My Cat Is Scratching the Litter Box Excessively – Why?

Image via @chase_crawford_the_cat

Is your cat scratching the litter box excessively? Like – way too much?

Well, there’s a broad range of reasons why your feline friend might be digging into the litter box like they’re searching for hidden treasure. It could signal anything from behavioral issues to health problems. Or it could mean nothing at all.

In this article, we’ll break down the main causes behind excessive scratching and provide some practical solutions to potentially curb this habit in your four-legged buddy, if needed.

So, if you’re ready to decode the mystery behind your kitty’s peculiar bathroom behavior, let’s get into it.

Reasons Your Cat Scratches the Side of Their Litter Box Excessively

Just Being Cats and Digging to Bury Waste

Perhaps the most common reason is that they’re simply participating in their natural digging and burying instincts. It’s perfectly normal behavior.

In the wild, cats scratch and dig around their waste to cover it up, keeping predators from detecting them by smell. Your indoor cat may be doing just the same thing in their litter box – even though there aren’t any predators lurking about!

Marking Territory

Firstly, cats often scratch as a way of marking territory. They have scent glands in their paws which leave behind an odor that’s invisible to us but speaks volumes to other cats.

Here’s something interesting: when your kitty scratches its litter box after doing its business, it could simply be trying to assert dominance over what it perceives as its territory.

Not Happy with Litter Box Cleanliness or Litter Type

Secondly, excessive scratching on the inside can also indicate dissatisfaction with a dirty litter box. Cats are super sanitary creatures and prefer a clean litter box.

If they aren’t happy with the state of affairs in the litter box department – maybe it hasn’t been cleaned recently enough or perhaps they don’t like the type of litter being used – they’ll likely let you know by digging and scratching more than usual. 

Cats are individual, but unscented, clumping litter is generally preferred by cats because of its texture similar to soil. Other cats might have a preference for covered or uncovered boxes.

No Litter in the Litter Box

Cats may scratch a lot if there isn’t enough litter to cover their waste. This behavior can be attributed to their innnate need to conceal their scent from predators and other cats, a trait inherited from their wild ancestors.

When the litter is too shallow, cats may feel vulnerable, as they are unable to adequately bury their waste, leaving their scent exposed. This can lead to heightened stress levels and increased scratching as they attempt to bury their waste in insufficient litter.

I maintain a depth of about two to three inches of litter in the box to allow my cat to bury her waste adequately and feel secure. This depth is generally sufficient for most cats.

The Litter Box is Too Small!

When the cat litter box is too small, your cat may feel cramped and uncomfortable, a situation that can lead to scratching the inside of the litter box excessively and no the litter itself.

This discomfort arises because cats, being territorial creatures, value their space, especially when conducting private activities.

A cramped space can make them feel vulnerable and uneasy, potentially leading to reluctance in using the litter tray and causing inappropriate elimination in other areas of the house. As a cat owner, it is so easy to provide a proper litter box size, so just do it.

Litter Box Location Not Ideal

Cats have a strong preference for a quiet and secluded location for their litter box. This preference stems from their natural inclination to go in places where they are less likely to be attacked by predators.

A quiet and private location makes them feel secure and less vulnerable while they are in the midst of such a private activity. Placing the litter box in a secluded area away from noise and high traffic can significantly help in reducing stress and excessive scratching.

High traffic areas with people or other pets constantly passing by can make cats feel anxious and disturbed, potentially leading to avoidance of the litter box altogether. This could result in inappropriate peeing and pooping in hidden corners of your home, and no one wants that!

It’s Innate to Cats

Scratching is deeply rooted in all cats, and are crucial to their well-being. This behavior is not merely a physical activity but also a form of communication and environmental interaction.

It allows cats to stretch their muscles, particularly the ones in their back and claws, promoting flexibility and agility. This is essential for their mobility and hunting skills, even if they are indoor cats.

Treating It Like a Scratching Post

Cats, may see the litter box as an additional outlet for their scratching post activities, particularly if the litter box is close to their designated scratching post.

This proximity of the litter box to the scratching post can lead to an association between the two, causing the cat to extend their scratching activities to the litter box. This can result in excessive scratching in the litter, potentially leading to a messy environment and stress for both the cat and the owner.

Cleaning Their Paws

Cats may exhibit scratching behavior in the litter box to clean their paws. This behavior is indicative of their inherent desire to maintain cleanliness and hygiene.

After using the litter box, cats may feel the need to remove any residual litter or waste from their paws, and scratching is a natural way for them to achieve this.

This paw-cleaning behavior can be more pronounced if the litter is dirty or if it tends to stick to their paws. So, providing clean, fresh litter and maintaining optimal hygiene of the litter box are pivotal in minimizing this behavior.

Regularly scooping the litter box, at least once a day, and performing a complete change of litter weekly can help in maintaining a clean environment for your cat, reducing the need for paw cleaning.

Stress & Anxiety

Discussing stress and anxiety is essential when addressing cat behaviors, as these emotional states can significantly impact their actions and well-being.

Like humans, cats can exhibit obsessive and altered behaviors when they are feeling stressed or anxious. One such behavior is more scratching of the litter box, floor or wall. These serve as a coping mechanism for them to deal with their heightened emotions.

Cats are creatures of habit, and even subtle changes in the environment, new pets, or new people in the house could also lead to increased stress and, subsequently, to more scratching of the litter box after using it.

Diet and Nutrition

While diet not be directly related to more scratching in the litter box, nutrition and food choices influences the overall well-being and health of cats, which, in turn, can have a profound impact on their behavior, including scratching.

Medical Reasons

At times, excessive scratching is not just a behavioral response but a manifestation of underlying medical issues. It’s essential to be vigilant about such behaviors as they can be indicative of health conditions requiring immediate attention and intervention.

And (this is important), while a lot of scratching can be a sign of these medical conditions, it is not exclusive to them, and other symptoms typically accompany it. You should observe your cats for any additional signs of illness and not solely rely on excessive scratching as an indicator of a medical condition.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Excessive scratching can be a symptom of a urinary tract infection (UTI), a condition characterized by the inflammation of the cat’s urinary tract.

If your cat is also exhibiting signs like frequent urination, discomfort while urinating, or blood in the urine, consult a veterinarian ASAP. UTIs can be painful and can lead to severe complications if left untreated. They are typically managed with antibiotics and special urinary cat food.

Urethral Obstruction

Urethral obstruction is a critical and life-threatening condition where a blockage in the urethra prevents the cat from urinating.

This condition, where they go to the litter box and nothing happens, requires immediate veterinary intervention to relieve the obstruction and address the underlying cause, which may include urinary stones, inflammation, or strictures.

Delay in treatment can lead to kidney damage and can be fatal.


Cystitis, or inflammation of the bladder, can also lead to more scratching due to the discomfort associated with it. This condition can cause frequent attempts to urinate, blood in the urine, and pain.

A proper diagnosis is essential to determine the cause, which can include urinary tract infections, bladder stones, or stress, and to initiate appropriate treatment, which may involve medications, prescription urinary cat food, and environmental modifications.


Diarrhea can result in increased frequency of litter box use and discomfort, contributing to scratching.

It’s important to identify the cause of diarrhea, which can range from bad food to intestinal parasites, and provide suitable treatment, such as food changes, medications, or probiotics, to resolve the issue and alleviate discomfort.


Internal parasites like hookworms and roundworms can cause gastrointestinal issues and changes in elimination behaviors, including scratching in the litter box for a long time. Regular deworming and fecal examinations are the paramount for the diagnosis and treatment of internal parasites.

External parasites like fleas can infest the cat’s skin, leading to irritation, dermatitis, and infections. Addressing a flea infestation involves using appropriate flea control products, treating the environment to eliminate flea larvae and eggs, and maintaining regular flea prevention measures.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract that can cause discomfort, altered bowel habits, and changes in litter box behaviors.

Management of IBD underlying issues may involve food changes, medications, and regular monitoring to control inflammation and alleviate discomfort.


Arthritis can cause pain and discomfort in the joints, affecting mobility and behavior. Cats with arthritis may find using the litter box painful, leading to prolonged or scratching as they try to find a comfortable position.

Pain management, joint supplements, and modifications to the litter box can help in managing arthritis in cats.


In some cases, scratching and alterations in litter box behavior can be associated with cancers like gastrointestinal tumors or lymphoma.

These conditions can cause pain, discomfort, and changes in elimination behaviors. Early detection, diagnosis, and appropriate treatment are crucial for managing cancer in cats.


Hyperthyroidism is a common endocrine disorder in older cats, characterized by an overproduction of thyroid hormones.

This condition can lead to a variety of symptoms, including weight loss despite increased appetite, hyperactivity, aggression, and changes in grooming and elimination behaviors, such as more scratching in the litter box.

The excessive scratching associated with hyperthyroidism may be due to heightened anxiety and restlessness caused by elevated thyroid hormone levels.

Additionally, increased metabolic rate and gastrointestinal motility can lead to increased frequency of defecation and urination, potentially resulting in more time spent in the litter box and more scratching.

Ways to Stop Your Cat from Scratching the Litter Box Too Much

Let’s talk about some simple yet effective strategies to discourage your cat from excessively scratching their litter box.

Change the Type of Litter

First off, consider changing up the type of litter you’re using. Cats are sensitive creatures and may not like the texture or scent of certain litters. You might find that switching to a different brand or type could solve your problem entirely.

For instance, if you’re currently using clay-based litter, try transitioning to a corn or wood pellet option instead. It’s all about finding what works best for your furry friend.

Modify Their Environment

Next on our list is tweaking their environment slightly.

Be sure to have multiple litter boxes in multi-cat households to prevent territorial disputes and stress, following the “one box per cat, plus one” rule.

Creating an appealing scratching post near the litter box can divert attention away from the box itself. A sturdy post wrapped in sisal rope is often irresistible for cats and can serve as an excellent alternative for them to scratch on.

Training and Positive Reinforcement

Training comes next – don’t panic! It’s not as daunting as it sounds when it comes to our feline friends. Try catching your cat in the act of the extra scratching, then gently redirect them towards their new scratching post nearby.

Remember: positive reinforcement goes a long way with cats; they respond well to rewards such as treats or praise when they use their post instead of the litter box.

And the opposite – punishing cats for unwanted behavior is generally ineffective – and can lead to increased stress and anxiety.

Contact Your Vet

Lastly, and definitely important – contact your vet! If none of these strategies seem to curb excessive scratching behavior, it might be time for a checkup.

Excessive scratching could be indicative of health issues such as allergies or anxiety disorders which need professional intervention services of vet or animal behaviorist.

And remember, any sudden change in behavior, including more scratching, warrants a veterinary visit to rule out medical issues, even if other solutions are also being tried.

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