Why Do Cats Kick Litter Everywhere?

Janelle Leeson

Janelle Leeson

. Reviewed by Barri J. Morrison, DVM
Updated Jan. 10, 2024
brown tabby maine coon getting out of the litter box

Litter and litter boxes are a fact of life for cat parents. However, when you find more litter outside the box than inside, it can leave you asking, “Why does my cat kick litter everywhere?” 

Cats kick litter out of the box for all sorts of reasons. Outside of some medical causes, there’s typically no need for concern. Nevertheless, you don’t have to live with the mess—making simple adjustments to the litter box setup can prevent litter from scattering.

Why Do Cats Dig in the Litter Box?

It comes down to natural behavior, says Rachel Geller, a certified cat behavior and retention specialist and founder of All Cats All the Time, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preventing the surrender and abandonment of cats. “Cats bury their waste so they don’t attract the attention of larger predators,” she explains. “These predators can be real or imagined, and even indoor cats may have this instinct.” 

Cats learn to dig and bury their waste in kittenhood by watching their mom. But if your cat misses or doesn’t even try to bury their waste, Geller says it’s typically nothing to worry about. However, if the behavior is new or if you notice any other sudden changes in your cat’s bathroom habits such as straining to go or increased frequency, schedule a checkup with your veterinarian. 

Why Do Cats Kick Litter Out of the Box?

Most cats give a few kicks while burying their waste or before leaving the litter box to shake off any excess litter clinging to their paws. But if a significant amount of litter is consistently spilling out or tracking beyond the box, one of the factors below may be to blame. 

It’s What Your Cat Learned

Mother cats have a big impact on shaping their kittens’ behaviors. This is especially true between 2 to 9 weeks of age during a kitten’s critical socialization period. It’s during this important time that kittens observe and mimic mom, learning essential cat behaviors.

For instance, if the mother cat has a fastidious digging and burying routine, meaning they love to excavate before eliminating and pile on litter afterward, then your kitten is likely to develop similar digging and covering habits. 

…Or Didn’t Learn 

On the other hand, Geller says your cat might be “winging” their litter box manners. Early separation from their mother could mean they missed out on learning proper digging and burying techniques. Without an experienced cat as a role model, Geller says, there’s no how-to guide on teaching your cat or kitten to be tidier.

The Litter Box Is Too Small

When it comes to litter boxes, size matters. Geller says a litter box that’s too small can cause your cat to dig even more than usual, feeling frustrated that they can’t find a suitable spot to go.

The Litter Box Is Dirty

When litter boxes are dirty, cats often become picky about where they do their business. They might avoid stepping in the used litter and instead resort to digging around the box’s edges. And if your cat is already typically a fastidious digger, dirty litter boxes tend to intensify digging efforts. 

There’s Not Enough Litter

While it’s natural to think piling on extra litter would lead to more mess, Geller says the opposite may be true. When litter depth is too shallow (less than 1.5 inches), cats struggle to cover their waste, which may mean more litter kicking. Keep in mind that adding more litter may mean swapping your current box for a deeper one. 

Your Cat Is Playing 

If your cat is flinging litter everywhere playing in their litter box, you’re not alone. According to Geller, there are several perfectly normal reasons why your cat might turn their litter box into a personal playground:

  • Some cats can’t resist the novelty of a fresh box, which looks to them like an ideal box to dig, pounce, and explore.

  • For some cats, the texture and temperature of litter feel good; rolling around in cool litter can be soothing. 

  • Our feline companions hail from desert ancestors and, true to their roots, some cats still enjoy a good dust bath. 

Your Cat Is Marking Their Territory

Cats have tiny scent glands in their paws. When your cat digs and kicks litter, they’re also leaving behind their unique scent signature, which plays a crucial role in communication with other cats and marking territory.

Medical or Behavioral Issues

Certain medical conditions can make litter box time uncomfortable and lead to a change in habits. This includes:

Behavioral issues can also play a role in how much litter is deposited outside of the box, including: 

  • Fear of real or imagined predators 

  • A change in the household, such as a new baby or pet

  • A change in routine

  • A change in litter type

  • Startling noises, such as the washer or dryer 

How To Stop Your Cat From Kicking Litter Everywhere

You might not be able to train your cat to be tidier, but you can often lessen the mess with these tips: 

See Your Veterinarian

If the behavior is new or when there are any other changes in your cat’s behaviors or litter box habits, see your veterinarian to rule out any medical concerns. 

Opt For a Larger, High-Sided Litter Box 

A litter box should be large enough for a cat to enter the litter and turn all the way around. It should be longer than your cat, head to extended tail, and the width as long as your cat, head to non-extended tail. 

As long as your cat can safely and comfortably enter a litter box, there’s no such thing as a litter box that’s too big. In fact, opting for an even larger box than the minimum recommendation is often best when dealing with litter box issues, says Katherine Pankratz, a veterinarian and behavioral medicine clinician at Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland, Oregon. 

Add Another Litter Box (Or Two)

“Cats can be highly territorial over their litter boxes, which is why I always recommend one more box than the number of cats you have,” says Geller. For instance, a two-cat household should ideally have three litter boxes placed in quiet and easily accessible locations. Even if you only have one kitty, Pankratz says cats often prefer to use one box for urination and the other for defecation. 

Keep the Litter Box Clean

Ideally, litter boxes are scooped daily and deep-cleaned with soap and water every few weeks. As soon as you notice any scratches in the plastic of your litter box, it’s time to toss it and purchase a fresh one.

If daily scooping doesn’t align with your schedule or proves physically challenging, consider an automatic litter box that removes waste after your cat leaves the box.

Add a Litter Mat

Pankratz is all too familiar with the pet peeve of litter tracking and kicking, which is why she pairs her litter boxes with litter-trapping mats. While they may not stop your cat from kicking litter, they will help prevent litter from tracking beyond the box. 

“They are double-layered, with the top layer having soft holes to catch the litter and a solid lower layer to contain it,” she says. Just be sure the mat is soft to the touch so it’s comfortable for your kitty to enter and exit their box. 

Which Litter Boxes Will Get My Cat To Stop Kicking Litter Everywhere?

In addition to a litter mat, using large litter boxes with a low entry and tall sides, such as the Frisco® High-Sided Cat Litter Box and the iPrimio® Cat Litter Trapper, may significantly help contain this messy behavior. 

Top-entry and covered litter boxes, as well as litter box furniture, can also address litter box messes, but they may not be suitable for every cat. 

For instance, top-entry litter boxes require some agility to enter, making them less suitable for special-needs cats, cats with arthritis, senior cats, and some overweight felines. Covered litter boxes and litter box furniture excel in containing messes created by our beloved cats. However, choose options with ample ventilation and peepholes to allow fresh air in and provide your cat with a clear view of their surroundings. 

Remember: A cat kicking litter is nothing to be concerned about. But if the behavior began suddenly or is accompanied by other changes, talk to your vet for advice.

Featured Image: Lightspruch/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Janelle Leeson


Janelle Leeson

Freelance Writer

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