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How Do Cats Know to Use the Litter Box? (Really?)

If you have ever seen a cat just naturally gravitate to a litter box (Click here for 3 of the best cat litter mats for urine) with no training, it may be mind-boggling as to how they even know how to use this. Let me explain how and why they do this…

How do cats know to use the litter box? This is instinctive for cats. It is an attempt to hide their scent from predators. Also, cats are instinctively clean animals and like to be tidy. If you fail to clean the litter tray after usage, your cat will ignore it.

I remember seeing my son walking for the first time, as he stood up and gained balance, looking at us with such a bright smile on his face, with a video recording capturing this magical moment, I was elated and amazed how he did this.

It’s similar to cats, without any real training a cat can use a litter tray. Anyway, let me give you more detail on how and why they do this now.

How Cats Instincts Influence them to use the Litter Box?

As discussed, this is an instinctive thing for cats. They are naturally clean animals and want to make sure that they deal with their litter in the right way.

Getting a cat to use a litter tray is really not much effort at all. All you really need to do is show them where it is and they will instinctively want to hide their mess.

For kittens, they may need a little bit of assistance mainly by their mother. But, again, it is not really a big tutorial for them. It is mainly just their mother showing where the litter tray is and they can usually work it out from there.

If you’re still thinking “how can you actually get your cat to use the litter tray?”…. Let me give you a few pointers now.

Make sure that you provide a clean a litter tray

If you don’t the chances are your cat won’t want to use it. Make sure the location of the litter tray is in a private place. Because they do not like to be in busy areas where too many people are watching them, would you like to poo in public?

Show her where it is

Simply lead or carry your cat and place her into the litter tray, so she knows exactly where it is.

For best results, place her there immediately after she’s woken up from a nap or after a meal, why? Because this is when she is most likely to want to use the litter tray, are you with me?

Why do cats use the litter tray in this way?

Ultimately cats use litter trays as a way to hide the scent that is present when they excrete faeces.

Larger animals view cats as prey. And, in the wild, they built a natural survival Instinct of hiding any sense to avoid the chances of their prey finding them.

This instinct is still seen with domestic cats. It’s effectively ingrained in them.

Therefore, when they are digging in the litter tray, they are hiding the evidence (their scent) of them being around.

Also, it’s worth noting that cats have many different ways of hiding their scent. Hiding their urine and faeces in the litter is just one of a few different methods. In a later section, I will give you a few more examples.

How do feral cats deal with hiding their litter?

Wild feral cats still instinctively hide their faeces. Because of this instinctive nature to hide their scent.

The Dominant Feral Cats behaviour

When they are in a collective group of feral cats there is usually one dominant cat that will purposely not dig and hide its faeces.

This is done to mark their territory and also to allow their subordinates to do their dirty work. Meaning, these subordinates will literally hide the dominant cat’s mess (gross!).

Wild feral cats will typically look for loose dirt or sand to hide their faeces. Its a lot easier for them to do it this way.

What other methods do cats use to hide their scent?

In this section, I’m going to explain a number of different ways that cats hide their scent.

Licking themselves

Cats lick themselves throughout the day (Click here to see why cats lick their paws then wipe their face) this is seen as a form of grooming to the naked eye. However, it is also a way of hiding their scent.

Hiding and burying their faeces

As discussed in the previous section cats will instinctively hide their faeces by digging. This is done in litter trays, but could also be found in random places like plant pots (annoying!).

Moving newborn kittens

Another tactic used by female cats after giving birth to kittens is to move them to a new location. The reason for this is, during labour, there is a lot of amniotic fluids, traces of blood, etc. These fluids carry their scent, which is a risk for their new kitten.

For this reason, the female cat will often relocate her kitten to keep both of them safe.

Hiding uneaten items of food

Although this is not as common as the other methods, it still happens. Any leftover food, such as half-eaten animals or insects will be hidden. This is usually done by digging up some dirt or loose sand. This avoids the scent being detected.

Related questions:

In this section, I will cover some frequently asked questions related to cats using a litter box.

Q: Why do some cats poop outside of the litter tray?

This tends to happen for a number of different reasons, let me explain…

The box is too small

If you buy a really small litter tray, in an attempt to save money, you may find that your cat does not want to use it. Therefore, you risk finding cat poop outside of the litter tray.

The location of the litter tray

As previously mentioned in an earlier section, cats like their privacy. So, if you place this litter tray in a busy, high traffic area. The chances are you will find poop outside of the litter tray.

You may also notice the same problem if it is particularly hard to get to. For example, the cat has problems actually reaching the litter tray. This may sound a little bit unbelievable, especially considering how nimble they are, but it is possible depending on the layout of your home.

Health-related issues

If your cat has a health-related issue such as constipation or diarrhoea this could cause them to use to poop outside of the litter tray.

For example, if they have diarrhoea they may find that they do not get enough time to get to the litter tray before their bowels open.

Avoiding problems with their territory

You may find that the location of your litter tray may be causing a territory issue. Putting your cat in an anxious situation, face to face with a rival cat. If they feel intimidated by another cat in your house or by a neighbouring cat, they just won’t use it.

Changes in your household

Believe it or not, if there are simple changes in your household such as the introduction of a new pet, a new arrival of a baby or anything that has a slight change in lifestyle.

This could cause your cat to start marking her territory by leaving poop outside of the litter tray.

The litter tray is too smelly

For the most part, the biggest reason why cats do not use the litter tray and poo outside of it is because they find at the litter tray is too messy.

If you’re using a litter tray its important to clean it on a regular basis. If you neglect to do this your cat will simply not use it anymore. It will end up defecating outside of the litter tray.

Q: Why do cats use litter trays but dogs do not?

Dogs are very different from cats. They are not instinctively inclined to use a litter tray because they do not have the same behaviours as a cat.

It is possible to train a dog to do this but it would take a lot of time and dedication because this is not a natural thing for them.

Cats do this instinctively because it is part of their nature. And, as we discussed previously, they have a very specific reason why they want to do this, which is hiding their scent.

Q: What type of litter tray do cats prefer to use?

Cats like clean, large litter boxes that are open. Avoid using covered litter trays because this can make your cat feel anxious and feel that they can’t escape from the box.

The size of the litter tray is, ideally, one-and-a-half times the size of your cat. Also, having larger sides are also beneficial. This is good for cats that are quite enthusiastic about digging deep into the litter to hide their mess.

These larger sized litter trays can also be used for kittens or cats with mobility issues. You can also modify them yourself by cutting part of the tray if required.

If you can find a litter tray that has translucent sides this is also a big plus because it allows them to see outside of the litter tray to make them feel more comfortable that they have privacy.

Large storage boxes that are usually hidden under beds can also be reused as litter trays but if you’re going to go down that route it is ideal if it does not have covers on it or wheels.

Why Do Cats Meow Before Pooping?

why do cats meow before pooping

If you are freaked out by your cat making weird meowing sounds just before she poops (Click here to see my 3 Best Cat Litter Mats for Urine and accidents), you are in the right place. I am going to explain what could be the issue…

Why do cats meow before pooping? It could either be by habit or a sign of a health-related issue that is causing your cat some discomfort. There are quite a few potential issues, but a few examples are a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) or cystitis.

Now that you know why this could be happening, let me explain in more detail, what happens if this happens after they poop, things to avoid if they are meowing in this way and more.

More detail on Why your cat could be doing this

The chances are if this is something that your cat has done by habit previously then it may not be anything to worry about.

However, if you have only noticed this recently, then you need to look into it. The reality is you know your cat more than anyone else. If this is out of character and something that you bad feeling about, act on it.

If the meowing sounds slightly high pitched or more frequent than usual. In my opinion, it’s best to get her checked out by your vet as soon as possible. Just to play it safe.

Health-related issues

There are a number of potential health-related issues which could be causing problems. Not to alarm you but if you believe that this meowing before she goes for a poo. And this out of character, it could be due to a health related issue such as a urinary tract infection (UTI).

The reality is, there are a number of different health-related issues that this could be, not just a UTI. Such as:

  • Cystitis
  • Stomach upset
  • Blockage
  • etc

Why would she Meow after Using the Litter Tray?

On some occasions, you may notice that your cat is meowing after it uses the litter tray (not before). If this happens, what could it really be?

If you have already got your vet to check on your cat, which I highly advise you do, and they give you the all clear, it could be something else.

Firstly it could be to do with a territory based issue. So, the question is have you introduced a new cat recently? Is there a potential stray cat that is entering her territory?

These are the questions you need to ask yourself. Because it could simply be a territory issue.

Old Age

Another thing it could be is old age, let me explain…

As cats get older sometimes they get a little bit confused. They do things which are unexpected. There have been cases where cats have been known to make these sounds after going and using the litter tray and it’s not actually anything to could be concerned with but just more down to age-related confusion.

What If She Defecates Outside of the litter Tray?

First and foremost you need to go to your vet to ensure there are no health-related problems. As well as this it is a good idea to give the area that has been soiled with a very good clean.

The best way to use this is to use an enzyme-based cleaner which will give it a good thorough clean.

The reason you want to do this is because of the scent (and the mess obviously). Any scent left behind could entice your cat to defecate there again. So, best to clean it up and stop the chance of this keep happening.

Why do cats meow so much?

Kittens meow a lot more. The reasons for this can be a number of things. In particular, as you probably know, kittens like to meow when they are:

  • hungry.
  • cold.
  • need some general comfort.

As your kitten gets older, patterns change. They start to reserve meowing for communication with us humans.

They start to develop other ways of communicating with other cats, such as:

  • hissing
  • yowling
  • etc

One thing to point out though. The amount of meowing a cat does largely depends on the type of breed that you have. For example, oriental cats, such as Siamese cats, are known for using a lot of meowing. Therefore, you can expect a lot from them.

What should you avoid doing when your cat is making this meowing sound?

As tempting, it may be, ignoring your cat when she is meowing is not the answer. Although you may not want to reward her for making this consistent meowing sound. The reality is, she’s trying to communicate with you for a reason.

Often this could be because she’s hungry, in a predicament such as stuck inside a room. Whatever it is, she needs some assistance from you, are you with me?

So before even considering ignoring her, check in with her to find out exactly what the issue is. Because most of the time they will only meow if they need something.

Avoid Punishing Her

Avoid punishing your cat for meowing. Do not try to shout at your cat, spray them with water or anything like this in the attempt to stop them meowing. The reality is, this really will not work.

It is more likely to confuse them and in extreme situations, it may start to make them not trust you. And lead to her not wanting to be around you anymore.

Do not give in to all of their demands

Although you should not ignore them. At the same time, you need to find a balance. Do not necessarily give her everything that she wants. Because she will start to believe that they can just Meow and literally get anything.

A bit like a moody toddler to an extent. You cannot give a child everything they want or they will become spoiled.

Related questions:

Q: Do cats pee out of anger?

No, they do not pee out of anger. No matter what you have been told before, this is a myth.

If you are noticing that she is peeing in unexpected places and causing you issues. This could be down to a territory related issue. Or, she could have a health problem.

According to PetNostics, Health problems such as lower urinary tract disorder (LUTD) could be a reason for this. Symptoms of this disease can be seen by frequent small bursts of urine, which is causing your cat pain.

You may also notice that the urine has a very strong smell. Even more so than the standard cat urine (Click here to see why cats poop when you get home) .

Q: Why do some cats act really wild at night-time?

This is also known as “midnight crazy”. It is not something that is usually a big concern. Most cats have their times when they act crazy during the night.

Such as running around downstairs while you’re trying to sleep upstairs,  doing erratic movements or unexpected behavior.

Here are some common reasons for this…

Predatory behavior

Cats are instinctive predators. Especially if they see mice or other annoying insects that they want to chase.

If they have not used up there “hunting energy” during the day, sometimes they have pent-up energy that they need to get rid of. Which may result in them acting a bit crazy at the end of the day or in the night.

Old age

As cats get older sometimes they have a tendency of acting a bit wild. And doing some unexpected behavior. This is just one of the unfortunate symptoms of becoming an older cat.

Issues with fleas

If your cat has problems with fleas it may not be obvious why they are jumping and moving around like a madman.

But they could actually be quite sensitive towards fleas. Which is causing them problems. If this is the case you need to look into it and see if you can get rid of this problem.

In some extreme cases, you may notice that your cat may have FHS. This is a rare syndrome which usually occurs in the mature years of a cat. However, the biggest issue with this is, how it occurs is still unknown.

Best 5 Automatic Litter box for Cats

With the advent of self-cleaning litter boxes, we can expect to see an unparalleled rise in cat ownership. These apparatuses fill a cat owner's life with more smiles and less ruffles.

With grandeur and style, these gems offer optimum convenience for cat litter control, making it super easy to dispose of neatly collected and hygienically treated waste.

Although they're costlier than the traditional manual litter boxes in general, automatic litter boxes do come at budget-friendly prices, and save you the hassle of cleaning up after your beloved cat. Not only are they affordable, they are also available in a wide array of designs to suit your specific needs.

If you've have decided to give one of these devices a shot, here are the five best automatic litter box that can truly rock your cat's world:

1. Petsafe Simply Clean Self cleaning Litter Box 


A flagship product of Petsafe, this self-cleaning litter box allows for simple management of your cat litter. It comes with detachable parts which, although many may find hard to assemble at first, are easy to wash and maintain. It features a semi-transparent waste compartment that allows you to easily monitor the quantity of waste deposited in it.


Being a low-voltage appliance, this product operates with minimal sound; hence it is the better-suited for fainthearted felines. The litter tray is designed primarily for lighter weighted cats and kitties.

The motor which facilitates the automatic clearing of the litter tray moves in a very subtle way, going full rotation only just once per hour.
As the product name suggests, Simply Clean is designed for frail felines. Its moving parts are entirely covered to prevent accidents from occurring during usage. Plus, you can regulate the the speed of the rotation by installing a timer that automatically turns the system on or off.


2. LitterMaid


The underlying mechanism of this gem features a rake that automatically removes waste from the regular litter into a waste compartment.

The product comes with a proprietary waste compartment which, according to the manufacturer, is 50 percent larger than other automatic litter boxes.

Emptying the waste compartment is as easy as removing the disposable hopper and disposing of it.

To ensure thorough litter management, this machine features a cleaning pad that catches any excess litter as the cat runs along after finishing with the business.

The appliance also comes with carbon fiber filters that dispel the bad odor. All in all, the LitterMaid one of the simplest models of automatic litter boxes that allows for breezy disposal of cat litter.


3. ScoopFree Self Cleaning Litter Box


The crown jewel of this automatic litter box is the remarkable crystal litter, which absorbs urine and dehydrates waste to eradicate offensive odor.

These crystals can function for weeks on end without necessitating the need for regular maintenance. This crystal litter is mounted in the disposable trays, in a set up which allows for streamlined collection of waste.

The device is a set up with three main features: a sensor, a timer, and a rake. It's not that hard to see how this product works from the list of components; the sensor detects the entry of the cat into the box and sets off a timer which, after twenty minutes, sends signals that activate an automated sweeping rake which removes waste from the tray into the receptacle.

You can choose from two different types of tray refills: the lavender, and the dye-free types. Other accessories for the product include an anti-tracking mat, and a sporty hood that can uplift the mien of doing business in the litter box.


4. CatGenie Self Cleaning Self Flushing Cat Box

This product belongs to the high end of the scale in terms of prices as well as technology. It tackles the menace of cat waste with what has been dubbed "Washable Granules", which take the place of a litter.

The Washable Granules are a fixed component, so instead of collecting solid waste during a regular clean up, like you do in a conventional litter system, the washable granules collect the waste. And all you ned to do is clean the granules. 

This negates the part where you would manually extract the collected waste from the waste compartment.

The CatGenie Cat Box bears a striking resemblance to the traditional toilet bowl. In addition to mimicking the mechanisms of the toilet bowl in a remarkable way, the product also heats the granules in order to dry them up and have them all set for the next use.

This product system requires the use of SaniSolutions for washes, an electric supply, cold water supply, and a drain pipe in order to function in full-swing automation.


5. Litter-Robot III Open-Air 

This product is the all the rage in the market today. Fitted with an impressive battery of functionalities, this product has recently been subjected to numerous price increments. It offers your pet the coolest and fanciest waste disposal system.

The product comes with an integrated litter tray appropriate for use by cats of various sizes.

It is made up of a globe that rotates in its entirety to remove waste, and a large waste compartment where the waste is deposited. You can place a trash bag inside the waste compartment in order to easily empty its contents.

The Litter-Robot III Open-Air model is an improvement to its predecessor, featuring a number of additional functionalities. It features a larger body, an auto LED night vision light, an automated cat sensor, an elaborate indicator, and settings for three, five and seven minute time cycles.

The sensor comes in the form of a pressure switch embedded at the bottom of the box. It is turned on the moment a cat steps into the box. The sensor triggers the rotation of the globe which takes place according to the length of time preset by you.


Transitioning To A New Automated Litter Box: How Not To Get Your Wires Crossed

You should not underestimate how sensitive cats are to litter box changes. In the light of this, and also given the fact that these gems are more expensive than the manual litter systems, much thought and care must therefore be invested into the decision making process as you consider going for one.

It is also unrealistic to expect a smooth transition to a new self-cleaning litter device in which there are no accidents and instances when waste is inadvertently spilled all over the carpet.

In order to ensure a faster transition, you need to personally take charge of the transition process and carry out positive reinforcement.

You can also try out a few tricks like spraying some catnip over the automated litter box (Click here to see how cats know how to use a litter box). The key here is to get your cat to associate the new arrival with some pleasurable experiences.