How Do Cats Know to Use a Litter Box? 4 Fact About Your Felines

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About litter boxes and even litter box alternativeshow do cats know to use a litter box? And why don’t some of them?

If you’re a cat owner, I’m sure you got a lot of those questions on your mind. It involves a lot about the majestic ancestral traits of your little cat.

Let’s jump right into it! We will explain how cats know to use litter boxes and why some of them don’t.

Why Do Cats Use the Litter Box?

Survival of The Fittest

We all know Darwin’s evolution theories, one of them is ‘Survival of the fittest’. By saying that, Darwin didn’t mean the strongest will dominate or the smartest will win.

What the Father of Evolution wants to emphasize is: the individual that fits into an environment the most has the best chance to survive in that environment.

The descendants of that individual then inherited those superior traits and passed them on to the later generations.

‘Survival of the fittest’ simply means reproductive success.

It’s why thousands of people compete for a superior position in leading firms. It’s why Apple leads the market for so long, they know how to adapt their products to the current trends.

The point is, this process develops certain traits that become instinct. These instincts helped our ancestors survive in the wild and are passed on to us.

Animal Instincts


If your phone falls off the table, it’s your instinct to catch it. Or if a person is about to hit you, you would at least try to block or avoid it. And you do it without any training. It’s your instinct.

Instincts are built up based on the concept of ‘Survival of the fittest’. It’s what helps every creature in the world survive until now, including your cats and their ancestors.

Thanks to instinct, they learn to find shelters, keep their tummies full, avoid predators, and breed.

Why did I mention this? Well, another survival instinct of your cat that you might find surprising is pooping in litter boxes.

Cover Your Tracks

Knowing where to dump their litter is incredible enough, they even know to cover it. So why do cats bury their poop?

In the wild, ancestors of your cats had to cover their tracks by burying their litter so that predators won’t smell it and find out their location.

Some of them even get smarter and cover their waste in the sand or soft dirt. Why? They know the more granular and consistent the texture is, the easier it is to bury cat litter.

Now here’s a fun fact: if one of your cats doesn’t cover his or her poop, he or she is most likely the boss of your ‘cat gang’.

The dominant ones tend to leave their poop unburied to mark their territory. Other cats cover their poop to show submission.

Even Kittens Know

Thanks to the instinct built up from their ancestors, cats naturally know where to dump their waste.

Yes, you don’t have to teach kittens where to poop. By around 4 years old, they already know how even without their mother showing them.

As long as your cat is completely healthy and the litter box is frequently clean, you’re good to go!

Reasons Cats Poop Outside a Litter Box

There are many reasons why your cats are pooping outside the litter box.

Cats will not want to poop in the litter box if it’s not clean. They’d rather hold it or poop outside. You should clean the litter box often during the day, let’s say after 3-4 hours.

Another reason is your little box might be too small for them. You might have heard closed litter boxes with one entrance are able to keep the smell from getting everywhere.

However, we don’t suggest you buy this kind of litter box because the smell won’t be able to escape, resulting in your cats not wanting to use their ‘toilet’.

Also, make sure your cats have easy access to their litter box. It might sound funny, but if your cats don’t like where you locate the litter box, thus find it hard to approach, they’re not going to use it either.

If your cats have other symptoms like not eating or drinking, along with avoiding using the litter box, get them checked out ASAP. It can result from serious health problems.

FAQs about Cat using Litter Boxes

Do stray cats know how to use a litter box?

Most of them do since it’s their instinct. But some stray cats need a little training since they might be more familiar with coarser substances.

You can replace cat sand with sand or newspaper to let them get used to the litter box first. Then, when you think they’re comfortable, switch to cat sand.

Why do cats use litter boxes and dogs don’t?

It’s difficult to explain precisely why since the answer refers to the concept ‘survival of the fittest’. But we can simply put it this way:

Cats have the instinct to bury their poop to let others know that they don’t attempt to invade anyone’s territory. And the best place to bury it is granular substances like cat sand.

Since humans look more dominant to cats, they don’t want us to think they are invading our territory.

Dogs, however, do not have the instinct to dump their waste in a specific place. That’s you need to litter-train dogs.

Can cats smell their litter boxes?

Yes, but not too far away.

You might have heard about a popular myth claiming your lost cats can find their way home if you put out their litter box.

The fact is, it doesn’t work that way. There is no evidence showing cats can smell anything from that far.

They might smell something around 20 meters away or less. But if they’re that near, they would’ve found their way home anyway.

The Bottom Line

Who knows the mystery of cats knowing to use a litter box can be so fascinating, right? How cats have evolved and formed that into instinct is so amazing.

So if your cats are not littering in the right place, something might be wrong. Here are what you should do in that situation:

  1. Clean the litter box if it’s dirty
  2. Check if your cat like that litter box
  3. Bring your cat to the vet for a checkout

Now that you know the answer to: ‘how do cats know to use a litter box‘, be sure to share your stories in the comment section. We’d love to hear your opinions.

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