Why Does My Cat Use the Litter Box While I Clean It?

As a cat owner, we are not surprised to see our cats being curious and down-right nosey when it comes to making changes in the house. While some of those instances can be a cute reminder of their constant curiosity, other instances, such as cleaning the litter box, can become a little irritating; especially when they feel the need to be completely involved in the process.

So why does my cat use the litter box while I clean it? The most likely answer is that your cat is vying to be the first cat to use the clean litter, but there could also be a variety of other reasons such as your cat is picky when it comes to their litter box standards, or it could be their way of thanking you for cleaning their litter box.

In this article, we’ll discuss the likely reasons your cat uses the litter box while you clean it, as well as a few simple ways to ensure your cat feels confident using it as well.

Ruler of the Roost

Black cat in the litter box
Black cat in the litter box | image by Laura LaRose via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

It is not well-known by many cat owners, but the truth is that your cat believes they are the ruler of their territory; also known as your home. In the kingdom of cats, they naturally establish a hierarchy to determine a superior cat; and you are not exempt from these policies.

The cat at the top of the chart could be your youngest cat, your oldest cat, your female cat, or your male cat; cat hierarchies do not discriminate. They do, however, follow this hierarchy when it comes to who is the ruler of the roost and the leader of the pack. 

By establishing this hierarchy, they are creating an environment where the top cat has the authority over which territory is theirs. This hierarchy can change at any time, and it isn’t completely obvious to us as cat owners, but it is important to keep in mind because it could explain a lot of behavior that you’re currently seeing be displayed. 

That said, when it comes to cleaning the litter box, you might’ve noticed your cats gathering around to watch and perhaps even jump in the litter box while you’re cleaning it. There are a few reasons why this behavior exists, but more than likely it occurs because your cat is vying to be the first one to use it after it has been cleaned out.

Here are a few reasons your cat might want to be the first to use the cleaned litter box:

– They are the top cat and want to establish the litter box as their own. It may seem weird to us as humans to want to establish a waste disposal place as claimed territory, but to cats, this might be an important piece of what they think is theirs.

In the wild, it is said that cats bury their waste to avoid being smelled by predators, so naturally, they guard their litter box to keep it safe; as it’s important to have a place to relieve themselves where it can easily be hidden.

The top cat might also want to use the litter box first to let the other cats know that it is theirs and theirs alone. In some situations, cats defend their litter boxes and do not allow other cats to use them.

This piece of information is why it is so important if you have a multi-cat household, to have a litter box for each cat. Although they might use a few of the litter boxes, there will be fewer territorial battles if they feel they are not vying for resources.

– Your cat might’ve been holding it all day. Your cat might be a picky pooper! Some cats are extremely finicky when it comes to where they potty. If the litter is not up to their standards, they might choose to find somewhere else to bury their waste, or they might hold it in as long as they can.

If you notice that your cat is jumping into the litter box while you’re cleaning it, it could be because they have been holding it in all day. Litter box hygiene is extremely important, especially in multi-cat households. If you have multiple cats or even just one cat with one litter box, it is suggested that you clean the litter daily.

– Your cat is thanking you for cleaning the litter box. Cats are well known for their preference to be clean. If your cat is jumping into the litter or is hanging around while you clean the litter box, it might just be their way of thanking you for cleaning the litter. Cats, like humans, feel better when they are clean and by cleaning it you have relieved them of the stress of a dirty litter box.

Ensuring Your Cat’s Health

Cat showing its claws
Cat showing its claws

Between the terrible odor and the irritating crowd of cats that form around (or even in) the litter box while you clean it, it is understandable why you would want to avoid cleaning your cat’s litter box; however, it’s extremely important that you are consistent with this task. 

Not sure how often you should clean your cat’s litter box? Here are some great tips to ensure your cat’s litter box is up to their standards:

– Consider the location of the litter box. While it may be important to you that your litter box is concealed from you and your guests, it is more important that the litter box is accessible to your cat. If the cat is having a hard time accessing the litter box, more than likely they will find another place to go; or even worse, they will hold it.

Many cat owners put their litter boxes in the closet, the basement, or the bathroom. But make sure that you are considering the age and mobility of your cat before you place their litter box in a place that is not quite as accessible. For example, if you have an older cat who doesn’t climb stairs well anymore, you might want to avoid putting the litter box in the basement at the end of a flight of stairs.

– Clean the litter box daily. This is important for both the happiness of your cat and your own sanity. If you have owned cats for a few years, there might’ve been an instance or two where you forgot to clean the litter box for a few days and you came home to a present of cat pee on your favorite pair of pants.

Although it would be easy to blame that cat for defecating outside of their box, this is actually an instance where we should look inward as a cat owner and instead ask ourselves if we should be cleaning the litter box a little more often.

– Clean the litter box thoroughly and dump it if necessary. If you are cleaning your cat’s box daily, but start to notice they are avoiding it, it could be because there are too many smells going on in there. Just because you clean it daily, does not mean the smells go away with the waste.

If you are cleaning it daily and your cat still refuses to use the litter box, you might want to try dumping the litter completely and deep cleaning the box itself. It is recommended that you deep clean the litter box with baking soda or an unscented soap at least once a week.

– Provide enough litter boxes. I know, I know. The more litter boxes there are, the more cleaning you have to do. But this is an important factor when it comes to your cat’s happiness; especially if you have a multi-cat household.

By providing more litter boxes, you are not only decreasing the odds of territorial battles, but you are also providing them with more resources to claim, and you are making them feel more safe and secure during potty time. It is suggested that you have one litter box per cat, and then an additional litter box. For example, if you have two cats, you should have three litter boxes in your home.


Our curious creatures are wonderful companions, who also happen to be very particular about their litter boxes. The most important thing to remember when it comes to a cat’s litter box is just that; it’s their litter box. As long as they rule the roost, they will continue to judge the way we clean their litter box, and I assure you they will always be involved in the process. After all, it’s our cat’s that rule the home and thankfully they allow us to live there with them.