The 10 Most Common Litterbox Mistakes Cat Owners Make

There are rules for setting up a litterbox correctly and for maintaining it properly. Not following these rules means a less-than-ideal litterbox experience for Kitty. This is stressful for your cat and could eventually lead to litterbox avoidance.

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No one wants their cat to go outside the litterbox, so make sure you're not making one of these common mistakes. If you are, please don't rush into making any changes. Read this through and follow the links in this list for more information on how to correct the situation. If in doubt, do ask in the cat behavior forum and our members will be happy to offer advice!

1. The litterbox is too dirty.

The litterbox should be scooped at least once a day. Some cats need their litter cleaned literally after every use or they'll stay away from the box and go elsewhere. If you find yourself unable to scoop at such tight intervals, consider getting an automatic litterbox. Read reviews of automated litterboxes by our members.

Read more: How Often Should You Clean The Litter Box?

2. The litterbox is too small.

The litterbox should be large enough to allow your cat room to turn around in comfortably. A good rule of thumb is to roughly measure the length of your cat, nose to the tip of the tail, and find a box that's 1.5 times longer than that. If you have a kitten, remember to adjust the size of the box as Kitty grows up.

Read more: How To Choose The Right Litterbox

3. There aren't enough litterboxes.

This could be an issue even if you only have one cat. A single cat can make do with a single litterbox if the area of your home is small. If you live in a large house, especially one with more than one level, consider keeping two litterboxes. Kitty shouldn't have to travel a long distance to reach the box.

In a multiple-cat household, there is a simple mathematical formula to follow: The number of litterboxes should equal the number of cats, plus one extra litterbox.

Read more: How Many Litterboxes Should You Have

4. The litterbox is too close to the cat's feeding dishes.

Would you like to have dinner next to your toilets? Kitty doesn't want to either. Always keep food and water as far away from the litterbox as possible. If you must place them in the same room, it should be a large room and feeding dishes and the litterbox should be in opposite corners.

5. The litterbox isn't always accessible.

The litterbox should always be within your cat's reach. Make sure there are no doors separating Kitty from the litterbox and no other impassable obstacles are in the way. For kittens, senior cats or those with health problems, the box should be at floor level, and they should not be made to jump to get there.

6. The litterbox is located in a busy or noisy place.

A cat doesn't necessarily need visual privacy. However, it's important for your cat to be able to do his business in peace, without being interrupted by other pets or noisy toddlers. A washing machine starting its cycle could also be too scary. With some cats, one such frightening experience is all it takes to stay away from the litterbox.

Read more: Litter Box Location Secrets

7. There isn't enough litter in the box.

Make sure the box contains an even layer of 3-5 inches of litter. Some cats prefer a deeper layer while others a shallower one, so watch your cat's behavior in the litterbox. If he seems to be digging his way to Antarctica, try putting in just a little less litter next time, as your cat may actually like to feel that he's hitting the bottom of the box.

Read more: How To Set Up An Effective Litterbox Maintenance Routine

8. It's the wrong kind of litter.

There are many considerations when choosing cat litter. You may want it to absorb smells, be easy to scoop, eco-friendly and affordable. However the real question should be: Does Kitty like it? Cats can have their own unique preferences when it comes to litter, so if your cat shows an aversion to one type, you may consider trying another. More about this topic: How To Choose The Right Cat Litter

9. The litterbox is covered.

Some cats will happily use a covered litterbox while others detest it. If your cat appears to be shooting out of the box as soon as he finishes urinating or defecating, without covering or hanging around to check "the produce", he may not be feeling comfortable enough under the cover. Try removing the litterbox cover and see if your cat seems more relaxed in the box. If smell is an issue, make sure you clean the box often enough. A cover should never be used to mask smell and it can actually make the smell of a dirty box much worse inside. If your cat is the type that kicks litter all over the place, consider an open litterbox with high sides instead of a covered one.

Read more: How To Choose The Right Litterbox

10. You're making too many changes to the litter or litterbox.

Cats are creatures of habit and they love their routine. If you keep making changes, moving the box around or changing litter too often or suddenly, it could be very stressful for your cat. If you think there's need for improvement, the key is to do it gradually.

Read more: When And How To Switch To A New Type Of Litter

If you're reading this because your cat isn't using his litterbox properly and goes outside the box, there is more to look at than the litterbox. Possible reasons for litterbox avoidance include health problems and overall stress. Read this guide to find out why your cat has stopped using the litterbox and how to get him to use it once again - How To Solve Litterbox Problems In Cats The Ultimate Guide

Comments? Please leave your feedback in the comments section below. Question about your cat's litterbox habits? Post your question in the cat behavior forum and we'll try to help!

24 comments on “The 10 Most Common Litterbox Mistakes Cat Owners Make

nunnc84 August 7, 2018
I’ve made about all of these mistakes. I’m so glad I found this website!
Mother Dragon March 27, 2017
The self-scooping litter boxes are great. Ten or twenty minutes after the cat leaves the box, the rake comes out and scoops the litter into a container with a closing lid. We bought some of the Nature's Miracle brand about 15 months ago. Every one of them broke within a couple of months. The company was great about replacing them, but after replacing FIVE of them in a year, we'd had it! We found the classic Littermaid and ordered it. It works beautifully. You have to be careful not to use heavy litter or it will bog down and burn out the motor. We've found that Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract works very well.   We have three cats and four self-scooping pans. The kitties prefer two of them over the others, so those have to be emptied twice a week. The containers are actually reusable if you want to dump the contents. We dump the contents and mix them with the stuff from our paper shredders. If anyone wants to look at the printouts of my garden, they better REALLY want to check them out.   The pans are cheaper online, although not cheap overall, but they're worth it. They can run on batters or 110 and come with the converter. I recommend plugging them in because some cats like to set them off just to watch them run. Our guys are fascinated with the one in the bedroom and run to watch it. The system has a cut-off if it senses a cat in the box.   
lilsassyred March 26, 2017
The best thing I've found for litter are the concrete mixing tubs available at big box hardware stores where the concrete mix is found. They come in two sizes...large and larger and have sloped sides which make them very easy to scoop
kattykins January 17, 2017
I would like to strongly advise every cat owner to buy a kid's SAND SHOVEL type plastic scooper and NOT purchase those slitted shovels that are available to scoop litter boxes. Those slitted shovels only pick up the solid poo and let the urine soiled particles pass right through back in the litter box. Most cats are very fussy and fastidious  and won't use dirty boxes. It's like a dirty toilet--you flush the poo but leave the urine. I buy the largest kid's plastic sand shovels that I can find in the toy dept. and keep one by every litter box, along with a  garbage-bag lined plastic container with lid. When I scoop every day, I use the sand shovel to scoop out the poo AND the urine mounds.  I don't know why the manufacturers don't make this type shovel for cat boxes! The sand shovels certainly keep the litter boxes a lot cleaner, less smelly and the cats are happy. I scoop clear to the bottom of the cat boxes to find any urine mounds and make sure I get every bit. Then I add some new litter every day. Another tip:  I have several cats and found it is necessary to have a cat box for every cat you have. However, their favorite is a large vinyl storage bin. I removed the lid, cut out a large round "half moon" on the side so they can easily enter, leaving several inches at bottom so the litter will stay in. The bin is nearly clear, about 34" long, 20" W, 12 H. The cats seem to love it because it is so big and they can see through it when they are in the litter box. I keep it against a wall in the laundry room. Yes, there is always litter in the morning to sweep up, there's just no getting around that. I keep a child's broom and dustpan next to the big box and sweep it up. Also, I have found that all the cats I have had do not like "scented" litter, nor do they like "clumping" litter.  They prefer the plain, non-scented kind so I just buy the big bags of plain litter and try to find the brands with the least dust. I have had kitties refuse to use litter boxes with the scented, citrusy, or clumping litter brands. Another tip: If you use a disinfectant to clean the litter boxes don't use a really smelly, scented type like lysol.  I use diluted  chlorox bleach and then rinse, rinse, rinse. Rinsing many times helps get rid of the scent and cats do not like strange scents.  
moeandme January 5, 2017
I've tried everything.....  but.....  my boy Timothy has officially earned the name "leaky kitty".  I've tried, pan change, litter change, no lid, lid, deep litter, shallow litter, a pan for each cat + one.  Cleaning litter pans daily.  I even tried letting the pans get ucky!  My cats don't appear to have a preference.  He uses a pan, she covers his "donation" and uses the same pan!  She follows him from pan to pan some days.  Other days they each use a different pan one in the front of the basement the other at the back of the basement. The smallest pan (named the powder room) is a covered cat pan without the lid.  Some days they avoid this pan other days it's the first choice. I found out.....   1 1/2 inches or Cat Attract in plastic cement mixing bins from Big Box Stores is a winner for us.   Both cats choose a dirty pan over a "really clean and citrus smelling pan".  In six years I have not bin able to figure out why my "Leaky Kitty" will pee on a cotton carpets at the front door or my home.  (any carpet in this location is a target.   He's was vet checked.  We thought he was marking territory when a stranger visited..... I've cleaned outside the house and sprayed the front steps with a 'cat away' product to keep strays off the steps......   I've wondered if he was asking for his water dish to be filled.... (getting desperate to solve the problem)    many enzymatic cleanings, lots of speculation.   Recently I changed the laundry detergent that was used to wash his carpet.  It is now two weeks after he used the carpet three days in a row and the carpet is still dry.   Sorry if you are also having a problem with litter pans and Boy I'm glad to know I'm not alone!     
taboobleu November 11, 2016
TabooBleu earned the nickname Tigger the Digger for a reason. I now use a tote (larger & deeper than a standard litterbox) and just don't overfill with scoopable litter and barely anything leaves the box! He has manners and covers everything, no odor problems, and it's on rollers (weight of litter keeps it steady for him), so all I have to do is roll it out, sweep, roll back, done in about a minute! Of course this is after pooper/clumper removal.
jkuras August 16, 2016
Great advice.  I would love to try the automatic litter box, but could that hurt my cat since I work at night and I am not home to supervise.
jkuras August 16, 2016
Great advice.  I would love to try the automatic litter box, but could that hurt my cat since I work at night and I am not home to supervise.
forest phoenix August 2, 2016
I sure relate to these messy kitty problems. My little Ru is a digger and an overzealous coverer. She makes such a mess! Oftentimes, she does her business, covers it with a huge mound (while kicking litter all over the floor), then continues to try to cover it. By then, she's forgotten where the mess was, so she just keeps randomly digging and kicking litter everywhere, often kicking up bits of mess inadvertently, which go all over the floor and adjacent wall. :( It's gross... but also a little comical. I've gotten her a covered box to try. If she doesn't like that, we'll try the storage bin solution.
therese July 30, 2016
Over the past 25 years, I have always had indoor cats, at least two at a time, and I have probably made every mistake you have listed here.  ( terrific article, by the way )  Cats are so fragile, delicate creatures, so idiosyncratic, that even one of these issues can cause serious problems.  Great site and really excellent articles for the novice cat owner as well as the old seasoned veteran. 
sue f July 28, 2016
I've had two cats that were "diggers".  They relished kicking litter all over the place.  I have tried high sided pans, and they still had litter all over the floor.  Hooded litter pan was the only answer.  I found they actually liked the secretiveness of it.. Just make sure the top vent is unobstructed, and get rid of any "filter" they put there, it just keeps the odors in for poor kitty to breathe. I just brought home a new little kitten, and put a small pan of his own out.  Rather than use the uncovered pan, he prefers to go in the big box with the cover.  Go figure.
Mother Dragon June 16, 2016
When we adopted a 6-month0old Russian Blue kitten, he was kept in a large room, separate from the other two cats, because he was aggressive. He didn't like it one bit and showed it by howling like a fire siren and eliminating right beside the litter pan. We finally took all three to a feline behaviorist to try to integrate them. She suggested a couple of things. One was that we change the litter to Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract. It's light-weight, dust-free, and strongly clumping. It has some herbs in it that attract cats. It keeps odor down almost completely. It works superbly in self-cleaning cat pans, much better than the recommended stuff which quickly destroys the pan.    Darwin watched as my husband changed out the litter. Within just a few seconds, he was in the pan. He's never made a mistake again. The other cats like it also.We have four pans and it's all we use. One pan is in the bedroom and there's no odor.    Cat Attract is available at PetSmart or Petco. It may be available at other places also. It's great for all cats, not just those who have letterbox problems.
tarasgirl06 June 11, 2016
@JMJimmy so true!  And you can get them, or something similar, at most "big box" stores, though I've heard the Rubbermaid are the best.
Anne June 11, 2016
@JMJimmy Good point. Many members prefer the larger plastic bins and they do cost less. At least that's not a mistake that's likely to affect your cat's litterbox habits ;)
JMJimmy June 11, 2016
#11.  You paid too much for your litterbox.  A Roughneck Rubermaid bin can work just as well as for cats box at a fraction of the price
tarasgirl06 June 10, 2016
A lot of "experts" advise against covered litterboxes because they make a cat feel hemmed in and therefore a cat may avoid it altogether.  Five of our boxes are uncovered and one is covered, so they have a choice.  A lot of older cats develop joint pain, arthritis, etc., so it is also important for them to be able to access the box without climbing or jumping.  What may appeal to some people in terms of design may not be what is best for cats.  The traditional plain litterbox is what we use and prefer.
segelkatt June 10, 2016
Once a week I do all my tiles with an enzymatic cleaner that I bought on-line from Office Max, it's a big 1 gallon bottle for about $20.00 called Enzyme Plus, made by Brighton, it's concentrated so you water it down and put it in a spray bottle, I think it was 10:1. Or you can get Urine Odor Remover for Cats made by Stink Free which you can get at the pet store, I don't remember what I paid for that gallon. The Enzyme Plus worked better and it works on any kind of animal or human stain, great for a diaper pail or baby stains. I am still trying to figure out which one of my two "old ladies" going on 17, has this nasty habit. I think it's Capucchino, the Birman whom I've had for almost all her life. She also had been using the Litter Robot faithfully for years, at least 5, before she decided she won't have anything to do with a covered box. Bebe, the Persian, whom I adopted 6 years ago, still tries to use the Litter Robot but has a hard time getting in there with her short legs, so maybe it's her, trying to get in here and gives up, so poops on the floor. The other morning I also found a puddle, so maybe she needs some steps to get in there. Hmm.  
tarasgirl06 June 9, 2016
That's good, @segelkatt!  I like the enzymatic cleaners, though, because they don't just clean, they destroy the molecules enzymatically. 
segelkatt June 9, 2016
At lest the box is in the bathroom where there us tile so cleanup is not bad, just pick it up, give the floor a swipe with a cleaning wipe and everything is good again.
tarasgirl06 June 9, 2016
That can happen, @segelkatt!  I am very thankful for Nature's Miracle Just For Cats enzymatic cleaner for these kinds of incidents.  
segelkatt June 9, 2016
One of two of my cats sometimes puts her poop next to the box with no apparent reason, it usually but not always happens at night so I have given up trying to figure out why. It's happened when the box had just been cleaned or the litter had just been scooped or when it is messy; it has been in the same place for years, same litter also for years, only these two cats use this box (the other two have a box each that they use exclusively, wouldn't touch any other for anything), so go figure.
donutte June 8, 2016
I have a 30-gallon bin for a litter box, and they STILL get litter all over (and that one is in my bedroom of all places). Pea-Pea is definitely a "dig to Antarctica" kitty. Here I always thought she wanted MORE litter!
tarasgirl06 June 7, 2016
We meet all of the above criteria.  Our furmily prefers unscented, scoopable clay litter, which I scoop at least 5 times daily.  There are 6 large boxes for 5 cats; one is covered, because some actually like this.  All are in accessible places away from food and water, and I try to keep the house as quiet and calm as possible, because we all prefer it that way.  
mservant June 6, 2016
Hmmm.   As Mouse is a dig-to-the-bottom kind a guy and leaps out instantly like a long jumper maybe I should experiment with less litter and top off his tray....  He's a messy critter and I end up with tracking everywhere because of his enthusiastic digging and leaps for freedom. 

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