Cat Sleeping or Sitting in Litter Box? When to Worry

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A cat sleeping in a litter box, or sitting, laying, or playing in it may seem cute and quirky at first, but it can be dangerous if it’s due to a health issue and it isn’t addressed. Litter boxes are also breading grounds for bacteria that can make you sick if your cat carries that bacteria outside the litter box. When your cat is spending a little too much time in the litter box, it’s more likely they might do so.


This article will cover the common reasons cats may sleep, sit, lay, or play in a litter box and ways you can correct the behaviour. In most cases, we can’t really know for sure what’s behind our cats’ behaviours, but these theories may help you find a solution.




A cat will sleep in their litter box when they’re a kitten and don’t know any better, when they’re dealing with an illness, or if they’re trying to guard the litter box from other cats or animals in the house.


When cats are kittens or at a shelter waiting to be adopted, they’re often kept in smaller spaces. This means their litter box may be just a few feet away from their water dish and be the most comfortable space for them to sleep that also smells familiar.


It’s less likely your cat will sleep soundly in a litter box if they’re dealing with an illness, they’re more likely to simply lay in it. But if your cat doesn’t feel they can stray far from the litter box, they may resort to sleeping in it.


A cat who’s familiar with the litter box and has a warm, cozy place to sleep outside of the litter box, may choose to sleep in the litter box if they want to ensure another cat doesn’t use it while they’re getting some shuteye. They’re trying claim their territory.





A cat will lay in the litter box when they’re dealing with an illness and feel they need to be close to the washroom. They may be lethargic and don’t have the energy to walk in and out of the box each time they feel the urge to go to the washroom. And if they have a urinary tract infection, blockage, or diarrhea, they may have a constant urge to go to the washroom but not be able to go (or get everything out) when they try.


Your cat may also be trying to guard the litter box from other cats or pets in the house. You’ll likely be able to tell the difference, since you know your cat best. If they seem like they’re ill or in distress, them laying in the litter box is more likely to mean you must get them to the veterinarian. On the other hand, if they seem normal but are staring down your other cat(s) or hissing when they come near, they’re obviously guarding the box.


A cat who’s about to give birth may also lay in the litter box if they don’t have a birthing box that feels like a safe space for them.





A cat will sit in a litter box longer than they need to if they’re trying to go to the washroom but don’t feel like they’re done yet, which may be due to an illness. A urinary infection or blockage can cause the sensation of feeling like they have to urinate but are unable to do so. Diarrhea or constipation may also cause an uncomfortable feeling that keeps them in the litter box.


A cat may also sit in the litter box longer than they need to if they’re guarding it from other cats or pets in the house. Dogs do have a tendency to eat cat poop, so it just may be that your cat is protecting their territory (and their business) after they’re done.


If your cat is still a kitten, they may be sitting in the litter box because it’s a soft place to hang out. There’s likely not much to worry about in this situation, unless they seem like they’re straining to go to the washroom or have other symptoms that don’t seem normal (e.g. lethargic, not eating or drinking, etc.).





A cat will play in their litter box when they’re young and don’t fully understand that it’s meant for going to the washroom. Cats are curious creatures and when they’re kittens, the litter is unfamiliar, so they may want to discover what’s under all the “sand”. Or they may just like the feeling of the loose material under their paws or the sounds the litter makes when they dig or jump around.


A cat playing in the litter box isn’t likely to be behaviour you need to worry about, although, it’s not exactly behaviour you want to encourage. Litter boxes are breading grounds for bacteria so there are better areas to play than the litter box, and better objects to play with than litter.





Once you determine why your cat is exhibiting this strange behaviour in their litter box, you’ll be better equipped to solve the issue. Here are 5 common reasons to explore:



A cat who starts to sleep, sit, or lay in the litter box out of the blue, may be dealing with an illness. The illness may be severe and require a veterinarian visit immediately, or it may be a milder case of an upset stomach.


It’s best to call your veterinarian, describe how your cat is behaving, and provide any relevant information (for example, if they got into sour cream earlier that day), so they can best guide you on what to do next.


If your cat is dealing with a serious illness, such as a urinary tract infection or kidney disease, they may feel like they need to go to the washroom but have nothing come out when they try. This urge to go may have them feeling like they need to stay in their litter box constantly.


If your cat has gotten into some food they shouldn’t, they may be experiencing an upset stomach and wanting to stay close to a toilet. This may be able to pass without a visit to a vet clinic, but you should contact your vet if they behaviour persists more than 12 – 24 hours.




You’ll likely know if your cat is pregnant and getting close to delivery, but it is possible their pregnancy went undetected by you. If your cat is pregnant, she’s likely laying in the litter box because it feels like a safe space for her to give birth.




Cats are territorial so if there are other animals in the house, or you’ve just introduced a new cat, they may be trying to claim the litter box area. You may have also noticed your cat scratching outside the litter box, which would further confirm this theory, as that behaviour is likely them trying to leave their scent and markings around the area to claim their territory.




If you’ve just adopted your cat, they may be a little uncomfortable, anxious, or stressed in their new home. The litter box may be the most familiar to them, as they likely had one in their 5 x 5 cage at the shelter, and it may have been the softest spot in that cage. If the litter box in your home is in a quieter space tucked away from everyone, it probably makes them feel more comfortable.




Kittens may play in their litter box because they like the loose material and the way it feels, sounds, or scatters when they hop around. If your cat is older and playing in the litter box, they may not get enough playtime with you or have enough toys to play with.


However, there are cats that have mental illnesses or chemical imbalances and exhibit strange behaviour like this, no matter how many toys they have or how much attention they get; a vet may be able to prescribe medication that helps with any mood disorders.





To stop your cat from sleeping, sitting, laying, or playing in their litter box, it’s important to first rule out a health issue. When you know that’s not the cause, you can try giving them more stimulation, another litter box to call their own, or a better box option to lay in.




Call your veterinarian, explain the situation, and ask if you should be worried. They may need you to bring your cat in immediately, but they’re the only ones who can rule out a health issue.




If your cat is pregnant and about to give birth, give her a birthing box, as that will be a more appropriate for her. She may have chosen the litter box because it’s familiar and has her smells. So try to find some towels or blankets that have her scent on them, or at the very least, don’t have the smells of other animals or any strong scents.


When a cat is sleeping or laying in the litter box simply because it’s comfortable to them, try placing a box with blankets or towels next to the litter box. Again, your cat may like that the litter box has their scent and feels familiar, so try to use material to line the box that already smells like your cat.


You could also try a product such as Feliway to spray “good” pheromones on the towels or blankets to help calm your cat and make the box more appealing to them.




Each cat in a household should have their own litter box. If you believe your cat is sleeping, laying, or sitting in the litter box to claim it and protect it from other cats, try adding another litter box so “theirs” will be used less by the other cats and will have more of their scent.


If you have a dog in the house, consider placing the litter box in an area your dog can’t get to. There are several solutions for keeping your dog away from the litter box in this article.




You can provide a new cat with their own room when you first bring them home, so they feel safe. Keep a box with some soft blankets, food, water, toys, a scratching post, and a litter box in there. As they become more comfortable, you can increase the space they’re able to explore.


You may let them out of the room, once you think they’re ready, but close doors to all the bedrooms and bathrooms until they sniff around the main space and get used to it.




To get a kitten or cat to play with objects other than their litter, try providing toys that offer texture and sound stimulation, such as crinkle balls or toys (there are several options here). You may also take some extra time each day to play with them and encourage playtime outside of the litter box.


If you don’t pay too much attention to their playtime in the litter box and offer positive reinforcement when they play outside of the litter box, it may help teach them that one is better than the other.




I hope this article has helped you determine why your cat is sleeping, sitting, laying, or playing in the litter box 🙂



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Cat Sleeping or Sitting in the Litter Box