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10 Weird Cat Litter Box Habits (Explained)

Written by: Codee Chessher

Last Updated on January 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

tabby cat lying inside the litter box

10 Weird Cat Litter Box Habits (Explained)

Cat litter is nobody’s favorite topic, but it’s an important one, nonetheless. You’ve gotten used to your cat’s usual comings and goings and probably even noticed a few quirky behaviors related to your cat’s litter box(es). Every cat is unique, but this collection of unique potty quirks is common enough to address all of them at once.

Let’s dig into the weird stuff your cat does with their litter box, what it means, and whether you should be concerned about it. Hopefully, with this information, you can better parse why your cat does the oddball things they do.

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Top 10 Weird Cat Litter Box Habits

1. Guarding the Litter Box

If you have more than one cat, chances are you’ve seen one of your cats being overly protective or defensive of their favorite litter box. This is a natural territorial instinct to guard the locations where they eliminate their waste. In the wild, predators could smell their waste and use it to track them, but obviously, this isn’t a valid concern in your safe, comfortable home. Still, even amicable feline housemates can get a little possessive and hiss at each other over the best litter spots.

To help alleviate cat spats over litter box access, it’s best to have more than one litter box. One per cat plus one should be fine, but two per cat is better if you can manage it. More litter boxes mean your cats don’t have to worry about competing over them, ultimately leading to a more peaceful home for everyone.

Siamese cat beside litter box
Image Credit: Axel Bueckert, Shutterstock

2. Avoiding Their Litter Box

Also called litter aversion, your cat might actively avoid their litter box if you suddenly start using a new type of litter they don’t care for. The biggest reason for this is that they don’t like the texture of the litter. Fine, pokey clay particles might be hurting their tender little paws, or perhaps they dislike the litter’s smell. It might just be time to change up the type of litter you use. Kittens do well with neutral, shredded paper litter, while older cats favor softer litter, like grain pellet litter or wood pellet litter.

The litter box could also be dirty from your cat’s perspective. Yes, that’s right, your cat is picky about how clean their litter box is. Try just cleaning the box more frequently and see if your cat starts using the box again. You can also try moving the litter box to a quieter spot to see if they just crave more privacy when they do their business.

3. Using the Side of the Box

If your cat is eliminating on the slides of their litter box, the box is likely too small for them. Most commercially sold litter boxes are too small for your cat to get in position, eliminate their waste, and cover it up comfortably, according to PetMD1. Try investing in a bigger litter box that gives your cat more space to squat and do their thing without feeling cramped. A larger box with higher sides could be just what you need to make your cat happy with the litter box situation again.

Image Credit: jamesjoong, Shutterstock

4. Going Outside the Litter Box

It’s one of the most exasperating litter box-related mishaps: your cat poops right outside the litter box. Your first reaction might be to assume they’re mad at you, but they’re not. When your cat is unsatisfied with the litter box’s position, cleanliness, or type of litter, they might straight up refuse to use it. You’ll have to play a guessing game on what your cat’s issue is to solve the problem.

First, you can try moving the box to a quieter spot that doesn’t see much foot traffic. You should also try scooping the box more often, as some cats are just more fastidious about their litter box than others.

5. Lying in the Litter Box

Cats without suitable sleeping spaces of their own might resort to sleeping in soft, fresh new litter after you change the box, but that’s not the only reason they might nap there. A cat suffering from a UTI might also lie inside or near the litter box because the infection makes them frequently urinate. If your cat seems unusually attached to being near their litter box, first think about whether your cat has a suitable sleeping space of their own—say, a pet bed. If they do and they use it, it might be time to visit the vet to get some answers on whether something medically wrong could be the cause.

Ginger cat sleeping in litter box
Image Credit: pp1, Shutterstock

6. Using the Box After You Clean It

You probably clean your cat’s litter box pretty regularly, which you’d think your cat would appreciate. They definitely do enjoy having a clean litter box, but it’s a little deeper than that. You see, washing the litter box with soap and water or other cleaning agents washes away the scent of your cat’s waste. Even if they don’t really have to go potty at that moment, they might come running after you clean the box just to get their scent back on the litter box and establish it as theirs for other animals to smell.

7. Not Covering Their Business

Cats are known for covering their waste with fresh litter, but sometimes they’ll leave it exposed for a host of different reasons. Dominant, highly territorial intact males are more likely to leave their waste uncovered after using the litter box because they don’t feel the urge to hide their waste from predators. Other times, it can be indicative of a medical condition that makes going to the litter box and covering their waste painful or flat-out impossible.

Certain kinds of musculoskeletal conditions, UTIs, digestive conditions, paw injuries, and more can make covering waste too much of a hassle, so the cat might skip it. This is definitely something to bring up at your next vet visit.

Image Credit: H Ko, Shutterstock

8. Using Separate Boxes

Many cats like to use one box to urinate and another box to defecate, if possible, which is why many experts recommend having two boxes per cat. This seems to be because of an instinct to not keep all their waste in one place because predators can smell it and trace it back to them. This isn’t a serious problem for domesticated house cats, but it still feels right to them because of this instinct.

9. Playing in the Litter

Terminally bored kitties might find themselves playing in their litter, which is pretty weird and gross to us humans. They could also just be playful and simulate natural digging behaviors. For example, cats dig in the wild to pursue small prey like voles. Scratching in the litter also satisfies their natural urge to scratch, helping to keep their claws dulled down. Sometimes a cat might hide in a covered litter box and lie in wait for unsuspecting passersby, feline, or human.

cat lying on litter tray
Image Credit: Natalia Kokhanova, Shutterstock

10. Running Away From the Litter Box

When a cat’s suffering from a digestive, urinary, or rectal condition that makes going to the litter box physically painful, they’ll immediately run away afterward and possibly spray litter everywhere. Your cat doesn’t understand that they’re sick, though. Instead, they think there’s something in the box with them causing the pain, so their fight or flight instincts kick in to flee the potential threat. This could also occur if a skittish cat is startled by a loud noise while they’re using the litter box.

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Cats naturally do some pretty crazy stuff with their litter box, from guarding it from other cats to lying in the box to refusing to cover their waste. In a lot of cases, it’s driven by natural instincts, like hiding from predators, but other times, it’s stress, simple feline curiosity, or, more rarely, a medical condition. It’s important to watch your cat for any sudden or concerning litter box habits to preclude certain medical problems and help them keep a healthy routine.

Featured Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

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