Most often a cat is tipping over their litter box because it’s too small or because the entry wall is too high. In other cases, play or territorial disputes could be to blame. When combined with other new or odd behaviors, it may indicate a health problem.
Let’s take a closer look at the reasons your cat may be knocking over their litter box, and what you can do to prevent it in the future.
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Is Knocking Over the Litter Box Reason to Worry?
While tipping a litter box on its own isn’t necessarily reason to worry, it’s still best to closely monitor your cat’s litter routine for any other changes.
New litter behaviors are sometimes early indicators of serious medical problems. If your cat is going outside the box, straining while using the litter box, or if you notice any changes in frequency, amount, or texture of elimination, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Otherwise, there’s likely a non-medical reason for the behavior.
The Right Cat and the Wrong Box
Generally, your cat isn’t intentionally knocking over the litter box. Oftentimes, they’re just having an issue with its size or design. There is no one-size-fits-all litter box.
Most Litter Boxes Are Too Small
For comfortable use, a litter box should be at least one-and-a-half times the length and width of the cat (tail excluded). If too small, your cat may be knocking it over when maneuvering in the cramped space. When unsure, it’s better to opt for too big than too small.
To make matters worse, many cheaper litter boxes are flimsy and lightweight to save on production costs. While these litter boxes may save a few dollars upfront, they are particularly prone to tipping. Especially for cats who are a bit aggressive when covering their mess.
Cats with Limited Mobility Need Increased Accessibility
Senior cats, overweight cats, cats with arthritis, and cats with otherwise limited mobility need a litter box with a lower entry wall. A standard, high-walled box may help keep litter in but will be tough to navigate for less-mobile cats. If your cat can barely clear the walls of the litter box, tipping is likely.
As cats get older, they may develop new issues with mobility. Upwards of 90% of cats age 12 and older show signs of arthritis.
If you suspect your cat may be having arthritis-related aches and pains, make it as easy as possible for them to access their litter box. Use low-entryway litter boxes. Put more litter boxes throughout the home, including at least one on every floor. Ask your vet if there is a pain medication or joint supplement that may help.
Paws on the Wall
Cats who ‘go’ with their front paws on the wall of the litter box are more likely to knock it over. Don’t try to discourage what’s comfortable for your cat. Instead, a heavier litter box with a wider base and lower walls can help.
Though they’re a common recommendation to prevent tipping, we don’t recommend corner litter boxes. In the wild, cats have many predators. When handling their business they’re particularly vulnerable and will often choose a spot that allows multiple escape routes. Being forced to use a litter box in a corner may conflict with your cat’s instincts.
Problems with the Litter Setup
If you think the litter box is a good fit, your cat may be communicating that something else is wrong with their litter situation.
Dirty Litter Box
Perhaps you’re not keeping the litter box clean enough. Litter boxes tend to get very nasty, very quickly. Scoop solids at least once a day. Sift wood pellet litter daily. Dump and replace clay litter about once a week. Clean the litter box with water and a mild detergent every few weeks.
Even when cleaned, plastic litter boxes tend to absorb odors. Replace your litter box every six months, or opt for a longer-lasting stainless steel box.
Changes in Litter Routine
Even if you’re keeping the litter box sufficiently clean, it may be something about the litter setup itself that’s bothering your cat. If you’ve made a recent change, perhaps your cat’s having trouble adjusting.
Did you recently switch to a new litter? Your cat may not like the scent or texture. Certain chemical fragrances found in clay litters can be irritating to cats, or even unhealthy. Other times, your cat may be having a hard time adjusting to the new texture, especially if it’s drastically different from what they’re used to. Pellet litters are sometimes particularly uncomfortable for heavier cats, older cats, and cats who have been declawed.
Other times, the litter box itself can be the problem. Was it moved to a noisy or high traffic area? Consider moving it somewhere more peaceful. Did you switch to a covered or top-entry litter box? Some cats have a strong preference against them.
Rough Play and Territorial Behavior
If you notice your cat sometimes playing in or around the litter box, it could also lead to tipping.
While it may sound strange, playing in the litter box is a common and completely normal behavior. To discourage this behavior, provide plenty of toys, and set aside at least a few minutes per day to play with them. It may help use up some excess energy, and prevent tipping in the future.
In other cases, your litter box may be the victim of territorial behavior. In multi-cat households, resource guarding can lead to some litter box drama. Make sure to have at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra. Place litter boxes on every floor of your home, in different rooms, and in varying locations.
The Best Litter Boxes to Prevent Tipping
A more appropriate litter box may help to reduce or eliminate the litter box tipping. In general, a larger litter box with a wide base will do the trick. In more extreme cases, you may also need a heavier litter box.
The simple, cost-effective solution.
A litter box should be at least one-and-a-half times the length of your cat, with their tail excluded. Unfortunately, for bigger cats, it can be a challenge to find a litter box large enough.
Petmate’s Giant litter box, measuring in at 25”x18”, is just about the largest readily available standard litter pan we could find. There’s not much special about it, other than its size. But if you need a simple, cost-effective solution, it should do the trick.
For senior and low mobility cats.
If you’ve determined that your cat is tipping the litter box because of a mobility issue — due to being overweight, having arthritis, or otherwise — look for a more accessible litter box with a low entry wall.
KittyGoHere’s Senior Cat Litter Box has a very low 3” entry wall, which is about as easy as it gets for any cat to climb over. It comes in two sizes, a more affordable 20”x15” and a very accommodating 24”x20”.
It’s a great litter pan, even for cats that don’t have mobility problems. The low profile makes the litter box much less likely to tip during play or if your cat uses the litter box with their paws propped on the sides.
While the low, 5” walls can be beneficial, be aware they will also lead to more litter being kicked out during use.
Going premium with stainless steel.
In more extreme cases, you may need a larger AND heavier litter box.
The iPrimio XL Stainless Steel Litter Box measures in at 23.5”x25.5” and weighs in at 4lbs. — over twice as heavy as comparably-sized plastic pans.
As an added benefit, stainless steel litter boxes need to be replaced much less often. They won’t absorb odor like plastic litter pans and are much more durable. It’s a solid long-term investment.
DIY Solutions to Prevent Litter Box Tipping
If your cat is knocking over the litter box but you’re not interested in or able to pay for a new litter box, there are a few do-it-yourself solutions that could help.
- Placing your current litter box inside of a large, open-topped cardboard box can help reduce the mess. While it won’t prevent tipping, all of the spilled litter will at least be contained and easily dumped back into the litter box. A larger cardboard box with the sides trimmed down to just a few inches is best, so your cat doesn’t feel too confined.
- If you suspect a mobility issue is the cause, you can cut a lower entryway into most plastic litter boxes using shears or a razor knife. Be mindful of sharp edges. Sand or file down any rough areas.
- Alternatively, consider using a large storage bin as a litter box. You’ll just need to cut a large entryway into the side or the lid. If your cat isn’t used to or doesn’t like covered or top entry litter boxes, don’t force it — just keep the lid off. Be sure to sand or file down any rough edges at the entry.
- If all else fails, a litter box can be secured to a wall. Keep in mind, it will be a bit more difficult to clean if there’s no simple way to detach the box.
If your cat keeps knocking over the litter box, try to determine if it’s a good fit for your cat. Most are too small. Others are too high for cats with limited mobility to comfortably climb over. In other cases, rough play or territorial disputes may be to blame, or your cat may be communicating that there’s some other issue with their litter situation.
- Arthritis & Degenerative Joint Disease in Cats. (2018, July 26). International Cat Care. https://icatcare.org/advice/arthritis-and-degenerative-joint-disease-in-cats/
- Cornell Feline Health Center. (2016, December). Feline Behavior Problems: Aggression. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-behavior-problems-aggression
About Matthew Alexander
Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.