5 Reasons Your Cat is Sitting Outside the Litter Box Staring

Wondering why your cat sometimes sits and stares at their litter box?

Most often, it’s just because staring is a normal behavior for cats. But sometimes, it may indicate that there’s something wrong.

Let’s take a closer look at the five most common reasons your cat may be staring at their litter box, and what you can do to fix them.

Why is My Cat Staring at the Litter Box?

When a cat stares at a litter box, they may be communicating a problem with their litter situation — discomfort while eliminating and dirty litter boxes are common reasons. If a physical problem or stressor doesn’t seem to be the cause, staring is just a very normal cat behavior.

Possible Health Problems

As with any new or odd bathroom behavior, staring at the litter box could indicate that your cat is having a medical problem. Pain or discomfort while eliminating can make your cat hesitant to use the litter box. Staring may be the result.

Common issues that may cause pain or discomfort while using the litter box include urinary tract infections, bladder stones or other blockages, feline interstitial cystitis, and constipation.

Monitor the amount, frequency, and texture of your cat‘s urine and feces. Behaviors like straining to go and going outside the litter box are particularly concerning.

If you notice any changes alongside the staring, contact your vet immediately.

Cat sitting outside small litter box

Why is my cat sitting outside the litter box?

If your cat is sitting outside the litter box, they may be trying to communicate something. Sometimes the litter box may be too dirty. Other times, they may be having trouble going due to constipation or a urinary problem. If you notice straining or less frequent elimination, contact your veterinarian.

A Dirty Litter Box

A dirty litter box could make your cat hesitant to use it. Keep in mind, a cat’s sense of smell is about 14 times stronger than that of a human. Even if the litter box seems clean to us, it may not pass their strict standards.

To keep the litter box as welcoming as possible:

If the behavior continues after a deep clean, it may be the litter box itself. Plastic litter boxes should be replaced at least once per year, as plastics tend to absorb and hold odor through cleanings.

Territorial Behavior

Two cats staring at a litter box

Resource guarding is common in multi-cat homes. After all, the ancestors of domestic cats were solitary hunters.

Your cat may just be keeping an eye on what they consider part of their territory. This is even more likely if you’ve recently introduced a new cat to your home.

To reduce litter box drama, have at least one litter box per cat plus one extra. Spread them across different rooms and locations. Be sure to have at least one on each floor of your home.

Problems with the Litter Setup

Cats can be very particular about their litter setup, and small changes can really upset their routine.

Your cat may be reluctant to use the litter box due to its location.

If placed in a busy or high traffic area, consider moving it somewhere quiet and peaceful. If you’ve recently moved the litter box, consider moving it back or trying a new location.

Some cats have an instinctual desire to have multiple escape routes when eliminating. If your litter box is in a corner or any other enclosed area, try moving it somewhere more open and accessible.

The litter or litter box itself may also be the problem.

If you’ve recently switched to a new litter or litter box, perhaps your cat’s not a big fan. As always when switching litter, a slow transition to the new litter is the best approach.

Staring is a Normal Cat Behavior

A cat staring, which is a normal behavior for cats

But if your cat is staring at the litter box, it’s not necessarily all doom and gloom.

Cats are curious and inquisitive by nature. They may stare if they see or hear something that they can’t quite figure out, or would like to know more about.

If an unidentified sound, flash of light, or an insect crawling in the area caught their eye or ear, they may stare until their curiosity is satisfied. Even if we don’t see or hear anything in the area, remember that cats have much stronger senses than humans do.


Staring at the litter box can sometimes be an indication that your cat is having pain or discomfort while eliminating. If a physical problem is ruled out, your cat may be hesitant to use the litter box for a non-medical reason. An unclean litter box, changes to the litter setup, and territorial disputes are common. If none of these seem to be the case, you can probably just write it off as “another strange thing that cats do.”


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.