Buy a cat $200 mini velvet sofa, $90 luxury bamboo cove, or $20 cozy window hammock, and that devilish fluff ball will still spruce together a DIY bed. It’s semi-endearing when it’s your crumpled-up hoodie or towering above the living room on a makeshift shelf ‘turret.’ But this creativity takes a gag-inducing turn when Fluffy decides to nap in the dirty litter box!
Cats lay in the litter box because of anxiety or fear (loud sounds, a new cat), a lack of cozy kitty-safe bedding (too firm, no walls), or medical conditions that bring cats to the litter box more frequently (urethral obstructions or UTIs). Territorial cats also lay in the box to ‘claim’ it.
When your kitty prances over to the litter box and snuggles rather than digging the usual hole, it’s normal to panic. Why would Fluffy lay in her own crusty waste when she has a memory foam bed or fleece blanket right there? To learn about why cats lay in the litter box, read on!
Why Cats Lay in the Litter Box
The good news is that, even if Fluffy finds her litter satisfyingly plush, this bizarre napping arrangement doesn’t mean she enjoys rolling around in her own waste. In reality, cats have a long-held reputation for being incredibly hygienic and licking their coats clean for 5+ hours a day. A wet, dirty, or clumpy coat is borderline nightmarish for cats, which is why they hate rain!
If a cat isn’t intentionally vile, why choose their toilet as a makeshift bed? Here are four possible explanations for your kitty’s quirkiest habit:
Anxiety or Nervousness
It’s hard for the self-proclaimed non-cat folks to believe that cats aren’t wicked, devious, or always ready to brawl. But this very same fearless, button-pushing species can suffer from stress, nervousness, and anxiety to no end. Common triggers that throw cats into a tizzy are:
- Loud sounds like barking dogs, fireworks, or shouting
- Introducing new pets, cats, or babies to a home
- Moving into a new home or replacing the old furniture
- Intimidation by outdoor cats and predators peering through the window
When cats feel overwhelmed or cornered with their fears, their first instinct is to find an escape route and retreat to a secluded refuge. Often, this ‘safe space’ winds up being a grimy litter box because their pheromone-laced urine reminds them of security and their ‘territory.’ A nervous kitty trying to regain her composure might crouch in the box, peering out with dilated pupils.
No Comfortable Bedding
A renovated home might scream ‘cozy’ and ‘inviting’ to you, but it doesn’t always mesh with a cat’s need for warmth and security. Leather sofas are creepily cold and smooth, hardwood floors are far too stiff, and neatly-folded blankets are less burrow-able than crumpled ones.
But also, think about where cats sleep while roaming in the wild. A cat stretched out and sunbathing in a grassy field is a vulnerable ‘sitting duck’ to a menacing predator. That’s why cats curl up (to keep their body temperatures up) and hide under or in objects (decks, leaf piles, bedsheets) while taking cat naps.
If the litter box is the only deep, quiet, secluded, and somewhat plush ‘bed’ available in the entire house, it’s no surprise that it becomes a last resort. The litter box is free from rambunctious toddlers, flashing TV lights, and other household cats looking to tussle.
A Non-Stop Urge To Go
Those litter box snoozes are rarely the first sign of an underlying medical condition; they’re a response to the symptoms. For example, a kitty with a UTI might feel a burning sensation that usually signals ‘I have to pee,’ but strain in the box when it comes time to urinate. When these urges are restless, a cat might plop down in the litter box to cut down on the back-and-forth trips.
Some of the more common medical explanations are:
- Urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Urethral obstruction
- Kidney blockage
- Bladder stones
- Arthritis (making it hard to climb in and out of the box)
A cat might also lounge in the box when they’re ill because their pheromones provide comfort when they feel under the weather — like cozying up to mom when you’re fighting the flu.
Even the friendliest, most sociable cats have hardwired territorial instincts. But in multi-cat households, this typically innocent instinct can trigger fierce ‘competition’ over food bowls, water bowls, toys, beds, and — you guessed it — litter boxes.
In a desperate plea to protect his turf or play ‘King of the Box,’ an alpha cat may bully a more submissive cat away from the box entirely. The dominant kitty might snuggle menacingly in the box to block the other cat’s pathway and send the message: Haha! This box is mine.
But the opposite is also true. A shy cat might rest in the box to ‘hog’ it, even when she doesn’t have to go. That way, when the urge to pee or poop finally strikes, she won’t have to sneak past the ‘guard cat’ or fall victim in a fight. Unfortunately, without 24/7 access to a litter box, a cat might have no other options but to poop under the kitchen table or on your bedspread.
How To Get Cats To Stop This Odd Behavior
Coaxing a cat away from the litter box during nap time requires a delicate balance and strategy. Spritzing a citrusy deterrent, swapping in a new litter, or removing the litter box outright might permanently damage Fluffy’s relationship with her ‘toilet’ and lead her to poop elsewhere. But if you don’t do anything, the caked-in litter and lingering stench will continue without fail.
How do you get cats to stop laying in their litter boxes? Here are three tips:
Buy a Cozy Cat Bed Shaped Similarly to the Box
If your kitty has nowhere else to rest her eyes, the litter box could be her last-resort! Cats aren’t too picky about their bedding, but there are a few features that scream cozy, like raised edges or mini-walls for ‘protection’ and plush material that locks in her body heat.
Don’t feel like you have to splurge $200 on a luxury cat bed. Instead, consider:
- A snug, small, and rounded bed
- A laundry basket piled with previously-worn clothes (with your scent)
- A cardboard box with a comfy towel inside
- A dome-shaped bed
- A 6′ (1.3 m) or higher cat tower for an ‘up high’ view
It also helps to think about where you hide Fluffy’s litter box. If it’s tucked away in a quiet mudroom or mysteriously dark closet, ideal for a peacefully quiet nap, the box might be the closest thing to a bed where she feels comfiest. So, place her new bed a few feet from the box!
Add Another Litter Box to the Home
Whether it’s a territorial cat ‘standing guard’ to bully a more timid cat or a submissive kitty ‘saving her spot in line,’ there’s one definite cause for this mayhem: Too few litter boxes. Experts recommend at least 1.5 litter boxes per cat per household.
This set-up gives an antsy cat alternative bathroom options without triggering a skin-piercing scuffle or swatting match. Don’t forget to put the boxes in separate rooms, tuck them snugly into the corner, and scoop them daily.
Take Your Cat to the Vet
A lifelong shelter kitty might turn to that plump litter box because it’s all they know. But if there’s something more sinister triggering this odd behavior, like a UTI or bladder stones, immediate diagnosis, and proper treatment are crucial. When in doubt, take your kitty to the vet instead of chalking this smelly habit up to routine changes or overwhelming territorial instincts.
If your cat was once a frequent-flyer at the litter box but now doesn’t seem to recognize her beloved porcelain throne, the video below explains how to troubleshoot this smelly problem:
This litter box napping habit might just be your lovable fluff ball’s oddest — albeit grossest — quirk. But if this is a newfound behavior that greeted you as you hopped out of bed one morning, call your vet to ask for advice.
There might be an innocent explanation for this makeshift bed, like looking for refuge during a bass-thumping party. Or, the culprit could be more troubling, like early-stage kidney failure or severe arthritis. Either way, the only way to address the problem is to diagnose it first!
- PetMD: The Ultimate Guide to Cat Anxiety
- OSU: Resting Areas
- PetMD: How to Deal with Territorial Behavior in Cats
- Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats – E-Book
- VCA Hospitals: Arthritis in Cats
- ACVS: Urinary Obstruction in Male Cats
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.