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Why Does My Cat Kick Litter Out of the Box? 5 Common Reasons

Cat owners the world over are familiar with that awful feeling of stepping barefoot on small litter pebbles, which is usually followed by a gut-wrenching, “Why?!”

Cats kicking litter out of their box is a behavior that flummoxes many a pet owner, but your cat may just be trying to tell you there’s an issue you need to remedy. We’ve rounded up the top five reasons cats kick litter, and some ways you can remedy these issues.

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The 5 Reasons Cats Kick Litter Out of the Box

1.  The Litter Box is Too Small

Our modern-day cats are the descendants of wild cats that lived in sandy environments in which they would dig a spot, eliminate, and then cover it again. Many cats still exhibit this behavior in their litter boxes when they dig for the perfect spot to eliminate. If your cat is a digger, a larger litter box will likely help prevent them from kicking litter out of the box when they go through their elimination ritual. The new box should be large enough for your cat to stretch out their forearms to dig and create its hole for elimination and then recover it.

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2. The Litter Tester

Some cats are very particular about their litter, and they will test it out to make sure it’s the right spot to eliminate by checking the texture and depth of the litter in the box. This “professional” test may result in some wayward litter making its way outside the box. Always make sure there is enough litter in the box, and that you clean it every day so the litter is pristine for your picky “litter tester”, which will cut down on the kicking behaviors.

two cats on litter box
Image Credit: Guajillo studio, Shutterstock
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3. Your Cat May Be Exhibiting Marking Behaviors

If your cat is kicking soiled litter backward out of the box, it may be trying to mark their territory with their scent. Another common way that cats mark their territory is by marking areas around your home with urine.

There are several reasons why cats mark their territory: a new cat (or another pet) in the household, medical issues (such as a UTI), stress, or mating behaviors. One way to help prevent soiled litter from flying through the air is to get a covered litter box, which prevents your cat from kicking the litter out in the first place.

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4. Not Enough Litter

Cats tend to be very finicky about their comfort and everything often needs to be just so. If your cat doesn’t feel it has enough litter to adequately dig and cover its elimination, it will probably kick the litter out of the box in frustration. Adding more litter helps provide them with the opportunity to adequately cover their elimination, and will likely prevent litter from flying through the air.

two cats sniffing litter
Image Credit: Zoran Photographer, Shutterstock
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5. Kittens Just Like to Play in the Litter

Kittens often learn their litter box behavior from their mothers. So, if your kitten can observe their mother neatly digging a hole, eliminating, and then covering it, then you’re all set. Many kittens are taken from their mothers at an age too young for them to observe this behavior, so they have to figure out how to use the litter box on their own. When they’re figuring out how to use the box on their own, they often play in the litter, which could result in kicking behavior.

A box with higher sides might help reduce litter kicking, but it is hard to retrain them not to kick litter out once they’ve started this behavior. If a high-sided box doesn’t work, try getting a covered litter box so there is no way for them to kick the litter out in the first place.

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While many cats have pristine bathroom habits, others sometimes develop the unfortunate habit of kicking litter outside the box. There are several reasons cats kick litter, including: there isn’t enough litter, they’re testing it out to find the perfect spot to go, the litter box is too small, they may be exhibiting marking behaviors, and they never learned proper bathroom etiquette from their mothers.

There are simple solutions to many of these problems, which include larger litter boxes, more litter, covered boxes, higher-sided boxes, or retraining. If none of these suggestions work, you may want to talk to your vet to determine if there’s a biological reason (such as a UTI) for the litter-kicking behavior.

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Featured Image Credit: jamesjoong, Shutterstock