Why Do Cats Scratch the Side of the Litter Box?

why do cats scratch the side of litter box

There’s no doubt that some cats seem to really enjoy digging in the litter box. Some cats are very efficient, and don’t spend a lot of excess time in the box, but other cats take much longer and dig much more. If your cat is scratching the side of the litter box, you may be wondering why, or what you can do about it. Let’s find out.

Cats are mysterious, and we can’t know exactly why they do what they do. But here are the most common reasons a cat scratches the side of the litter box.

The litter box is too small

If a cat doesn’t have enough space in the litter box, they may end up scratching the side of the box as they try to bury their waste.

There isn’t enough litter in the box

If a cat doesn’t have enough litter to feel as though their waste is completely buried, they may keep scratching in order to try to bury it further.

The litter box is too dirty

If a cat has buried their waste, but the smell is still strong because the box is dirty, the cat may keep scratching to try to reduce the odor.

There is cat litter stuck on its paws

Particularly in cats with large, furry feet, it’s possible for cat litter to get stuck between their toes. This bothers cats, who are usually careful about cleaning themselves, and can be uncomfortable as well. A cat may scratch the litter box in order to try to get rid of excess cat litter and clean their feet.

Why Do Cats Scratch the Outside of the Litter Box?

Most of the above reasons indicate why a cat may scratch the inside of the litter box, but some cats also scratch the outside. If your cat is scratching the outside of the box, there may be a few other factors to consider.

The cat is marking their territory

In the wild, cats scratch on trees and bushes to leave behind their scent and let other cats know that they are there. In a household with multiple cats, scratching object may be a sign of territory or competition between cats.

The cat is sharpening their claws

Scratching is how cats sharpen their claws, by removing the dull, outer layer and exposing the new, sharp claw layer beneath. Most cats sharpen their claws on other household furniture and objects, and not on the litter box, but if the litter box has a surface that helps to sharpen their claws, they may use it in that way.

It feels good and they like it

Some cats scratch their litter box just because. Every cat has their own personality, and some cats do odd things for no reason at all.

How to Keep a Cat from Scratching the Side of the Litter Box?

If a cat’s scratching is noisy or disturbing, or if it seems to indicate distress or unhappiness in the cat, here are a few things you can do:

Get a larger litter box

A cat’s litter box should be one and a half times their body length. Getting a larger box may give the cat more space to dig and reduce scratching.

Add more litter to the litter box

If a cat is scratching because they don’t feel that there is enough litter to bury their waste, keeping more litter in the box at all times can help to reduce or eliminate scratching.

Clean the litter box more often

Keeping a litter box clean may help to reduce scratching, as the cat isn’t trying to reduce the odor by scratching.

Add another litter box

If a cat is scratching because of stress or competition, adding another litter box may help reduce territorial behavior. Adding another litter box may also keep the individual litter boxes cleaner, and give the cat(s) more litter box room, so it can address many of the causes of scratching.

Get a scratching post or scratch-friendly cat furniture

If a cat is sharpening their claws on the litter box, try getting a scratching post or other cat toy designed for scratching. Place it near the litter box and see if the cat switches to scratching that instead. Over time, you can gradually move the scratching post further away from the litter box, to a more convenient area.


If your cat is scratching the litter box just because they like it, or because they are a cat who really likes to take their time digging in the box, there isn’t much you can do about it. But if the scratching indicates that the cat is unhappy with their litter situation, it does help to get a bigger box and add more litter to it.

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