Cats are particular about their cleanliness and grooming, but they can exhibit confusing behaviors, like scratching the floor after pooping. While this can be baffling, this is usually because their litter boxes are not enough to mask the scent of their excrement. Solving this problem is a matter of removing the smell of your cat’s poop, primarily by changing its litter box.
Cats will do anything to hide the smell of their poop. Sometimes, their litter boxes aren’t cleaned frequently enough or have the wrong dimensions. Your cat’s issue with its litter box could be due to its size. Getting a box that’s big enough for its size with high enough walls is likely to stop the floor-scratching behavior.
While these are the common fixes, note that some cats scratch floors after pooping for other reasons. Other than to mask the smell of their poop, cats may scratch floors to clean their nails, or out of habit.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Why Do Cats Scratch To Bury Waste?
- 1.1 Why Does My Cat Scratch The Floor?
- 1.2 Litter Box Recommendations
- 1.3 How To Clean a Dirty Litter Box
- 1.4 Cat Won’t Stop Scratching The Floor
Why Do Cats Scratch To Bury Waste?
Cats are wired to hide their poop, or at least, the smell of it. Think about the house cat’s untamed ancestors in the wild. Wild cats are predators. As predators, they have to make sure that they keep themselves hidden.
This is a problem when it comes to a cat’s waste. Cat urine has a potent smell which, if you’re a cat owner, you probably already knew about. In the wild, cats will do anything to hide their scent, and it’s a matter of life and death. Wild cats need to hide both from prey and other predators alike, so that they can eat, and so that they don’t get eaten.
To mask their presence, cats will hide their poop, burying them in the soil. If your cat does its business outside, you may notice this behavior. Your cat will likely poop on the soil and bury it afterwards.
While your home may be far from the wilderness, your cat still has the instincts from its wild ancestors. They are naturally driven to do it, and if the instinct doesn’t surface, most mom cats teach the behavior to their kids.
Why Does My Cat Scratch The Floor?
Indoors, the soil is substituted with cat litter. Ideally, your cat will bury its poop in the litter by scratching inside the box, effectively burying it. This ensures that the smell is buried along with it as well. However, they are some reasons why they will scratch at the floor nearby:
- Litter box is too small: This is the most common reason why your cat scratches the floor—chances are, your cat’s outgrown its box.
- Tray sides too low: Remember that cats bury their poop to mask the smell. If your tray sides are too low, poop may spill over the sides, along with its smell.
- Box needs cleaning: Cats often have better senses of smell than us. If your cat doesn’t use the litter box at all, and scratches at the floor beside it instead, chances are the box smells.
Litter Box Recommendations
You may have already noticed that your litter box is the likely culprit for your cat scratching. But how do you know that you’re choosing the right litter box? When buying a litter box, keep in mind their preference. You may need to swap out one box over another when you figure out what your cat prefers.
The size of your litter box will depend on the size of your cat. The most important thing to remember is that the cat shouldn’t feel cramped while doing its business. The Journal of Veterinary Behavior found that most cats prefer a box that is larger than is usually available to them. While this is often not possible for most cat owners, it’s best to pick a box as large as you can accommodate.
At minimum, a cat’s litter box should be bigger than your cat, with additional leeway to give your cat space to turn around. To ensure this, measure your cat from their forehead to the end of their extended tail, and make sure to get a box that is at least as big as this.
Of course, some cats like tight spaces. Some cats may feel more secure in smaller spaces, especially when they need some privacy. If you think that your cat likes smaller spaces, feel free to let go of the leeway and stick to the minimum size.
Higher Tray Sides
Cats will keep scratching until the smell goes away. If it’s scattered, they probably won’t get all of it. Cats may eventually just give up. However, it’s better to invest in a box that has high sides to avoid spillage. Boxes should have walls at least 5 inches tall.
If your cat loves to kick or spray, opt for higher walls, around 8 to 12 inches. But remember that your cat needs to get in and out of the box easily. For this reason, pick the kind with one lower wall, preferably about 5 to 6 inches tall.
Hooded Or Not
There are many different types of litter boxes out in the world, and one of the differences they have is whether or not they have a hood. According to a study in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, most cats don’t have a preference for whether there is a hood or not. What matters is that the box is kept clean and properly maintained.
However, it should be noted that, when thinking about hooded or non-hooded boxes, there may be more at play than just the hoods themselves. Cat owners often buy a hooded box to compromise on space. Since they don’t have room to give privacy for their feline companions, owners opt to get a hood for privacy.
For this reason, hooded boxes are often placed in areas where there is a lot of noise and foot traffic, like living rooms. This can deter cats from using their box, as noise and human presence can be distracting to a cat. If you think this is the case, see if you can move your cat’s litter box to somewhere more private.
Type of Cat Litter
The type of litter that you use can be a huge factor in making sure that your cat’s poop doesn’t smell. Of course, the best way to ensure this is to have a litter that your cat wants to use. In the wide range of types of litter that you can find on the market, what will lessen the chances of your cat scratching your floor? Here is what science has to say about it:
- The cats showed a preference for litter made of clay substrate.
- There isn’t a huge difference between scented and unscented litter.
- Cats have shown a preference for the use of odor eliminators in the box, according to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.
While these studies can provide data on what is most likely to be preferred by your cat, that doesn’t mean it will be what your cat likes. Your cat may have its own preference, and that will always be more important than the findings in any study. However, if your cat doesn’t seem to like its current litter, trying out these recommendations can be a good idea.
Swapping Out The Box
To swap out one box for another, place the new box beside the old one. This is important for 2 reasons:
- Your cat already knows its designated spot, and probably already likes the box’s previous location.
- This is a great way to determine if the box is the problem. Ideally, your cat will use the new litter box. If the scratching continues, you may need to look into other issues that can cause this scratching.
How To Clean a Dirty Litter Box
Above all else, litter box cleanliness is the biggest factor in stopping your cat from scratching after pooping. It won’t matter how well designed your cat’s box is if it’s not cleaned often. To make sure that you’re cleaning your cat’s box properly, follow these steps:
Fill Your Cat’s Litter Box
Fill the litter box with 2 to 3 inches deep of your chosen substrate. Some cats like to bury deep. If your feline friend is one of them, opt for a depth of 3 inches minimum. You may need to experiment a bit to find the depth that your cat likes the best.
Scoop up cat poop
To keep your cat’s litter box clean, make sure to scoop up cat poop at least twice a day, and more if necessary. While twice a day is a good rule of thumb, you may need to increase or decrease its regularity. Just keep in mind that while it can be a chore, keeping a cat litter clean will ensure that your cat is clean as well.
For the easily nauseous, consider clumping litter. Clumping litter will stick to the poop. When scooping it out, it won’t stick to your poop, and can be easily discarded. Throw the scooping in a plastic bag and tie it securely before discarding. Remember to top up your cat’s litter after every scoop.
The rule of thumb is to replace the litter twice a week. This number varies wildly depending on a lot of factors. Things like the type of litter you use, how often you clean your box, the number of cats you have can mean that you will need to replace litter more or less often.
If you have clumping litter, you may need to replace the litter less often, at about once every 2 to 3 weeks. Non-clumping litter will need more changes, as urine is more likely to settle to the bottom of the box. Urine is commonly the reason why litter boxes smell, as it tends to accumulate more than cat poop.
Scrub the box
Make sure to scrub your box every time you replace its cat litter. Avoid harsh cleaning agents, especially those with strong smells. Cats are perceptive to these smells and will avoid a litter box if they sense that something is off.
Some cleaning products are also harmful to cats. When cleaning out your litter box, stick to mild detergents. Make sure to dry the box completely before adding the litter.
Cat Won’t Stop Scratching The Floor
If you’ve done all that you can to ensure that your litter box is as clean and spacious as possible, there may be other reasons at play. Here are some of them:
Less commonly, your cat may be cleaning its nails after pooping. A cat’s grooming behavior can vary from cat after cat. Most cats are content with biting their nails and around their paws to remove dirt and debris.
Cats also file down their nails by scratching, ideally done by a scratching post. Some cats, however, are more specific with their grooming, and may want to clean their nails immediately after pooping.
Some cats also scratch out of habit. The cat’s mother may have taught it to scratch after pooping. Kittens will mirror, and will follow their mother’s habits, whether it is functional or not.
To solve this problem, you will need to break your cat out of the habit. Before they scratch, distract it with a toy to disrupt the behavior. Of course, this may be harder to do for some cats than others.
Cats scratching after pooping isn’t a harmful behavior, but rather a signal to you, the owner, that there is something that needs to be done. Rather than stopping your cat from damaging your floors, stopping your cat from scratching will ensure that it is in good health and is keeping itself clean.
If you have done your best to ensure that your cat’s litter box is clean, and your cat continues to scratch, it may just be out of habit, whether it be a learned habit or a grooming instinct.