Cat Scratching Litter Box Excessively

cat scratching
(Last Updated On: October 8, 2022)

Many cat owners find it disturbing every time their cat scratches their litter box. The scratching is not only irritating to the ears but the noise can disrupt your sleeping pattern as well as those in the house, especially during the night. Apart from affecting your sleep, litter scattering can be messy leaving your home dirty and unhygienic.

Or maybe you’re wondering why your cat digs excessively in litter box.

However, most cats either scratch the box, floor, litter box walls, and even the air. But this does not mean that there is no explanation for the behavior or no way to fix it. Here’s a guide that explains what makes your cat scratch the litter box excessively, what you can do to minimize it, or even stop this irritating cat behavior.

The guide might not be universal to every single cat since cats differ in their personality and behavior. It will, however, help you determine whether this is normal behavior or a health problem and the solutions.

Why Does Your Cat Scratch the Litter Box Excessively?

Cats play a lot, and playing inside the litter box is quite normal since they are naturally playful in behavior. While most of the time, the scratching is usually after your cat defecates inside the litter tray after they dig the litter and cover the smelly feces. But, sometimes, they continue scratching, which might hint at a bigger issue.

Maintaining Healthy Paws

The footpads/toe beans (bottom surface of cat’s paws) can sometimes trap dirt which clumps and gets stuck in the paws. This can make your cat uncomfortable and hurt, especially if he has a lot of fur on the underside. Check when your cat is scratching to see if there are bits of litter dropping off, which will help you know if they are removing litter.

If your cat is removing dirt, don’t declaw your cat to avoid causing many more problems, and replace the litter in the box with a finer litter so that he can declaw easily.

Related to arising health issues

Some cats tend to scratch their litter box excessively when they have underlying health issues like diarrhea and gastrointestinal complications. Most cats with health concerns will stay longer in their litter box. But, if your cat is constipated or urinates a lot, get in touch with your vet to factor out the possibility of kidney failure.

Marking of Territory

Being territorial species, cats feel they have to protect what is theirs. This includes all their belongings and litter box, and normally use pheromones on their paws to mark their area.

That’s why they mostly bury their wastes (urine and fecal matter) to hide any scents.

Their inherent survival instinct makes them bury their food and their waste to prevent enemies and predators from being able to track them. If they feel threatened, they will scratch their litter box excessively. 

Communication with other cats

If you have more than one cat in your home, they will scratch the paws when trying to communicate with the other cats. Since there are scent glands in the cat paws, by scratching, the cats will leave the scent which can be followed by other felines.

Signs of stress and anxiety

If you’ve made any changes in your home or the cat’s usual routines, this could trigger stress and anxiety, leading to them excessively scratching their litter box. Not only does this make your cat uncomfortable, but the scratching can damage your furniture pieces, especially if the cat is new in your home. Find out what’s stressing your cat and help him cope by spending more time with him during playtime, but remember to also respect his time. 

​Why does your cat scratch the litter box sides?

Small Litter Box

One of the primary reasons why your cat scratches the sides of the litter box is usually due to lack of space. A litter box acts as a playground where they roll around, throw litter, or even scratch. If the litter box is small in size, they end up scraping the sides. Buy an extra-large litter box or one that is spacious enough that your cats can play in.

What size litter box does your cat need?

Dirty Litter Box

A litter box can be too dirty, leading to unpleasant smells that make your cat uncomfortable. Cats are very clean, and any signs of dirt can cause them to be uncomfortable and start scratching.

Scoop the litter daily and change it once a week. Thoroughly clean the litter box with a mixture of warm water and vinegar once a month to prevent your cat from being affected by bad odors. It will also reduce the passage of bad odors that escape due to too much scraping of the litter. If your litter box is too dirty, replace the litter every couple of weeks.

Less Litter 

Your litter box might be of the right size yet your cat still scratches it. This might be due to less litter in the box. Cats defecate in the litter and then cover up the feces to prevent bad smells.

Ensure that your litter reaches to at least around 3 inches inside the box since less amounts will lead to your cat continuing to dig and end up scraping the walls. But, if your cat lives outdoors this isn’t a major problem since they have enough sand and ground to cover their mess.

Covered litter boxes 

Covered litter boxes can also lead to excessive scratching. If your cat is using a covered or enclosed litter box, they might scratch if they think that the irritating noise cannot be heard outside the closed litter box. The best option is to relocate the box to a quiet location so that your cat can have some privacy.

But, if you still notice excessive scratching even after moving the box, replace the enclosed litter box with an uncovered box. You can also ditch the litter box cover and leave the litter box open if you aren’t ready to purchase another litter box.

Smelly Poop 

Cats have a strong and compact sense of smell, and they hate bad scents. They also aren’t comfortable around objects affected by germs and bacteria that spread an unpleasant scent. This highly advanced trait is a great defensive mechanism that protects them from diseases. If your cat’s feces are soft and smelly, after defecating, your cat will find it harder to cover the mess.

The smell will still be evident, and in an effort to cover up the smell, this will lead to excessive scratching on the sides.

Since cats are quite sensitive to irritating smells, your cat will hesitate to put its paws in its poop, especially if it’s smelly. Instead, your cat will try placing some litter on it to cover the poop. If the litter box is small, this will make it hard for your cat to do it correctly, and he will end up scratching the sides.

If you notice that their poop is too soft and smelly, it’s best to change your cat’s food since your cat’s poop should smell but not smell that bad. It is the main reason for soft stool and smelly poop. Monitor your cat’s poop and behavior for a few days, and if changing the food does not help, there may be a health issue. Consult your veterinarian to find out what could be the underlying issue.

Why your cat scratches the litter box floor

If a cat scratches the litter box floor, they are sending a message or making a complaint about the litter box. It might either be too small, leaving no space, dirty, or contains less litter which is of no use to your cat. Always check the litter box regularly, and monitor whenever your cat uses it to determine what could be causing the problem.

Why your cat gazes at the litter box

Cats are territorial in nature and love their stuff to themselves. If you notice your cat gazing at the litter, maybe another feline has used it or the box is dirty. Clean the litter box to remove any scents in case it has been used by another feline, and make it comfortable enough for your cat to use it again.

Can you discourage cats from playing in the litter box?

As previously stated, cats are playful in nature, but this habit is another cause for scratching. Cats, especially kittens, love playing in the litter box. It is normal for kittens to play, roll and jump around in the litter box and this shouldn’t worry you. This is a kitten’s way of playing and digging just to have fun.

But, this is a habit that’s not expected for mature cats. If you notice that your mature cat scratching and digging in the litter box, there must be a reason why. In some cases, it might be a sign of a mental issue that forces them to try to crouch down in the litter box, where they feel safe.

If it’s a mental issue, especially if it’s a mature cat, only a visit to the vet can help. If it’s a kitten, give them a toy to play with, which will act as a distraction.

Litter Box Liner in relation to scratching

Check if your little box has a liner. If it does, this might be a clear target of scratching, which is often damages the liner due to the intensity of your cat’s paws. To prevent this, buy a quality litter box. In case this cannot stop your cat from scratching the litter box liner, buy a scratch-proof tough liner that is thick enough.

Most litter boxes with tough liners have been specifically manufactured for cats that love to dig and scratch. They are not just tough but also have strong handles for all of the litter which comes in handy when you’re disposing of the litter in the trash bin. They are, however, a bit pricey but are worth every coin. You can also purchase them in bulk if you want to save lots of money. 


In general, your cat’s digging and scratching excessively might either be caused by their behaviors, the litter box, or the location where you’ve placed the box. Litter boxes provide the perfect haven for your cat. They help to provide a comfortable and spacious ground for playing, in addition to serving a purpose as their toilet. But nasty and unusual odors, dirt, and too little litter can make them uncomfortable, leading to excessive digging and scratching.

Whatever it might be that is causing your cat’s unusual behavior and identify what triggered it. Find possible solutions that will make the litter box a comfortable place for your cat. Regularly clean the box and follow the above steps. In case none of these changes the situation, visit the vet. 

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