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Why Do Cats Watch You Clean The Litter Box?

Cleaning your cats’ litter box is not the most glamorous job, but it needs to be done! However, it can be even more off-putting if your cat is staring you down while you’re doing it. It begs the question; why do cats watch you clean the litter box, and is it anything to be concerned about or do? Let’s find out.  

So, why do cats watch you clean the litter box? Many cats like to watch their owners clean the litter box due to their curious and territorial natures. A litter box is a prized part of your cat’s territory, and they want to keep a close eye on any developments or changes that may arise.

Perhaps not what you were expecting.

But it’s important you know the truth.

Let’s now continue to explore these reasons in further detail before turning to potential responses.  

Reasons Why Cats Watch You Clean The Litter Box

To Protect Them

One of the main reasons cats watch you when you clean their litter box is because they are naturally protective of them. 

In the wild, most cat species (apart from lions) are solitary. 

So, they have a natural instinct to protect their resources, whether that’s food, hunting grounds, or their preferred pooping station! 

Territorial Reasons

Furthermore, cats use scent to mark their territory. 

Therefore, by cleaning out the litter tray, you are basically rubbing your scent all over their area, which may make them nervous. 

For this reason, it’s important to leave your cat’s scent behind when you clean the litter tray. 

Avoid using strong-smelling chemicals because these can be very off-putting and will mask your cat’s own scent.


Cats are curious creatures by nature.

You might have noticed your kitty warily investigating a new item that has appeared in your house by sniffing it.

They might even give it a little tap with their paws.

So, when you are cleaning out the litter box, your beloved kitty may simply be curious about what you’re doing! 

Asserting Dominance

We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘dogs have masters, cats have slaves.’

Well, in a cat’s mind, this isn’t far from the truth! The litter box is your cat’s domain. It’s not just a toilet but a way for them to tell other animals in the home (including you) that ‘this area is mine.’

Dominance behavior is more common in unneutered male cats. But it can still be prevalent in cats that have been neutered.

Territorial cats also tend to jump straight into the litter tray after you’ve cleaned it. This may be frustrating for you, but it’s their way of re-marking their territory. 


If you’ve formed a strong bond with your feline companion, they might appreciate your efforts to keep their toilet clean.

Cats are very particular about hygiene, with many of them refusing to use the litter tray if it’s already been soiled.

So, watching you may be their way of saying ‘thank you.’ 

You can usually tell if your cat is being dominant or feeling appreciative by observing their body language.

Territorial cats will hold their tails low with a stiff posture. They may also have their ears back.

Appreciative cats will have a much more relaxed look about them.

One of the best ways to tell is to look at your cat and slowly blink. By returning this gesture, your cat is showing you he trusts you. 

It’s A Routine Activity

Cats are lovers of routine.

So, if you clean the litter box regularly, your feline will probably know when it’s about to happen.

By watching you, they could be making an association between the activity and their own hygiene and comfort. 

Should You Stop Your Cat From Watching You Clean The Litter Box?

There’s no need to stop your cat from watching you clean the litter box unless they are showing signs of aggression or stress. More often than not, your cat may simply be curious about what you’re doing. However, if your cat starts to hiss or attack you, then you need to address the behavior. 

Here are a few pointers for you if this is becoming a problem: 

Spay Or Neuter Your Cat

Spaying or neutering can greatly reduce aggression in felines.

In male cats, the testes are removed during neutering (also known as castration). These are responsible for producing the hormone testosterone, which is often the trigger for aggressive and territorial behaviors.

Without any testes, your cat is likely to be much calmer.

In female cats, the entire reproductive tract is removed during spaying surgery. Your spayed cat will have no ovaries or produce estrogen.

So, she will not come into heat, which is often a cause of territorial behavior.  

Use Distraction Techniques

Next time you clean out your cat’s litter tray, get someone else to play with, or fuss, your cat (in a different room if necessary).

Don’t forget to offer treats too when they do something right.

Positive reinforcement works well for cats as long as you are consistent. Never punish your cat.

Animals don’t understand the concept of punishment, so this is likely to make the situation much worse. 

Have More Than One Litter Tray In The House

The general rule of thumb is to have one litter tray per cat in the home, plus an additional one.

So, even if you only have one cat, try adding another litter tray to prevent them from getting so territorial about one particular area.  

Bond With Your Cat

Take the time to play with your cat or curl up with them on the sofa.

The more your cat trusts you, the less territorial and potentially aggressive they will be about you touching their litter box.

Other Cat Litter Box Cleaning Considerations

Most cats love a clean litter box. But this does depend on how you clean it. Dirty litter should be scooped out daily. 

You should also fully rinse and clean the litter tray once a week or so, depending on how many cats you have. 

When you do a full clean, rinse the litter box using hot water and a very mild detergent. 

Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell, so a strong citrus scent may cause them to avoid the litter box altogether. 

Only use products that are safe for cats, and rinse the litter box thoroughly before replacing it with new litter. 

Many chemicals can be toxic to cats, so these should be avoided at all costs, including: 

  • Alcohol 
  • Formaldehyde 
  • Hydrogen peroxide 
  • Phthalates  
  • Bleach 
  • Any compounds ending in ‘phenol’ 
  • Ammonia 

The best option is to use products specifically designed for cats. Alternatively, many natural plant-based cleaners are also safe for cats. 

Clumping vs. Non-Clumping Litter

Many cats seem to prefer clumping litter because they can easily push it aside.

This variety is also easier for you to clean. However, non-clumping cat litter is often better at absorbing urine odors.  


Cat litter now comes in a vast array of different materials that come with their own benefits and drawbacks.

For example, paper litter is biodegradable and soft on the paws.

However, it doesn’t absorb odors very well.

Clay litter allows your cat to dig and cover their excrement more efficiently.

But it can be very dusty and is not environmentally friendly.  


Cats can suffer from allergies just like humans.

So, walnut, corn, and wheat litter may cause issues if your cat is prone to allergic reactions.  


This is more for your benefit than your cats, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Traditional cat litter, such as clay and paper, are fairly cheap. However, newer options like silica gel will set you back quite a bit more.

However, it will generally last longer because it doesn’t need to be changed as often. 

Establish A Cleaning Routine  

It’s a good idea to get into a cleaning routine.

A dirty litter box isn’t only unappealing, but it can also be harmful to your feline companion.

By stepping in and squatting over old excrement, bacteria could enter the urethra and cause a urinary tract infection. Signs to look out for include: 

  • Straining to urinate 
  • Urinating frequent small amounts 
  • Blood in the urine 
  • Urinating outside the litter box 
  • Vocalizing or crying out when urinating 
  • Repeated licking of the genitals 

Issues That Can Arise From A Dirty Litter Box

Here are some other main concerns that can result from a dirty litter box


Constantly searching for a clean spot in a dirty litter box can cause your cat a lot of stress.

This is especially important if you have multiple cats because felines use scent to mark their territories.

Unless they are the best of friends, most cats will outright refuse to use a litter tray that has been used by another cat.  

Bladder Stones

These are usually caused by urinary tract infections that have been left to fester for too long.

Bladder stones form when minerals and organic matter build up in the bladder, making it difficult to urinate.

Symptoms are very similar to those associated with urinary tract infections, as well as potential lethargy and decreased appetite.  

Kidney Infections

Also called pyelonephritis.

Kidney infections can cause pain, fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, and increased thirst.  

Feline Urethral Obstruction

Cats will often hold their urine instead of using a dirty litter box.

Over time, this can cause the formation of crystals or mucus plugs in the urethra.

Feline urethral obstruction is a painful condition that can cause a life-threatening kidney blockage. 

If you notice your cat is not using the litter box even after you’ve cleaned it, you may want to consider changing the litter or even the box itself.

Individual cats will have different preferences; some like their privacy, so hooded boxes are a good option.

Others like to have plenty of open space. A bit of trial and error may be needed to find the litter box that’s right for your cat. 

When it comes to litter, there’s a wide variety of choices on the market. Here are some things to consider: 


Cats observe people cleaning their litter box for a multitude of different reasons; but the ultimately, they are very protective and mindful of this area.

So, while your cat may put some pressure on you when you clean it, don’t succumb.

It’s essential you keep regularly cleaning the litter box, as a dirty one can lead to a whole host of negative consequences.

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