean it themselves.
Cats value their cleanliness. It’s very important to them. Therefore, breaching that cleanliness by not scooping on a daily basis or by not cleaning the litter pan weekly can cause some trouble. That trouble may lead to scratching; or it may lead to a flat out shun of the litter box altogether.
Furthermore, you aren’t the only one offended by the smell when that box gets a little too ripe. Cats have a sense of smell 14x more sensitive than humans. Just like dogs, that nose of theirs helps to inform a lot of their decisions. Avoid problems by maintaining your cat’s beloved cleanliness.
If you’re like most cat parents and aren’t too keen on the constant upkeep, try getting you an automatic litter box. When I got my first cat I was constantly running around and didn’t have time to always be cleaning the thing. A self-cleaning litter box didn’t eliminate all the work, but seriously made my life so much easier.
Try a Different Litter
Cats are finicky about certain things, and litter is definitely one of them.
There are a metric ton of options out there, but clay-based litter is probably the most common because it’s the cheapest and most effective at clumping.
Try to stay away from scented litter. While Ocean Breeze scented litter may sound good in theory, in practice it’s just.. not. Not only will your cat most likely be repelled by the unnatural and synthetic scent, once it’s mixed with the urine and feces it turns into a different beast.
So yeah, unscented is the way to go. I also prefer the natural options, especially when shopping for kitten litter. It’s better for the environment and is way safer for you and kitty. All the dust from clay and silica-based litters are actually carcinogens and are really bad for you.
Try an Uncovered Litter Box
Covered litter boxes can be another reason for the cat excessively scratching the plastic walls and floor. That hood makes them feel cut off from everything else, so they think no one will be bothered by all the noise. The hood is also just… there. Some cats are more prone to scratching than others, so giving them any more surface area to do so may not be a good idea.
Most people get covers for their litter box because they know their cat values their privacy. If a cat feels too exposed, they may not want to use the litter pan at all.
While this is true, a better solution could be to just move the litter box. Put it somewhere in the house that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic. Try to avoid appliances like the washer and dryer too; the loud noises can be very off-putting.
If you live in an apartment like me, pick a corner that you spend the least time in. Or, at least, that you look at the least.
Another option is to try out a litter box with high sides. This could be the best of both worlds, but it could also just lead to more scratching. Also, these types of litter boxes aren’t great for kittens and senior cats who may have a little bit more trouble getting in and out of their litter box.
Wrapping It Up
Cats come in all shapes in sizes and exhibit all sorts of strange behavior. It may take some trial and error until you figure out what the root of the problem is and how to solve it.
Understanding the nature of your cat can help you understand their behavior and thus stop these tiresome habits.