If your cat scratches the sides of the litter box, you must be wondering what caused her to do that.
When I got my kittens home for the first time, I was struggling a bit with the feline behavior. Even though I thought I have everything under control, things used to get out of hand pretty often.
For instance, litter box training wasn’t really something I’m proud of. It took me longer to achieve the goal with my first cat than with my second, which was expected.
However, I believe it also has to do with my (in)experience as much as it has to do with my pet’s personality. Each cat is different and they all distinctly adapt to their surroundings.
My first cat, Ivy, would have accidents the first month she came home. It took us some time until we figured it out. On the other hand, Simba quickly learned how to ask for his litter box and I used to show him the way until he got the hang of it.
But I should really be thankful for their instincts. If it wasn’t for my cats’ natural urge to use the litter box, oh boy, it would be messy for sure.
These instincts are strong in animals because, in the wild, they can make the difference between life and death. Even though our pets have been domesticated for quite some time now, they still have these instilled urges and behavioral patterns they go by.
These are like some unwritten rules in the feline world that most cats follow. So what’s the deal with your cat scratching the sides of the litter box? Perhaps you’re new to the cat world just like I was back then.
Just when you think you’ve figured out your pet and her behaviors, she comes up with something new.
You notice that she’s been pawing at her bathroom box lately and you wonder if it’s just a random thing she decided to do or if there’s actually some meaning behind that.
Felines are complex creatures who are curious at the same time. Perhaps she’s just exploring or playing with it. However, the question continues to itch at the back of your mind just like your pet continues to scratch the sides of the litter box.
Here’s why your cat scratches the sides of the litter box
Before we dig further to find out why is your feline doing this, you must first know how important a litter box is for a house cat.
As you may have already noticed, felines are really meticulous animals. This means that they pay great attention to even the slightest details.
For example, my pets will groom themselves and each other the whole day. Sure, they do it as a bonding time, but they’re also clean freaks!
You might’ve seen your pet brushing herself for a couple of hours a day or avoiding coming in contact with any dirty surfaces. I know; they’re such princesses.
This posh behavior can look cute to us but felines take their hygiene seriously. When have you seen a cat wiggling in the mud like its canine counterparts?
The same goes for their use of the bathroom. Cats won’t usually do their business all around the house. There are some exceptions, such as if your pet’s sick, old, a very young kitten, or marking her territory.
However, because they take their hygiene so seriously, felines will have a special place for urinating and defecating, which is usually their litter box.
If your pet doesn’t have access to it, she might even refuse to go to the bathroom. Cats can go without using the bathroom for some time, but it’s not healthy.
The point is that your pet is really picky and won’t do her business everywhere. Therefore, it’s important you provide her with a special place for that.
Also, the litter box should be top-notch. On the contrary, she might boycott by holding it in. Now that we know the importance of the litter box to your cat, let’s see why she scratches at the sides of it.
1. Natural urge
If your cat scratches at the sides of the litter box just moments after using it, she’s probably doing an instinctual thing.
Felines will dig out a hole in the litter where they will bury their waste once they’re done. I know, so polite.
If your pet’s an outdoor cat, you’ll notice her do the same thing in your garden. This is a natural urge for every cat, no matter if she’s an indoor or outdoor one.
If your pet was in the wild, this strategy would help her survive. Burying the waste helps cover up their scent.
Therefore, she’d mask her own smell so no predator could possibly track her down. Smart little creatures, aren’t they?
So, after your cat’s done her business, she might scratch at the sides of the litter box. But is she aware she does this? Most of the time, your cat probably scratches the sides of the litter box quite unintentionally.
For instance, Ivy won’t do that very often so it’s usually quiet when it’s her turn to relieve herself. On the other hand, I can’t say the same for Simba. The sound of him scratching at the sides of his bathroom is inevitable.
I’m not completely sure if it has something to do with the fact that they’re the opposite gender. Maybe Simba’s doing it because of his testosterone levels which scream “I am the Alpha male!”
Either way, your pet might scratch at the sides of the litter box to try and cover up their waste. They do it mostly unaware of the sound.
2. Clean freaks!
I already mentioned how felines are meticulous and want to keep everything in its right order. The litter box is no exception.
If you notice your pet scratching at the sides of the box, she might have some litter stuck in her paw pads.
Besides pawing in the bathroom, cats can shake their paws in order to get rid of the excess litter.
Felines’ feet are really sensitive because their paw pads have a bunch of nerve receptors. This gives their paws the ability to feel the world around them, recognize different surfaces, as well as communicate.
Your pet needs to have full support because of the balance as well. After all, who’d like to have something stuck in their paws?
This is why most pet owners will put a small rug in front of their cat’s litter box. That way she can wipe her little feet when she’s out of the box.
These small rugs, especially plastic ones can also help with your pet scattering the litter around the box. All you have to do is pick it up and empty it instead of constantly sweeping the floors.
3. Dirty litter box
I see no point in repeating how much of a clean freak a cat is. They really care about their strict hygiene levels, which is really a plus to feline owners.
If you notice your pet constantly scratching and pawing at the sides of her litter box, perhaps she isn’t the “problem.” Maybe she’s just trying to tell you that there’s something wrong.
I don’t mean it in a medical way. There could be something happening with her litter box that you can’t see. Perhaps it’s too dirty for your meticulous creature.
Maybe you don’t see any waste but it’s just not good enough for your tidy feline. Who knows, maybe it’s the smell she can’t take.
Try to change the litter more often and see if it works. Make sure you always leave your pet with clean and fresh litter because it might minimize the scratching.
4. Small litter box
This was one of the first mistakes I did, as a rookie. Well, I don’t really blame myself because who could’ve known they need so much space when going to the bathroom?!
My first cat used to scratch the sides of her litter box when she went into her teen years. I just thought it was something normal that happens on occasion.
Perhaps it’s because of her getting older and getting into puberty. Maybe it’s some type of play or her hormones getting out of hand. Well, it was none of that.
The behavior didn’t stop until I bought her a new litter box. Then it got to me: she simply outgrew it! I’m really thankful that I decided to buy a new one now.
Not only did the scratching stop along with that horrible noise. She seemed much happier and it was kind of a reality check for me: my baby isn’t a baby anymore!
But you know what they say – you learn from your own mistakes. So this was good preparation for my future pets, especially chunky ones, just like Simba!
5. Playful activity
Do you know how cats will find all crazy things to do for fun? They’ll ignore and walk past all those expensive cat toys you bought them as if they’re worth nothing.
Instead, they’ll find something weird to do and play with anything and everything that’s cat inappropriate and perhaps screams danger.
I went through this with my second pet who’s a really rambunctious male. He’s always up to something. And when I say always, I mean all the time.
I can’t take my eyes off of him for one second. Not only because he’s such a handsome boy but because he’ll try to nip, bite, chew, scratch, and claw at something he’s not supposed to.
He did the same thing to the sides of his litter box. It took me a couple of those of every type to figure out that there’s nothing wrong with the litter box.
While I thought it was something similar to what I have experienced with Ivy, the little rascal was just bored and tried to have some fun. Some time later, I realized that his scratching sides of the litter box is a weird play.
6. Marking their territory
In the wild, felines can be really feisty when it comes to their territory. They highly value and cherish what’s theirs and will fight for it until death if needed.
Even though our domesticated cats have everything available, they can still follow their deeply instilled instincts. Sure, she doesn’t have to fight for food or a comfy place in your bed.
However, if you have spoiled cats as I do, you might notice this odd behavior from time to time. You’d think that Simba was the first one to start scratching at the sides of the litter box.
But it turns out that I was wrong. It was the female cat, Ivy! My guess is that she does it because she was the first feline inhabitant of the household. Perhaps she’s just letting her presence be known.
But it’s still hard to determine whether your cat’s scratching the litter box in terms of marking her own territory. There are a bunch of other reasons why she could be exhibiting such weird behavior.
One of the ways you can figure this out is if you own another pet. If I had only Ivy, I’d probably assume that there’s a problem with her bathroom box; it’s either too small or dirty. But now that I have two cats, I’m pretty sure that it’s a means of communication.
Felines don’t use words but body language. Scratching at the sides of her box is one way to tell Simba “This is mine! Back off.” Even though they kind of grew up together and love each other to bits, such feline behavior is sometimes inevitable.
Humans oftentimes forget that their little furbabies still belong to the animal kingdom and will act according to their instinctual urges and unsaid rules. The best way to avoid something from happening is to have separate bathrooms for all your cats.
7. Not enough litter
It’s safe to say that cats can sometimes be greedy little creatures. You know all those times your pet woke you up in the middle of the night because her food bowl was half empty?
It happens to me all the time. Simba didn’t always use to do that though. However, he picked up on Ivy’s behavior and soon started joining her in those night adventures to bed.
They would come trotting down the hall and I’ll feel the sheets ruffling and moving around. The next thing I can hear is a loud meowing sound. I’d think that these cats are starving if I didn’t know they had their dinner just a couple of hours ago.
I mentioned how if you have a spoiled cat things can be a bit more difficult. I mean, it can be harder for pet owners to tell them no. All it takes is that one look with their big round eyes and you fall straight into their trap.
However, sometimes it’s good to have some boundaries, especially when it comes to food. We don’t want that chunk to give us health problems later. Still, there are times when you have to consider your pet’s demands.
For instance, if your cat’s scratching the sides of the litter box, she might be asking for more litter. Maybe you’ve cleaned it and changed it earlier, but forgot to put in some extra fresh litter. Remember, your feline has a natural urge to bury her own waste and she can’t do that without enough tools!
8. It could be a location problem
Talking about felines and their finicky nature… Just like you can’t go to the bathroom anywhere in the house, your cat will also choose the right spot for that.
However, we just tend to buy a litter box and place it where we like it the most. But that’s not how it works with our furry little companions. It’s true that they have a mind of their own and are known to be very ambitious animals.
However, they can’t tell you to move their bathroom somewhere else. Unfortunately, you might notice your cat having accidents in different places. If these accidents keep happening in the same spot, this might be your pet trying to send you a message.
“Hey, I don’t like where you put my litter box. It takes me too much time to get to it and I want it moved. Here, there’s where I want my bathroom to be. No, I demand it be that way.”
It would probably go something along those lines. Cats don’t usually ask politely; they demand stuff. So, I suggest you try and meet her needs and satisfy both of you.
Also, make sure you try out a few different cat litter. Perhaps she doesn’t like the type you’re using right now. I know, they can be really picky and spoiled sometimes, but hey, if it makes your cat go and do her business, why not? Better than using your plants and flowers!
9. Covered litter box
If your cat scratches the sides of her litter box, you should find out if there’s something wrong with it. Perhaps it’s damaged at the sides or even at the bottom and your cat’s trying to show you.
However, one of my friends, who’s also a cat parent, recently experienced something similar with her new pet. She did a ton of research before she brought her little furbaby home and opted for a covered litter box.
This would turn out to be her mistake. The covered litter box is a great option to try and minimize the waste your pet produces after going to the bathroom. Felines love to dig and bury their poop so I don’t have to tell you how all the litter comes flying out the litter box!
So even though they’re known to be meticulous creatures, things can sometimes get pretty messy. That’s why the heavens sent us the creation of the covered litter box. However, cats being cats, need to have everything a more complicated way.
So, if you notice your feline exhibiting this strange behavior, she might not be feeling this type of litter box. Perhaps she feels too crowded in this small space and wants to have a better look at the outside.
This isn’t very unusual for felines because they like to be in more elevated positions to keep an eye on their surroundings. This is actually what keeps them alive in the wild. It can also be one of the reasons your cat sleeps between your legs.
Therefore, my friend had to get rid of the cover because her cat constantly kept scratching at the litter box. I’m pretty sure that if she hadn’t gotten rid of it, her cat would very soon!
I hope we explained the ins and outs of this behavior step by step and that you now understand why your cat scratches the sides of the litter box.
We did this by throwing in some of our examples so you can have a better look and understand this feline urge better. Now we know that cats aren’t just cute and fluffy, but instinctual and meticulous as well.
They like to do things their own way, and honestly, there’s nothing stopping them. All you can do is try to satisfy their demands and wishes so you both can enjoy life together.
Cats will scratch at the sides of their litter box because they’ll oftentimes find something they don’t like. For instance, your pet might not enjoy the fact that her bathroom is too small or too dirty for her. A princess like that deserves to have a clean and fresh litter, don’t you think?
Other times, this unusual behavior involves more than one pet. Perhaps your cat isn’t even that territorial, but everything might change with bringing home another cat. So, if you notice her pawing at the litter box, it might be your feline sending a clear message to other furry residents of the house.