Why Does My Cat Meow in the Litter Box? Secrets Revealed

Last updated:
We may earn through links from our affiliates including Chewy, Amazon, and Pet Circle.

It’s a conundrum that’s plagued mankind for millennia.

Why does my cat meow in the litter box?

I certainly don’t want to let people know I’m going to the toilet, so why are our cats so vocal about it?

In this article, I’m going on a journey of discovery to find out – once and for all – why cats meow while using the litter box.

Is it a cause for concern, is it something we’re doing wrong with the litter tray – or is it just for shits and gigs?

Let’s find out…

Why Does My Cat Meow in the Litter Box?

As an owner of two kittens, I myself have experienced the bemusement of cats meowing at the litter box. And then running around like lunatics (because…cat reasons).

But why?

Why do cats want to meow?

Are they trying to talk with us?

“Hey guys, just wanted to let you know – I’m using the litter tray. I repeat…I’m using the litter tray. Just letting you know, in case you were wondering.”

I needed some science.

Why Cats Meow?

With a little digging I found some research that suggests cats only really meow to people – not other cats.

A cats relative, the wildcat, seldom meows – so it’s learned behavior.

Cats learn to meow at people because it works.

If cats learn that meowing gets you to do something, then they’ll continue to do it by way of operant conditioning.

Meows just seem to work better with people, because they seem to get our attention more than regular cat-speak like brr and prr. I guess.

In fact, the meows fall under the following 5 categories of reasons why cats meow:

  • Your cat wants food
  • You cat wants attention
  • Your cat sees an ‘offending object’
  • When cats see an obstacle
  • When they’re under stress (e.g. going in the car to the vet)

How does this relate to cats meowing in the litter box?

Reasons for Meowing in The Litter Box

One idea I thought of is your cat might meow to let us know to watch out for predators whilst they’re on the loo, as it’s a vulnerable position (an obstacle).

I don’t think your cat wants food whilst they defecate. 

Nor would they crave attention and pats whilst going to the litter box.

However, it is possible that there is an ‘offending object’ or an obstacle in the cat litter tray – an unclean litter tray.

An older study in 1944 attributed meowing behavior down to goal achievement, of which there are two:

  • Getting food
  • Removal of a barrier

Barriers to cats include things like doors, which prevent access to exploration and other activities. And possibly – toilets.

Poop is an obstacle when trying to pee and do bowel movements. It gets in the way of the tray. 

Research does find that the simple noble act of keeping your felines litter tray clean from objects (heck, even pseudo-poo logs can get in the way and stop cats using the tray) will help your cat use the litter box.

Personally, I like a clean toilet when I’m using the toilet. Maybe your cat is meowing to say “Hey, Joe – you wanna clean this thing?”

The next step would be to do other litter box best practices that cats love, including:

  • Slapping down a bigger box (at least 1.5 x the length of the cat from head to tail).
  • Filling it up deeper (at least 7.5cm).
  • Using softer and sandier cat litter (cats prefer small granule litter).
  • Avoiding noisy areas.
  • Multiple cats having to use one litter tray.

If good cat litter hygiene helps keep the chatty catty from meowing then problem solved.

What to Do if Your Cat Keeps Meowing in the Litter Tray?

If improving your cats litter box experience doesn’t help then what do you do?

There’s signs cats aren’t happy with what you’re putting out.

One of those signs is a cat doing their business outside the tray.

Inappropriate litter elimination outside the tray is a big problem that affects up to 10% of all cats.

According to this 2006 paper, cats with elimination problems spend less time digging, which is a small clue that things aren’t to their satisfaction.

How else would cats let you know they’re not happy, fill out a complaint form?

Step one then is fixing your litter box situation and seeing if the meowing is a sign your cat just doesn’t like what you’re presenting to them.

If a scrupulously clean tray stops the meows, great!

However…if it doesn’t, then what?

Veterinary expert suggest that the meowing is linked to health problems like:

  • Feline lower urinary tract disease
  • Bladder stones
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis
  • Impacted anal sacs
  • Constipation
  • Arthritis in cats

If meowing persists, you might have something serious on your hands that may require prompt veterinary care.

The trick is to keep a good history of events (e.g. a diary or note on your phone) that describe when, where, who and what is happening.

That way you can contact your veterinarian armed with as much information to help them with a diagnosis.

Here’s some possible reasons for toilet vocalization I’ll pump out here:

1. Urinary Tract Infections

Experts suggest that a combo of cat urine and stool outside the litter box is cause for concern (as opposed to just urine, which is a sign of marking behavior).

Urinary tract infections and digestive issues can increase pain and vocalization whilst on the litterbox. 

2. Anxiety

A veterinary paper suggested that urine marking and cats meowing around the litter box is a sign of anxiety. If this is a problem, you’ll want to get a vet check.

The author of this paper suggests that anti-anxiety medication can help if anxiety is diagnosed in your cat. However, it comes with unpleasant side-effects like loss of appetite.

Changing a cats environment (and the toilet location) can lead to stress and anxiety. Experts suggest that vocalizing and marking outside the litter box help reduce stress due to having their own scent.

Other signs of anxiety include your cat folding their ears back, lowering their head and tucking in their tail. Stressed out cats might eat more or less than usual.

3. Age Related Problems

If the vocalizing is new behavior in an older cat, then age related problems like arthritis may be giving them trouble.

Adjusting the litter box with a shallow opening or ramp can help toileting for elderly felines. Regular veterinary appointments is a must here to make sure older cats are monitored.

4. Lack of Socialization

This sort of relates to point 2 and anxiety.

A 2011 study looked into feral cats and house cats teased out differences in meowing. Feral cats tend to vocalize more due to fear and unfamiliarity.

Whilst this probably isn’t the case with most well-trained homely cats, if you’ve adopted a new cat that’s spent a lot of time outdoors, it might affect how they act indoors.

Although it doesn’t explain the toilet meowing – it’s worth considering.

Final Thoughts

There’s a few reasons why cats meow at the litterbox.

Cats meow to achieve goals.

Meows are directed at humans, who help cats achieve their primary goals which are food and barrier removal. Vocalization is also associated with pain and discomfort.

There are potential barriers cats face when going to use the litter tray including it not being clean, not being large enough and not being in a quiet area. Those could increase meowing.

Pain and discomfort from medical issues is another thing to consider. If your suspect your cat is having recent health changes, seek the help of a vet.

Ageing and stress are other things related to cat litter box vocalization.

Here’s a handy infographic to help refresh these points.

An infographic on "Why Does My Cat Meow in The Litter Box?"


Photo of author


I'm qualified dietitian that's turned their attention to cat nutrition. My goal is to help tease out the science on how best to feed your cat.