Why Your Cat Freaks Out When You Clean The Litter Box

You’re cleaning out your cat’s litter box, only to turn around and see your cat anxiously awaiting in the corner of the room. You might be wondering: why is my cat is acting weird when all I’m doing is just cleaning out the box?

Your cat may be freaking out when you clean the litter box due to several reasons. The most likely reason is that they’re feeling territorial, but this can depend on each individual cat and situation. Other reasons can include anxiety or stress, competition from other cats or just plain curiosity.

Cleaning your cat’s litter box seems like a straightforward task to you, but this may not be the same feeling your cat will experience.

The physical act of removing the litter from the box is what may be causing your cat to freak out or have aggressive behaviors. People often talk about how dogs are territorial when it comes to marking their spots but forget that cats have the same instincts.

When we clean our cats’ litter, they’re always a bit anxious and skeptical as to what we’re doing. We find that they’re usually going to use the litter straight away after it’s been changed!

We’ve discussed why many cats may not quite like their litter being changed in more detail below.

4 Reasons Cats Watch You Clean Their Litter Box 

While cats can sometimes do some seemingly strange things, there is usually a good explanation, and this is no different!

Let’s cover the 4 main reasons your cat might be looking over your shoulder while you clean up after them.

1) Your Cat Might Be Feeling Territorial

Cats consider their little box to be a part of their territory, as it is the only place where they can relieve themselves.

Because of this, it is natural for them to watch you while you clean out their litter box. You are essentially roughing through their possession or territory.

In extreme circumstances, cleaning out your cat’s litter box can be dangerous, so it is best to keep an eye on your cat and watch for any aggressive behaviors that may indicate they are being territorial.

Territorial Aggression In Cats

Despite what some people may think, cats are even more territorial than dogs. When cats begin to show aggression, it may link to being territorial. Territorial aggression often occurs when a cat feels his territory has been invaded.

A cat’s territory will depend on where they spend most of their time, whether it’s indoors or outdoors or in certain rooms. Physical behavioral traits can include aggression, chasing and ambushing the intruder in addition to hissing and swatting.

The main things to be on the lookout for are:

  • Urine Marking– A cat can be urine marking when they are urinating outside of the litter box, whether this is in a horizontal or vertical direction
  • Aggressive towards cats– If you find your cat expressing any aggressive behaviors towards another cat, this could be territorial aggression or an attempt to show dominance over the other cat.
  • Aggressive towards humans– A cat can show aggressive type behaviors to humans when they feel scared. Whether it is you or someone else, it’s a big sign that your cat is trying to show their territorial and can lead to aggressive behavior.

Any of these can signal territorial behavior but remember to consult a vet to rule out any medical issues.

What You Can Do to Help: Develop A Regular Cleaning Routine

Developing a cleaning routine can help put you and your cat at ease.

You should clean your litter box once or twice a day for easy upkeep. Most cats do not mind this as much when compared to your full clean.

You should complete a full clean once a week or every two weeks dependent on how dirty the litter box is.

This clean, though more complex, should be completed on a regular schedule.  Keeping a routine will help your cat know what you are doing and what they can expect from you.

2) Your Cat Might Be Feeling Anxious Or Stressed

Most cats are not a fan of people touching their things. It often makes them feel either stressed or anxious. These feelings make them want to stay close to you whenever you near or touching their possessions to watch what you do to them.

In terms of the little box, they may be making sure you are not changing its location, or the type of litter being used inside of the box.

What You Can Do to Help: Clean Away From Cat

Having your cats be freaked out anytime you clean their litter box is not ideal, nor is it good for your cat’s stress and anxiety levels.

If you notice that while cleaning out the litter box your cat’s anxiety or stress levels increase, it may be beneficial for you to clean the litter box in a different location.

However, it is also essential not to take an extreme amount of time as it can cause more stress for your cat. Just be quick, and even think about giving your cat some treats each time so they associate cleaning with positive feelings.

3) Your Cat Might Just Be Curious

Your cat may be watching you clean their litter box because they are curious to see what exactly you are doing. In most cases, they are wanting to ensure you are not changing anything in their territorial area.

What You Can Do to Help: Beside Cleaning, Make No Other Changes

On the full cleaning, days do not make any extreme changes to their litter box, besides cleaning it. Such changes can include but are not limited to the location or the type of litter used.

Because it is impossible to never make a change with your cat’s items, try to make any necessary changes gradually, introducing the new items slowly allows for your cat to get used to the changes.

4) Your Cat Might Be Feeling Competition

When you have multiple cats, a clean litter box can be a race to see who can mark it first. Being the first one to the litter box can not only show a cat’s competitive side but can also be a way of them demonstrating their dominance within the house itself.

What You Can Do to Help: Have More Than One Litter Box

The general rule for the number of little boxes you should have is one litter box per cat, plus one extra.

Having multiple boxes allows them to know that they have other options while you are cleaning out the box.

Your cats will still be excited to mark their territorial in the new clean litter box and it may reduce the dominance factor or how territorial your cat feels.

Behavioral Differences Between Neutered Cats And Intact Cats

They are three different terms that are often used to describe the neutering of cats, neutered is the term to refer to both male and female cats. The term castration refers to the surgical removal of testicles, whereas the term spayed is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries.

This can help you diagnose why your cat might be freaking out when you clean. If they are intact, this is much more likely to be a territorial behavior.

 Castrated or SpayedIntact
      Male CatsCastration is 85% effective in reducing or stopping behavioral issues with being territorial. Tend to room freely increasing chances of getting lost or hurt.Tend to fight more with other cats to secure a certain territory.   Tend to stay closer to home, to stay near a certain territory
      Female Cats  Said to solve most marking issues. Less conformational with other cats.More prone to marking of the territory of urine marking. May show more aggressive behaviors to other cats as they feel like they need to mate.

Why Cats Don’t Like Us Cleaning After Them

In other words, yes, cats are very territorial, even more so than one would think.  When you combine this with stress or anxiety it could be the cause of your cat’s behavior while you clean out their litter box. Just remember to try and create a routine.

Animals are very accustomed to schedules and will be able to adjust and get used to the clean-up process so long as you stick to it! That will help cut down the stress and anxiety your cat is feeling that may be causing strange behavior.