Cleaning the litter box is a necessary chore for cat parents. We spend significant amounts of time and money ensuring that your feline friends have a clean and inviting place to potty. 

However, as soon as you finish cleaning the box, your cat dirties it by using it. They won’t even give you an hour to enjoy the sparkly clean box and fresh smell before they make a new deposit. 

Why do they use the litter box as soon as you’ve cleaned it? There are several potential reasons for this. 

Why does my cat use the litter box as soon as I clean it?

You enjoy a clean bathroom, so it should come as no surprise that your cat does too. We can sometimes feel hesitation about using a freshly cleaned bathroom. It’s so clean, we want to leave it unused for just a bit, so it stays spotless. 

We can also feel the same way about our cat’s litter box. However, they have no such qualms. They won’t hold back so the litter box can stay clean for awhile. 

This doesn’t answer the question of why they feel the need to use it immediately after we clean it, however. 

Because It’s Clean

As I mentioned, a cat likes a clean bathroom as much as you do. They may get excited by a clean litter box, and want to enjoy using it. It might seem strange to us, but it likely makes perfect sense to your cat. 

They’ve Been Waiting for This

Your cat may have been holding it until you cleaned the box. Cats will often hold it if their litter box is dirty, because they prefer to potty in a clean location. They may also pee or poop outside the litter box if it’s not clean. 

Once you’ve cleaned it, they will use it. Imagine walking into a bathroom so dirty you don’t want to use it. You hold it until it is cleaned, then you go inside and do your business. Your cat will do this as well. 

They are Marking Their Territory 

Cats use their pee and poop to mark their territory. In addition to serving as a bathroom, your cat’s litter box is also an opportunity for them to stake their claim. 

Cats have various ways to mark their territory. The most common is spraying. The cat will stand or slightly crouch, and spray urine on a vertical surface. Occasionally, they will pee on a horizontal surface as part of marking as well. 

They also use their face and paws for marking. Cats have scent glands on each side of their face, and within their paw pads. When they rub their face on something, including you, they are leaving their scent behind, or marking the object. 

When using their paws, they will often scratch the floor or an object. This leaves both a visual and scent message that the area belongs to them. 

When you clean their litter box, you are removing their pee and poop. They may feel the need to remark their territory, since you undid all their hard work. 

Familiarity 

Your cat may also use the litter box after you’ve cleaned it to keep it familiar. Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell. If something smells unfamiliar, it makes them uncomfortable. 

It’s possible that they use the litter box to make it smell like it should, as far as they are concerned. 

Dominance

If you have multiple cats in the house, using the litter box can be a dominance behavior. Think of it as a contest of who can fill it up the fastest. Those poop logs you scoop out send important messages to the cats within the household, including social standing. 

When it’s removed, it can make cats feel insecure. They need to reestablish their rank as quickly as possible by marking the litter box. 

Scheduling

If your cat is eating on a regular schedule, they should be pooping on one too. If you clean your cat’s litter box around the same time, they may use it simply because it’s time for them to go. Cats typically pee 2 to 4 times a day, and poop at least once a day. 

They will typically poop shortly after eating a meal. So, if you feed them dinner at 5, and then clean their litter box at 5:30, they will likely need to go between 5:30 and 6, right after you’ve cleaned their litter box. 

How often should I clean a cat’s litter box?

How often you should clean your cat’s litter box depends on a few factors. The type of litter you use is the biggest variable, followed by how many cats and litter boxes are in the home. Of course, your cat’s individual output makes a difference as well. 

Clumping Litter

Clumping litter has become very popular in recent years, for good reason. It uses a clumping compound, typically bentonite clay. When your cat pees or poops, the wetness is absorbed by the litter, which forms a clump around the waste. 

Clumping litter requires scooping at least once a day. This allows you to remove most of the waste, which is the purpose of the clumps. You’ll need to change the box, removing all the old litter and adding new litter, at least once a month. You may occasionally need to add more litter between changes as clumps remove some of the volume. 

Non-clumping Litter

Non-clumping litter is the original kitty litter. It is highly absorbent. Instead of clumping, the pee is absorbed into the litter. It needs to be changed more often, because you aren’t removing the waste from the box daily. 

You’ll need to change non-clumping litter at least once a week. Many cat owners find that they need to change it every 2 days or at least twice a week. 

The good news is that non-clumping litter is cheaper and lighter than clumping litter. This makes changing it more often more justifiable. 

Multiple Cats

If you have multiple cats, you get to do litter box math! Don’t worry, it’s not trigonometry. Basically, it’s wise to have one more litter box than you have cats. If you have one cat, it’s best to have two boxes. If you have 3 cats, you’ll need 4  boxes. 

If you follow this rule, you can usually change the boxes about as often as you do with one cat. 3 cats using one litter box would soil it very quickly. However, if you have 4 litter boxes, this allows the waste to be distributed between the boxes. From this perspective, it’s similar to only having one cat. 

However, cats will usually prefer one litter box over others. If it’s dirty, they will use the others. It’s best to clean a litter box that’s used more frequently, a little more often, so your cats have access to clean litter. 

Signs You Need to Clean the Litter Box

Guidelines like those mentioned above are wonderful to have, but they also need to be tailored to your individual situation. At the end of the day, the best indication it’s time to clean the litter box is the litter box itself. Your cat is also a cleanliness meter. 

If the litter box smells, it’s time to clean it. This should be pretty obvious, but some cat owners get used to a stinky box. Clean the box as soon as you start smelling odors from it. 

Not only is a stinky box gross, it can also be harmful to your cat’s health. Their pee contains high concentrations of ammonia, which is what gives it it’s signature scent. Ammonia can irritate your cat’s delicate lungs, causing asthma and other respiratory issues.

Your cat can’t yell at you to get off your bum and clean their litter box, but they do have a way to let you know when it should be cleaned. 

Many cats will scratch the outside of the box when it needs to be cleaned. If this doesn’t work, you can expect your cat to potty outside of the litter box. It’s probably not done out of spite. Instead, they just don’t want to hold it any longer, and don’t want to potty in a gross litter box.

Why does my kitten lay in the litter box after I clean it?

Your cat understands that the litter box is their bathroom, so why would they lay in it? It’s similar to you just relaxing on your toilet like you would a chair. There are a few potential reasons your cat may lay in their litter box. These range from confusion to medical issues. 

Confusion 

If you’ve recently changed your cat’s litter, they may be confused. They won’t immediately associate the new material with their toilet. They may lay in the litter box because they no longer recognize it as the litter box, or simply to get familiar with the new substance. 

If you change your cat’s litter to a different type, it’s best to mix the litters half and half for a few days. The next time you change the litter, put 25% old and 75% of the new litter in. After that, you can use only the new litter. 

Health Issues

Cats are prone to urinary infections. When they have an infection, they may spend a lot of time in the litter box. They feel the need to pee, but have difficulty going. So, they hang around in the litter box and keep attempting to pee. 

Urinary blockage can cause a similar phenomenon. If the blockage is total, the cat won’t be able to pee at all. This is life threatening if not treated within 24-48 hours. The urine builds up in the bladder, and eventually waste products are released into the blood stream. Signs of urinary issues include excessive thirst, frequent bathroom trips, and pain when urinating. 

Urinary problems aren’t the only health issues that can cause your cat to want to hang out in their litter box. Any medical issue that makes them feel unwell can make them want to hide. To them, the litter box seems like a reasonable hiding place. It’s familiar, and small enough for them to feel secure. 

Stress or Anxiety

Stress or anxiety can also cause your cat to camp out in their litter box. Cats who are stressed or anxious have an instinctive desire to hide. This makes them feel safer. In the wild, hiding from danger is a necessity. 

Just like our fight or flight response, it’s an evolutionary survival tactic. However, cats, like humans, can become stressed over things they need not fear. 

Other signs your cat is experiencing stress or anxiety include peeing or pooping outside the letterbox and destroying furnishings or possessions. They may also become aggressive, clingy, or timid, depending on their personality. 

Their body language can also give you clues. Anxious cats will sometimes overgroom or pant. They tend to have a tense body posture, and their ears will be laid back if they are very stressed. 

What to Do About Cat Laying in Litter Box

If your cat is consistently lying in the litter box, it’s best to get them checked out by the vet. It’s possible that there’s a medical cause.

If so, you’ll want to know sooner rather than later. Most cat illnesses are treatable, and the faster a diagnosis is reached, the faster treatment can begin. 

If there’s nothing medically wrong, it might just be simple curiosity or your cat’s way of guarding the litter box. 

You’ll want to consider anxiety as a potential cause too, however. If your cat is experiencing anxiety, you’ll need to help them find better ways to manage their stress. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.