9 Litter Box Mistakes You’re Making That Are Rightfully Pissing Off Your Cat

A gray cat making a funny angry face on a brown background.
Nils Jacobi/Getty Images

No, we’re not talking about your cat having an accident outside the litter box (though that can happen if you make litter box mistakes). We’re talking about you, human! Try as you might, there are common blunders every cat parent makes at some point when it comes to litter box management. Living with a cat (or several) requires some trial and error when it comes to litter boxes. If you screw up or get discouraged, hang in there and use the list below as a handy reference for what may have gone wrong.

How do you know you’ve made a litter box mistake?

In the words of renowned cat behavior and wellness expert Jackson Galaxy, “In a cat’s world, very little is random.” If you make a litter box mistake, your cat will let you know. Actions can include going to the bathroom outside the litter box, refusing to use the litter box, meowing loudly at the litter box, changing behaviors and more. Galaxy recommends investigating your cat’s behavior to determine potential causes and solutions. For instance, if Foxy pees on the bathroom rug, you may have accidentally locked her out of the room with the litter box (speaking from experience here). If Mochi poops on the floor after you set up a new box, chances are he’s not used to it yet.

As always, check with your vet if unusual behavior persists. There could be something else going on with your kitty if no litter box mistakes are present.

Are litter box mistakes bad?

You can usually remedy litter box mistakes easily. Again, it could take some trial and error to find a happy solution for your cat, but once they establish a routine and become comfortable in their territory, it should be smooth sailing.

Litter mistakes can become bigger challenges if you destroy an essential element of the litter box experience for your cat. For example, safety. If an automatic litter box starts cleaning while your cat is going, this is scary and tells your cat that particular box is no longer safe to use. Whoops. We don’t want to scare you! But it’s worth taking the time to really get to know your cat before making any litter box changes. This helps avoid litter box aversion or anxious accidents all over your house.

9 Avoidable Litter Box Mistakes

1. Having Too Few Litter Boxes

The general rule is one litter box per cat, then add another. There are several reasons for this. First, cats are territorial creatures. If too many cats are using a single litter box, they may begin to squabble over who gets to use it. Second, things get real messy, real quick with one too few litter boxes. Cats prefer clean toilets; if waste builds up, they may resort to the floor instead. Multiple litter boxes are especially important for multi-cat households in which one or more cats don’t get along. This way, even if a bully hogs a box, the less confrontational kitties still have a bathroom they feel safe to use. Finally, I’ve noticed my cats have litter box preferences. Jacques enjoys the Litter Robot-4, while Foxy is a fan of The Cove by Tuft and Paw. Sure, Foxy might use the Litter Robot-4 once in a blue moon, but if an open-topped, tall-sided box is her preference, who am I to tell her otherwise?

2. Introducing New Litter Too Quickly

There are lots of litter options out there: clumping clay pebbles, color-changing crystals and even flushable soybean-based pellets. Just like humans have toilet paper preferences (quilted, two-ply, bidet only), cats have litter inclinations. If you need to change up the litter you use (or want to try a health-monitoring option for an aging cat), please don’t switch things up on Mochi without warning. Gradually introducing new litter is crucial. Many manufacturers - especially those who make oddly shaped or dust-free options—offer step-by-step instructions on how to do this. It may take your cat a while to get used to things. They may poo-poo the entire shift. Let them decide which litter they like best, as they’re the ones who have to stand in it.

3. Not Cleaning The Litter Box Enough

This is kind of an obvious one. You gotta clean the litter box. Scoop daily. Change out litter entirely each week or once per month, depending on what you use and how many cats you have. A messy box is no place for a cat to continue doing business. If your cat is pooping outside the litter box, this is probably why.

4. Picking A Litter Box Your Cat Won’t Use

Like litter, boxes come in all shapes and sizes. While it may be tempting to hop on the trend train and buy the latest automatic litter box, if your cat doesn’t like it or use it, don’t keep it. Check out how your cat uses your current box and apply those observations to assess whether she’ll take to a new model. Arthritic cats need lower entries. Timid cats might enjoy privacy. A word on automatic litter boxes: Yes, they make your job way easier. However, if it malfunctions or terrifies your cat once it starts working, this could turn into a huge litter box mistake. Scaring your cat away from the litter box is the exact opposite of your goal as a pet parent. One bad experience could turn your cat away from that box, and even the entire area, for good. So again, follow the manufacturer’s directions to the letter when introducing your cat to one of these.

5. Ignoring What’s in The Litter Box

Scooping poop and pee tells you a lot about what’s going on with your cat. Look for signs of diarrhea when you scoop each day. Notice hardly any urine clumps a few days in a row? Time to go to the vet. Cats suffer from lots of urinary tract and kidney issues. The earlier you catch a kink in the system, the better off they are. This means checking out what’s in their litter box. (That’s how I learned my cat had a bladder stones!)

6. Buying a Litter Box That’s Too Big (or Too Small)

Size matters. Your cat should be able to easily enter the litter box, stand up, turn around and squat to eliminate without feeling constricted. Yes, small cat breeds and tiny kittens can work with small litter boxes. But once you’ve got an adult (or a large breed) on your hands, it’s time to upgrade to a bigger model. This may mean foregoing a covered option. While covered litter boxes contain litter if your cat buries her business and kicks litter everywhere, they could end up hampering her litter box experience. Felines don’t enjoy feeling trapped when they’re going poo (who does?). If a covered litter box makes it difficult for your cat to get the job done, either upgrade to a larger version or try a model with tall sides and an open top. On the other hand, a ginormous box for an itsy-bitsy kitten or senior cat might be too daunting for them to use. Tall entrances deter arthritic cats, as do deep boxes with litter piled high.

7. Using the Wrong Amount of Litter

Don’t put in too much litter, but don’t you dare overflow the box, either! Cats tend to enjoy litter that is one to two inches deep. This depth lets them go to the bathroom and adequately bury their stuff without lots spilling over.

8. Placing the Litter Box in an Undesirable Spot

Ideally, place several litter boxes throughout the house so your cat feels like they have some ownership over the entire home. Apartments make this hard but do the best you can. In multi-level homes, at least one litter box on each level is recommended. Make sure your cats can access the box (or Foxy will pee on the bathroom rug, which I found out… when I accidentally locked her out of the room with her litter box). Use a door stopper if there’s a breeze that could blow a door closed. Placement mistakes include putting the box right next to the radiator (too hot), the A/C window unit (too cold) or where your cats eat dinner (too gross). Also undesirable: Putting the only litter box in the whole house in the back corner of a dark, cold basement. If you want your cats to love going in it, it’s gotta be somewhere nearby.

9. Using a Litter Box Liner

Liners are made with people in mind, not cats. Burying doo-doo and pee-pee is natural to felines. If there’s a goofy liner underneath the litter, their claws can snag or it could make a weird noise that leads to litter box aversion. If you’re worried about litter boxes being too dirty to clean, maybe don’t get a cat?

SAshley Headshot PureWow

Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...