Behavioral problems

My Cat is Scratching Their Litter Box Excessively

Mercè Garcia
By Mercè Garcia. May 20, 2019
My Cat is Scratching Their Litter Box Excessively

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Does your cat like to make a mess? There are many ways to do it, but one of the most unpleasant is kicking cat litter out of their litter box. Not only does the litter go everywhere, but so does anything else they may have happened to deposit in there. While this is unhygienic for us, it is usually simply part of their normal behavior. Only when done excessively might it be a symptom of a larger problem for the cat. If this problem is a health issue, then we will need to determine the cause. Equally, it may be a practical issue which needs resolved.

If your cat is scratching their litter box excessively, then AnimalWised helps you to work out what might be causing them to do this. We'll also provide some practical information on anything litter box related.

You may also be interested in: My Neutered Cat Is Spraying Everywhere


  1. Why does my cat kick litter out?
  2. What if my cat is kicking out sand excessively?
  3. How to prevent a cat from kicking litter out of the box
  4. Types of cat litter and its importance
  5. The litter box is fundamental

Why does my cat kick litter out?

To begin with, it is important to understand the reasons why a cat might kick litter (sometimes referred to as ‘sand’) our of their box. Understand a cat's behavior in general is a pre-adoption necessity. Getting prepared for the cat's arrival means we can know what to expect and what to avoid. Equally, every cat is an individual. They may exhibit certain behavior which is specific to themselves. Fortunately, getting to know our cat's personality is one of the most rewarding aspects of cat ownership.

Cats will kick litter out of their box because they are trying to bury their urine and/or feces. When a cat uses its litter box it usually follows this routine: they inspect the litter for cleanliness, they dig a little to make a divot, they urinate/defecate and finally scratch at the litter to cover their expulsion. How forcefully this occurs will depend on the individual cat. Some scoop a little over the top, others may be a little more energetic.

It is important to know this behavior is completely normal. Wild felines and many other animals carry it out also. Cats bury their stool for two main reasons:

  • They are very clean animals
  • They want to avoid the attention of predators or other cats

However, although this is an innate behavior, not all cats bury their feces. Some cats may go into the litter box and do their business on top of the litter. However, if your cat normally does so and then stops, it could be a sign of a pathological problem. You will need to take them to the vet to determine if this is indeed the case.

What if my cat is kicking out sand excessively?

While kicking their sand out of the box is a normal behavior, doing it excessively is not. The reason a cat might scratch in their litter box excessively could be due to a physical health problem or it may be a behavioral issue.

Health issue

A cat may be scratching in their litter box too much because they are using it excessively. Gastrointestinal issues in cats are fairly common. They may eat something which doesn't agree with them which can lead to temporary diarrhea. However, they may also have a parasitical infestation which usually has more prolonged symptoms.

Viral and bacterial infections can also lead to digestion issues. As a symptom of the underlying disease, the cat might need to go more often and will excessively scratch accordingly.

Behavioral problem

If your cat is stressed, then it can manifest itself in various behaviors. They might scratch (at us or the furniture), have trouble sleeping or even develop stereotypies. These are behavioral ‘tics’ which can manifest themselves in various ways. Excessive scratching in the litter box is just one possible reason.

Finding out the cause of the cat's stress is vital. We need to look at their other behaviors and symptoms. Take them to the vet to see if there is a medical reason why they are upset. If there is nothing found, then you will need to see an animal behaviorist to determine the cause.

However, there are also some practical issues as to why this might occur which we detail below.

My Cat is Scratching Their Litter Box Excessively - What if my cat is kicking out sand excessively?

How to prevent a cat from kicking litter out of the box

Hygiene is likely the biggest problem for excessive litter scratching in their box. As we have stated, cats are especially clean creatures. There is little they hate more than dirt. You can see this by the fact they spend so much time licking and preening themselves. With the standards they keep for their bodies, they will expect similar standards with their litter box.

In the wild, cats will many more options of places to bury their waste. Even so, even big cats such as Bengal tigers will urinate on mounds and then spread the sand. They do this to announce their presence and ward off rivals.

In the case of domestic cats, they do not have as many options. Some may go outside if they have access to the outdoors. However, if their indoor litter box is not sufficiently clean, they may feel as if they don't have enough space to do their business. This might cause them to scratch at the litter a lot to try to find an appropriate place to go. This isn't a behavioral problem with the cat, but a result of our poor guardianship.

It is imperative we keep the cat's litter box as clean as possible. If you increase the amount of time you spend cleaning up their box and changing the litter, you might find they will scratch less.

Types of cat litter and its importance

The type of cat litter you use may have a bearing on their scratching habits. Some cats will prefer one type over another. They may be more likely to scratch and spread one they dislike. This is why it might be a useful experiment to try and change the litter type. Cats are particular animals and may have a preference we are unaware of. If you have scented litter, the cat may simply dislike the smell. Types of cat litter include:

  • Conventional litter: this is the standard litter which still may come in various sub-types, especially those which are scented or unscented.
  • Clumping litter: this is litter which clumps together when wet, making it easier for the cat to see it.
  • Silica gel litter: one of the most absorbent types of litter available.
  • Biodegradable litter: this is litter made from more natural materials and generally better for the environment.

The amount of litter you use in a litter tray may also have a bearing on how much the cat scratches. If you put too much in the box, then the cat will not need to scratch much for it to spread everywhere. The deeper the litter, the deeper the cat might bury their waste. On the other hand, an insufficient amount of litter will result in the cat having to scratch more to cover it.

The ideal height for litter in a cat's tray is between 10 and 5 cm (c. 2"-4"). This will provide enough to cover their waste without difficulty.

My Cat is Scratching Their Litter Box Excessively - Types of cat litter and its importance

The litter box is fundamental

Much of the time, the problem of a cat scratching excessively is the litter box itself. ideally, the litter box should be 1.5 times the size of the cat. Most of the litter boxes we find on the market are not sufficiently sized, especially for larger cat breeds. It is not surprising cats kicking litter out is such a common problem.

Cats should easily be able to turn around 180º inside their litter box. The cat will kick the litter backwards outside of the box. If the box is too small, it will be difficult for the cat to do this properly. The box's height is also important. Even if the box is large enough, the cat might kick litter out if the sides are too narrow or the top too low.

If you think the solution is to change the type of litter box you use, then it is important to know you need to do this gradually. Place the new litter box next to the old one. Only remove the latter once the cat has become used to using the new one and knows it has a place to go. Otherwise it can lead to stress.

The amount of cats you have is also a factor. The optimum amount of litter boxes in a home is one for each cat plus an extra one to share. If you need to go back to basics, you can even need to litter train the cat.

If you want to read similar articles to My Cat is Scratching Their Litter Box Excessively, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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My Cat is Scratching Their Litter Box Excessively