Feline Litter Box Etiquette: The 9 Common Causes and Solutions

By Davis Wilkins •  Updated: 05/06/22 •  13 min read
Cat in litter box

Toilets are wonderful inventions, aren’t they? Unless you’re trying to use one and a cat is blocking your way.

 I know that at times like this, we all wish that cats would follow the same etiquette we do when it comes to bathroom visits.

The truth is, they probably haven’t seen the movie!

I love cats but I don’t understand why people ignore their bathroom etiquette.

They are fastidious creatures and naturally, they tend to instinctively bury their waste upon elimination. This is why litter box training in most cases is a smooth process.

They also eliminate as far away as possible from their feeding areas especially in the wild to avoid spooking prey or leading a predator to their nest.

However, various factors must be in play to ensure that proper feline litter box etiquette is observed.

Getting the right type of cat litter, the right litter box to where it is placed all play into ensuring that no house soiling occurs.

These and more factors are important in ensuring that litter box use occurs without accidents and that no smelly deposits are found on your favorite flower pot.

There is still room for humans to assist them in this process. 

 So, I’ve decided to share with you my findings on how to best assist your cat brothers and sisters in their daily excretory needs.

Litter box problems include:

Factors That Trigger Poor Feline Litter Box Etiquette

Did you know that the number one reason why cats are thrown into shelter homes or banished from homes is because of elimination problems due to poor litter box etiquette?

This should never be the case and you can apply these simple but effective tactics to solve this nasty problem.

1.         Poor litter texture or change of litter:

Cats, especially older ones are accustomed to using a particular type of cat litter upon which any change will cause them to reject it and choose to eliminate it in a different spot.

They don’t care that you passed by the store and found this colorful new litter at a huge discount!

If the litter type is of poor quality and the cat doesn’t accept it, you will be forced to invest in a better litter type that is acceptable to your cat.

Remember, your cat decides which litter they want to use. They are your boss!

Solution:

If it is extremely necessary to change the litter type for one reason or the other, add a bit of the new litter into the litter box and mix it with the current one.

Continue adding more and more of the new litter over time as the cat gets used to the feeling until you completely replace the existing litter.

Cats prefer clumping litter because the sand-like feel resembles soil.

2.         Change of litter box type:

Just like a change of litter type will cause your cat to rebel, so does change the litter box.

Moving from an open litter box to a hooded litter box may cause your cat to feel caged and hence panic causing him to abandon the litter box.

Solution:

Avoid abrupt change of litter boxes but place the new one adjacent to the current litter box and allow the cat to familiarize himself with it.

After he is comfortable using the new box, get rid of the old one.

For hooded litter boxes, take the lid off initially until your cat can use the box without a problem.

3.         Dirty litter box:

Soiled litter is uncomfortable for use by your cat and may end up soiling your house due to this.

Solution:

Always make sure that daily scooping occurs and a box cleaning at least once a week.

4.         Litter box location:

High traffic areas and zones with loud noises such as the laundry room will cause your cat to feel exposed and afraid. They may end up abandoning the litter box eventually and fail to observe proper litter box etiquette.

Solution:

Place the box in a quiet, secure peaceful area that’s easily accessible. Cats like this will enable her to use a litter box again.

5.         Size of the box:

If the box is too small such that your cat cannot fit in comfortably, he may choose to use a different spot to relieve himself and cease using the litter box.

Solution:

Invest in a large box that allows the kitty to turn and scratch the litter without parts of the body hanging outside or spilling any litter.

6.         Design of the litter box:

Hooded boxes tend to trap moisture and odors causing the cat to feel suffocated.

Solution:

Scoop the box more frequently or remove the hood altogether. This will help prevent your kitty from having bathroom accidents.

7.         Stressful situations:

Environmental stressors may cause your cat to result in marking behavior such as urine spraying.

Stressors involve, moving homes, the presence of a new pet, the sight of strange cats outside the homestead, the loss of a human in the home, and illness, among other reasons.

Solution:

 Rule out any medical condition by consulting with a veterinary officer.

 If the cat is in good health and simply reacting to an environmental cause, a good way to calm him is by using an artificial pheromone diffuser that mimics a cat’s facial pheromones.

 Feliway is a good option to help prevent bathroom issues in your kitty.

8.         Too few boxes:

In a multi-cat household, having too few litter boxes may cause aggressive tendencies among the cats and cause the weaker ones to be bullied while using the boxes.

This can cause them to look for alternative elimination in safer places.

Solution:

As a general rule, you should have a litter box per cat plus an additional box (plus one) for the number of cats present on the homestead.

Place each box in a different location. Remember to scoop them at least once a day.

9.         Using scented litter:

Cats have heightened olfactory senses and what may be mild to you can be overwhelming to your cat. They may avoid using the litter because of this since cats hate the irritating smell.

 Solution:

 Simply go for unscented litter and scoop the box more frequently. This will encourage your cats to use the litter provided since it lacks an overwhelming smell.

cat litter pellets

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is it cruel to lock a cat in the bathroom?

You may be surprised, but my answer is: no, it’s not cruel.  Though you should be careful about doing it exactly right.

A cat in a locked bathroom isn’t cruel. She will be fine, as long as she has food, water, and a clean litter box.

However, if you plan to keep the cat in there for more than a few days, don’t confine your pets for more than six hours at a time without letting them out for exercise and playtime.

Take several 15-minute breaks during this time to take your pet out for exercise and some playtime so he does not get bored or frustrated because he does not have enough stimulation.

It’s also important to play with the cat a little bit each day and give her adequate attention.

If a cat is used to going outside, suddenly not being able to go outside can be quite distressing for them.

They may scratch at the windows, doors, or walls in an attempt to get out. This can cause severe damage to your home.

Do cats like privacy when they use the bathroom?

Yes, cats prefer privacy when they use the bathroom.

The first thing to understand is that cats are highly territorial.

Domestic or wild, they’re used to marking their territory and defending it from other animals.

 It’s natural for them to want to keep their bathroom area away from the rest of their territory so that no other animal gets ideas about claiming it.

This territorial instinct is one reason why so many cats prefer covered litter boxes.

It gives them more of a sense of enclosure and seclusion than an open box does. However, this isn’t always the case; many cats prefer uncovered boxes instead.

 All felines like to find a private place to do their business. It’s their way of keeping safe from predators while they’re vulnerable.

Why do cats have to be in the bathroom with you?

Why do they have to follow you and sit on your lap the second you sit down to go to the bathroom?

So many questions, so little time. But even if we don’t have time to wonder why they need to be with us while we pee, we still can’t help but laugh at them.

They get so offended when we shut the door on them, like not being able to watch us is a form of punishment or something.

Why do cats need to be in the bathroom while you are using the toilet?

There are many reasons and theories behind this, but perhaps it’s best to break it down into three categories:

  1. Cats are curious by nature and want to know what you’re doing in there.
  2. Cats like to be near their people and if they can’t be near them physically, they want to at least be nearby, perhaps even keeping an eye on them from under the door or through a crack in it. To be fair, though, our cats might just think that this is the only way for them to get any alone time with us. Maybe it’s their way of bonding?
  3. Cats don’t always understand that we need privacy sometimes and can’t always have them sitting on top of us or rubbing against our legs.

How can I tell my cat needs to use the bathroom?

You can tell if your cat needs to use the bathroom by observing your cat’s behavior.

Cats can be very good at holding their pee, so sometimes it can be difficult to tell if they need to go.

Signs that your cat needs to go to the bathroom:

Place a bell on the door if you want your cat to let you know when she wants to go outside. Cats can learn how to ring bells when they want something and this technique can work if you want your cat to let you know when she wants to go outside. Place a bell close enough to the door handle so that your cat can reach it with her paw and ring it when she wants out.

Pro tip:

How often should you change out the litter in the litter box?

You should change out the litter at least once a week.

However, you could get away with going two weeks between litter changes.

However, if you have more than one cat, or if you find that your cat is having accidents outside of the litter box, then you might want to consider changing it out more frequently.

The best way to prevent the “litter box smell” from taking over your home is to change the litter frequently so that it doesn’t have time to start smelling.

Should I clean the litter box in front of my cat?

The consensus among cat experts is that you should not clean the litter box in front of your cat.

This can be stressful for cats and lead to behavioral problems.

Cats are naturally territorial, and when they see you cleaning their box, it may feel like you’re encroaching on their territory.

Some cats might even view your actions as a threat.

Cleaning the litter box in front of your cat is a surefire way to make him or her feel that you are trying to take over their territory.

 The litter box is their bathroom, and they want it to be private.

 If you clean it in front of your cat, they may start to avoid it altogether and find other places in your home to eliminate it.

 That is why cleaning the litter box when your cat is not around is a much better idea, especially if your cat does not like company in the bathroom.

If you do need to clean your cat’s litter box while they’re watching, I recommend distracting them by giving them a treat or lots of love and attention.

This will create positive associations with the experience and make them more likely to tolerate it in the future.

Should litter boxes be next to food?

No, the litter boxes should not be next to food.

Place their litter box in a separate room or area from their food and water bowls.

This will prevent litter box avoidance and reduce the chances of having toilet messes in the houses.

Does it matter where you put the litter box?

Yes, it matters where you put your cat’s litter box.

Choose the right location to put the cat box and avoid a high-traffic area.

Consider placing the litter box in a quiet area of your home where your cat won’t be disturbed while using it.

Always remember that cats like privacy. They don’t like to be watched while they use the bathroom, and they especially do not like to be cornered in a small space and forced to relieve themselves.

So place their litter boxes somewhere out of the way, but not totally off the beaten path.

 Conclusion:

Everybody wants their home to smell good.

Few things in life are as instantly recognizable as a house with a litter box.

Whether you leave the door open all day or only once a day, scoop it yourself, or every week when you clean your house, one fact remains: cats need litter boxes.

Many cat owners and owners-to-be will have concerns about how to prevent litter box issues.

 Good cat litter etiquette is the solution to any of those problems.

The best cat litter box etiquette means that you take proper care to ensure your cat’s litter box is well maintained and fully stocked for your kitty’s comfort.

Follow these 9 tips to ensure you are making the most of your litter box and staying on top of your cat’s needs.

Davis Wilkins

Davis Wilkins is a dedicated cat lover, with three cats under his care. He grew up in a cat-loving family, nurturing these feline friends. As a result, he purposed to share his cat knowledge with the universe. Wilkins has been writing professionally for over four years, specializing in feline care with a keen interest in litter box care and handling. He hopes to help other feline lovers achieve their pet care goals.

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