Cats are usually pretty clean animals. They spend a lot of time grooming and taking care of themselves.
So when you have a cat who starts sleeping in a litter box, you should be concerned.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons a cat may lie in the litter box — and what you can do about it.
If a cat is close to giving birth and there is no other acceptable solution, she may feel safer birthing in the litter box because it is a somewhat closed-in environment. Instinctively, she’ll look for a place where she feels her kittens will be safe from harm.
The litter box fits the bill not only because of its shape (often enclosed and dark) but also because humans usually put it in a place away from the household’s hustle and bustle.
Clearly, this is not an acceptable solution. Provide her with a birthing box or a clean and quiet area in which to give birth. If she does give birth in the litter box, she or the kittens may get sick.
Cats who have decided that they are “King of the Box” may lie or sleep in the litter box to prevent other cats from using it. Alternatively, if you have a timid cat who is bullied by his cat roommates, he may sleep in the litter box because it’s the only way he can get to it.
In her Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, Karen Overall writes, “Shy cats make good victims and will avoid and/or hide from bullies at all costs, even if this means restricted access to food, water, litter boxes and human attention.”
The solution is to add more litter boxes so you have enough for every cat. We suggest adding an extra one — if you have 3 cats, keep 4 litter boxes in the house. This ensures that there is always one available for a cat in need.
Insecurities and Boogeymen
Cats in shelters will sometimes sleep in their litter boxes because they’re the only place they feel safe. If your cat is sleeping in his litter box, consider whether he may be afraid of something. Is there a new animal or child in the household? Is he timid or fearful?
Give him a place where he can feel safe using a plain cardboard box with a blanket. Set it in a quiet area that his boogeymen can’t get to and let him use that as his safety zone.
Illness May Be the Culprit
Given the choice, usually cats will not choose to lie in filth. When they do, it is important that you bring them to the veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. Don’t wait if you see this behavior and the cause is not readily apparent.
- Urinary tract infections
- Crystals in the urine (can cause a buildup of potassium in the blood and possibly death if not treated)
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Arthritis, making climbing in and out painful
Want to make a safe space for your cat? Try this fun DIY cat bed tutorial:
According to the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Cats: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet, “Cats that strain to urinate may have a urethral obstruction; such cats are in grave danger and need immediate veterinary attention.”
Be Aware of Your Cat’s Mood and Behavior
When your cat spends an unusual amount of time in the litter box, take notice. Check that he is not having trouble eliminating either urine or feces.
If there is no medical reason why your cat is spending so much time in the litter box, consider the household and what changes may have happened recently. Chances are, there’s something that has either frightened or intimidated him, and he’s using the litter box as a hideout because it feels safe.
So keep an eye on your cat, and don’t be afraid to check that litter box — even between scoopings.