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Do cats appreciate you cleaning their litter box?

Cats are known for being clean animals that spend a good portion of their day grooming themselves. As pet owners, we try to make their lives easier by scooping their litter boxes regularly. But do cats actually appreciate us cleaning up after them? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons cats may or may not like a clean litter box.

Reasons cats might appreciate a clean litter box

It’s more hygienic

Cats like to keep clean, so a dirty litter box full of waste goes against their nature. Scooping regularly keeps the box from getting too smelly or covered in bacteria that could cause illness. Cats likely feel more comfortable using a box that is free of mess.

It reduces anxiety

Some cats may feel stressed about using a dirty litter box, especially if they are particularly finicky. Cleaning the box regularly can reduce anxiety for sensitive cats who don’t want to step in their own waste.

It encourages proper bathroom habits

When litter boxes get extremely dirty, some cats may start Eliminating outside of the box. By scooping waste at least once a day, cats are more likely to view their box as a proper place to relieve themselves.

It makes digging and burying easier

Cats have an instinctive need to dig in litter and bury their waste. With a clean box, there is ample litter for a cat to dig in and cover up comfortably after they go.

Reasons a cat may not care about a clean litter box

They don’t mind a mess

Some cats are not as fastidious about cleaning as others. An individual cat may be fine using a litter box, even if it has waste from previous bathroom visits. As long as the box is not completely full, they may not care if it’s scooped daily.

They have designated spots

Even in a messy box, some cats have their preferred spots to go that they return to every time. As long as those spots remain usable, they’ll keep using the box regardless of overall cleanliness.

They are outdoor cats

Cats who spend a lot of time outdoors have ample places to relieve themselves aside from the litter box. An outdoor cat likely won’t care as much about an unscooped box, since they don’t depend on it as fully.

They don’t mind the smell

A cat’s sense of smell is very different than a human’s. What seems unbearably smelly to us may not bother them much at all. Unless the odor is overwhelming even for them, some cats will use a litter box despite the stench.

Signs your cat appreciates a clean litter box

How can you tell if your cat truly appreciates a scooped box? Here are some clues:

  • They use the litter box immediately after you’ve cleaned it
  • They stop eliminating outside of the box when you keep it clean
  • They cover up waste more thoroughly in a clean box
  • They dig and scratch appreciatively in freshly scooped litter
  • They exhibit less anxious behaviors when the box is regularly cleaned

On the other hand, a cat who doesn’t seem to care may use the box infrequently even when clean, or not change habits whether you scoop or not.

Study examining cats’ litter box preferences

A study published in the journal Behavioural Processes sought to determine if cats actually prefer a clean litter box over a dirty one. The study involved 20 cats and tested their preferences using a Y-shaped maze.

One arm of the maze led to a clean litter box, while the other arm led to a litter box with waste already in it from other cats. Each cat was individually placed in the maze and allowed to choose an arm and inspect the litter box.

The results showed the following:

Litter Box Choice Number of Cats
Clean Litter Box 15
Dirty Litter Box 5

As seen in the table, 75% of cats chose to inspect the clean litter box first, while only 25% chose the dirty box. This suggests most cats prefer a clean litter environment. However, the fact that some still opted for the dirty box shows that preferences vary between individuals.

Should you still clean the litter box if your cat doesn’t seem to care?

Even if your cat does not appear upset by an unscooped litter box, there are still good reasons to clean it regularly:

  • It improves the air quality in your home
  • It reduces the spread of bacteria
  • It prevents your cat from being exposed to parasites
  • It stops waste from building up too high
  • It reduces the risk of your cat eliminating elsewhere

Maintaining a clean litter box is part of being a responsible cat owner. It not only encourages good bathroom habits for your cat, but also protects the health of your family as well. Scooping daily takes minimal effort and is worth doing even if your cat remains unfazed.


Cats are clean creatures by nature and most prefer not to step in a messy litter box if they can avoid it. Regular scooping provides a hygienic place for cats to relieve themselves and reduces stress and anxiety. Some cats may not seem to care much about litter box cleanliness though, especially if they frequently spend time outdoors. But maintaining a clean litter box is still important for health and sanitary reasons. So be a good cat owner and make scooping a daily habit, even if your cat doesn’t shower you with gratitude!