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10 Weird Cat Litter Box Habits

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Over the years, I have seen some bizarre behaviors when it comes to cats and their litter boxes, some of them downright comical. So, in the spirit of David Letterman’s Late Show Top Ten list, here’s my countdown to some of the strangest cat litter behaviors I’ve seen:

Sleeping in the clean box

My friend Linda has a cat named Gallway, who very recently started sleeping in a newly scooped litter box. Linda put the box in a new place — at the end of a quiet hallway. Gallway climbed in and promptly went to sleep on top of the clean litter. The litter box was his sleeping spot for two days and nights, and he only decided to sleep elsewhere when one of the other cats used the box for its proper intention.

Rubbing against the outside of the box

I see this behavior most when a brand-new litter box is set up. After setting the new box down, a few of my cats tell the box they love it, by rubbing their faces all over the sides. Of course, they don’t actually love the box — they’re claiming ownership of the box by covering it with their scent.

Peeing on the sides of the box

My girl Pinky pees like a boy kitty. The lady kitty-squatting position is just not for her. Pinky enters the box, backs herself into the corner and, while standing, lifts her tail and lets it fly! I need to have some lidded boxes — if I don’t, she’d be peeing straight back against the wall.

Using separate boxes for each “mission”

I always tell people that even if they have only one cat, they need two boxes. Odd as it sounds, some cats prefer to use one box to pee and a different box to poop. The reason why is a mystery, so just go with the flow, and give your cats more than one litter box.

Leaving poop unburied

Ever walk into the room and discover your cat didn’t bury his poop? Yes, cats are fastidiously clean, but sometimes that poop just doesn’t get covered. But it’s not that he forgot — he is actually sending the other cats a signal of his dominance. My alpha cat Boo-Boo is famous for this, and sometimes another of my cats will go in behind him to bury it for him. Strange but true.

Running away from the box

The other day, I was upstairs in the bonus room, when Simba came into the room to use the litter box. Simba did his business, then ran tearing through the room, running away from the litter box at full speed. He is not the only cat I have seen do this. Hysterical yes, but why did he do that? My theory is that this behavior is reminiscent of a cat’s natural instinct to keep waste away from his living space in order to throw predators off the track and keep disease away from the colony.

Guarding the litter box

I see this every now and then when my alpha cat Boo-Boo decides to show his authority over the other cats or when a new cat enters our family. The dominant cat will in effect trap another cat in the litter box, by coming to him when he’s in the box with his head down in that intimidating stance cats get when trying to put another cat in his place. 3 Hiding in the box
When I rescued my Rosie, she had come to me from two different homes — one of neglect and one of unintentional bullying by the resident children and dogs in the home. The first thing she did when I brought her home was hide in the smallest covered litter box I had. Why? The small space made her feel secure and safe, so the other cats left her alone in there. It took me a week to get her out of the box and another few months before she would come out of the litter room closet.

Playing in the box

I used to take care of a cat named Brotha. Without fail, whenever I would go to scoop his litter box, he would rush over to the box, jump in and begin rolling around in the box before I even scooped it. It was hilarious! My late Abby would do that when I changed out the litter. As soon as the fresh litter was inside the box, she would start rolling around on her back with glee.

Group pooping!

Did you know pooping is a group activity? Just ask a group of kittens, and they’ll tell you. Once little kittens start using the litter box, they tend to all use the box together. While most cats grow out of this, my friend Linda’s cats Kizzy and Karma still visit the box together. Karma will wait outside the box for Kizzy while he’s doing his thing. They are so much in love with each other that everything they do is a cat couple activity.

Now that you know the litter box is for more than just its intended purpose, you may start to notice some of these behaviors in your own cats. Their antics will be sure to make you laugh.

Top photograph: AlbinaTiplyashina | Getty Images

Read Next: Tips for Choosing the Right Litter Box and Litter Box Location

70 thoughts on “10 Weird Cat Litter Box Habits”

  1. My male cat will climb into the litter box, turn around, and put all four paws on the raised ledge and go while balancing on the ledge. He must have all paws out of the box to go either way. If he poops, he will go back in to cover it, but he can’t go unless he can do his balancing act.

  2. My calico Mariah also does the run from the box occasionally , with a beautiful sound she howls out when arriving at the targeted room. But the most bothersome for me , bc I have to bend down to sweep it up 3-4 times a day, is since she was a kitten to now 14 yrs old – she shovel kicks almost every scoop of liter out of the box. It goes flying everywhere , but what’s left is covered !

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  5. My cat will pee in the box, but poops on the ottoman. Or just about anywhere that isn’t the box, but typically the ottoman. I have 4 boxes set up for my 2 cats, I’ve tried getting her a different, bigger box (she’s about 20 pounds), changing the litter, scooping it more often…. idk what to do at this point lol any ideas?

    1. One of our cats was the same until I was advised to puttee poop in the litter tray and leave it , it worked for us he never poops anywhere but one of the litter trays now.

    2. This may sound crazy, but try a disposable litter box with a wee-wee pad in it. The wee – wee pad actually attracts cats as well as dogs. It works for my cat who likes to pee on the wee-wee pad and poop in the box with litter. Good luck!

    3. Hi , I had that a large long hair Cat that would do the same and I always put a thick layer of Cat Litter in the Litter Box and One week I was running low and unable to go get more so to make it last I put thin layers of cat litter only . And he stopped pooping elsewhere and just pooped in the Box . I realized that it probably was cause the cat didn’t like his long hair sticky with a lot of wet litter when he peed and pooped. I also trimmed his long hair shorter cause he could not always clean himself really good from the wet sticky litter . I now only put a thin layer of cat litter and he is Happily using his Litter Box instead of other places . ????????????????

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  7. I am so glad my two girls are “normal” and don’t exhibit any weird or disgusting behavior. For many years Dinah had her own litter box next to the toilet with Feline Pine. She was content to use that for several years (sometimes still does). But in 2011 I got 6 week old Miss Eliza. I set up a tiny litter box in the kitchen for her. It had clay based litter as per my vets instruction. Then one day I saw Dinah squatting in the box and the baby staring at her. Well Dinah thought this is my house I will poop where I want. So we have 2 boxes. Dinah is 17 and sometimes takes stinky poops that she doesn’t bury. But for the most part I am lucky to have clean cats.

  8. Cats do silly tings after using because they feel so much better????

    We buy in bulk from Chewys. We use the fantastic boxes as litter box holders…keeps “stuff” IN

      1. I love the Breeze system. Two levels of the box so there’s a tray that slides underneath that you put an absorbent pad in. Then all the pee goes down to the pad and the poop stays in the top part of the box. Just scoop that out and change the pad every 3 or 4 days (depending on how much pee your cat makes) Lookup this system on line for a clearer explanation. I love it, no stink at all and far easier to clean. People who have come to my house are surprised to see I have cats because of no “cat smell”.

  9. My female (spayed) cat Zoey stands up to pee, something that she has done since she was a kitten. At first I couldn’t figure out why pee was on the walls and everywhere but the box. After years of experiments, I now use a cheap 18 gal. tote from Walmart. The walls are high enough to contain her pee and when I clean the litter box I clean the walls with a urine neutralizer. It didn’t take long for Zoey to teach my other cat, Chessie, to also aim at the side of the box to pee! Now they seem to have contests to see who can pee higher.
    I highly recommend 18 gal totes for litter boxes. You can buy one for about $5 and I replace mine every two to three months.

    1. Why replace it? That’s not Green. Use a urine neutralizing cleaner to save all that plastic from the landfills!

  10. My cat would drag a dish towel into the litter box and go on that if the box was not to his standard of cleanliness.
    Anyone else’s cat do that?

    1. YOUR KIDDING?!! I keep finding wash rags, bath towels & even my clothes in the litterbox & have blamed my kids for being lazy & not putting things on the shelves right & they SWEAR up & dwn it’s not them. Maybe the cats are doing it!!
      My 6yr old tabby/Siamese brings socks upstairs when he’s cranky or stressed. Only socks! Weirdest thing. But kinda helpful too.

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  15. My 5 year old female Snowshoe,Pennie, refused litter, would not get in the box, would jump out when placed in the box. We tried newspaper, shredded paper, carpet, fabric and more. It took 18 months before we trusted her to use a box—with VIVA paper towels in the bottom! She has a box for poop and a box for pee. They are easy and quick to clean and no heavy litter bags—just a 6 pack of VIVA.

    1. We have one cat also, and didn’t realize you need two litter boxes just for one.

      Wouldn’t the cat get confused? I’m all for it as I still have her old litter box.

  16. I have 3 cats and 7 litter boxes (under tables). I think they do a lot of scratching of sides or wall when they think litter needs scooping, as I don’t do it daily.

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  19. Victoria Monarrez

    I have a six year old female that decided- once we relocated to a new home- to start peeing just outside her box. Our new home has a larger nicer laundry room where I keep the litter boxes. This new location is much nicer than the location in our old home(laundry room as well) but for whatever reason this has become her new habit. I just decided to put puppy pee pads around the boxes and so far this has made daily clean up a lot easier!

    1. Vivian Williams

      My kitty started peeing after we left him for Thanksgiving. We eventually got cement mixer containers. 36 in x 24 in x 8 from Loews – it was pretty cheap. And I got another box 24 in x 17 in. They take up our entire second bathroom. We lined the bathroom with Husky Drum Liners 55 gallon; they are clear and I blue tape them to the floor and wall. It works well keeping the floor dry, too. It seems once something starts the peeing it doesn’t stop. I don’t know if the weather effects your cat, but fresh air – leaving the windows open does mine, and rainy days. Good luck, Viv

      1. i work for a vet and have 11 cats. moving causes stress, and bladder infections/crystals cause kitties to go out of the box…pee and poop. have you taken your kitty to a Vet to see why it was peeing out of the box?

  20. My first cat was so sweet, but he had one flaw: when he pooped, he would poop on the perimeter of the area around the box. It was in a corner of the unfinished basement, and he’d poop on the plastic sheeting on the floor that was attached to the wall. Pretty much every time. I got used to it and just scooped it off the plastic and then disinfected the area. He always peed in the box, though. I tried all sorts of different types of litter, but he continued this habit.

    As for the wall scratching after going, all my cats have done that.

    One thing my cats have done is if they are going to throw up for any reason, they race to the basement and throw up on the cement floor in one particular spot. I don’t know why, but I’m grateful for it, as it’s easier to clean up then a carpet. Occasionally they didn’t make it in time, but that’s all part of pet ownership.

  21. Thank you so much for your examples! We have 4 cats; a 12 year old male, 2-2 year old brothers and a 7 month old kitten. The boys have never exhibited “weird” litter box behavior but Maggie Mae poops outside the litter box 99% of the time. (I’m giving her credit for possibly doing it in the correct place). We have tried many different remedies but alas, nothing works. Sometimes, she poops in the bathtub which is not my favorite. I prefer, if she’s going to do it outside of the box, she do it on the mat in front of the box-that’s where she normally does it.
    Anyway, we love her and if that’s the worst thing she does, I think we’re ahead of the game!
    Thanks!

  22. I switched to pine pellets. My boy, Cherokee, tends to overshoot the runway I call it. Pacino, his sister, does what you explained by backing her butt up to the edge. Her pee seems to stay in the box. I have 3 boxes and put puppy pee pads under all 3. Not sure who pees where. They do not even try to bury the poop, which is ok. I just scoop it. They both run like a banshee after going. I know they aren’t in pain. I add water to the wet food, and their poops are fairly soft. Loved your article. It explained so much. Thanks.

  23. To prevent that from happening I bought a 50L tote bin (with a flat botton) and cut a hole out for my cats to go in and out.

    1. Valerie Harrell

      That’s a great idea. But most tote bins don’t have a flat bottom, they have that indented channel around the inner perimeter. I’ll keep looking for that flat bottom for easy scooping.

    2. Brenda L Cummings

      I did that 10 years ago and now I’m having problems finding the flat bottom heavy duty bins. I got my original ones at Home Depot. But now they don’t carry the flat bottoms anymore. Mine is about 38-40” long, 30” high and 28” wide. I cut the hole Alison and sanded it smooth. My boys liked the top entry box I had bought but it was too small. I wish I could find another Flat bottomed bin.

  24. My cat Maggie also pees like a boy, so I have to have a covered litter pan. If the cat happens to pee where either of the two hinges are, it will leak to the outside. Somehow, Maggie manages to aim just right so I still have to place puppy pads outside the litter pan.

    1. My female cat, too. I thought it was because she spent most of her young life on the streets. I’m pleased to read your story.

      1. Maggie was born in my mom’s house…not a street kitty at all. But I’ve read if they have male cats around, which she has, they imitate how the males pee. Wonderful.

    2. Take a ziplock bag and cut into two pieces. Tape it to the inside over the area of the hinge using clear packing tape. It can easily be replaced, but it will naturally fall over the hinge area… no more leaks. Easily wipes clean with disinfectant.

  25. Gina Gabrielides

    While I clean the litter box and add a bit of fresh litter (daily), my cat can’t wait to get in there to {ahem} bless the freshly cleaned litter box. I have to hold him back until I’m done!

    1. Your cat is holding it in. They need a fresh spot every time. Change the litter 2 times more per day, minimum. Add another box in the same spot. Remember what it feels like to wait if you need motivation.

  26. “Basho” was a stray kitty diagnosed w/ congenital polycystic kidney disease. A months or so after the diagnosis, he started EATING cat litter. I tried different kinds of litter, to no avail. And then, thankfully, the behavior stopped.
    Possibly a reaction to required change in diet? Medication? Subcutaneous fluid? Food additive (phosphorus binder)? Sadly, Basho was only with us for 15 months.

    1. Basho likely was experiencing something called PICA, which is was what I went through when I got kidney disease. It’s a lack of iron/ mineral deficiency that causes us to crave crunchy treats almost obsessively. I was an ice cruncher. (Did wonders for my teeth!)

    2. I’m so sorry Basho has crossed Rainbow bridge. You gave her a home and love, she was blessed by your kind heart. Our little dog Abby Lane . Was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease when she was 5 mo. Old, she lived about a year. It’s such a hard thing to go through.

  27. Kathleen Sines

    I have 2 cat’s Butters 5 years old and Baby 11 years old! I don’t know why but every time Baby uses the litter box she runs fast away after doing her business? Like she thinks she did something wrong and doesn’t want Butters to know? I don’t know?

    1. Duncan Sinclair

      That’s normal behavior. It’s because in the wild, no cat wants to stay around where they’ve just left their scent, because predators might detect it and attack.

    2. It could be it hurt. They’ll run from hurt. It might be constipation. It could be something serious. Watch for additional symptoms and ask your vet.

          1. My cats have done that occasionally, unfortunately the kittens do not survive unless you notice right away and can get them out and clean them. I think it may be the need to push and they think it is a bowel movement.

      1. I used to have a cat who ran from “hangers” too. So funny because we’d have to run after him to pull them off. Poor baby.

  28. Duncan Sinclair

    THanks for this. Regarding the leaving poop unburied – my youngest cat does this, but that is after TRYING to bury it for minutes at a time. She will scrape at the litter and completely fail to bury the desired spot. That doesn’t seem to be domination, does it? (She’s also not the dominant kitty, though she’s pretty fearless, being the youngest)

    Also, she and the oldest cat (I have three) will often scrape the walls AROUND the litter tray, rather than the litter itself, as though they’re trying to bury the poop with the painted walls. This can go on for up to 10 minutes. What’s that about? I read it might be because they don’t like the litter, but I’ve tried several different brands and types, and it hasn’t changed.

    1. My cat does the same. She scratches the sides of the litterbox to cover her poop. It started happening once i got her new covered litter box. She will also scratch the door to the box after she is done right before she bursts out.

    2. Valerie Harrell

      I have a cat that does the exact same thing. She scrapes the wall, she scrapes the floor around the box, and if the litter container is close by the litter box, she will scrape that also.

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