Why Is My Cat Sleeping in the Litter Box?

A tabby british shorthair cat walking out of its litter box

Some cats sleep in the litter box when they're kittens, but if you find your kitty sleeping in the litter box when she's older, something may be amiss and need attention.

But cats don't always sleep in the litter box when something is wrong, either — it could also just be a case of cats being cats and exhibiting unique behaviours. Some more benign reasons for cats sleeping in the litter box include:

  • It's an enclosed space.
  • The litter box smells like her own scent.
  • It makes her feel safe.
  • It’s been recently cleaned.

Illness Possibilities

Just like a human might spend the night in the bathroom if they have an upset stomach or a bout of diarrhea, if your cat is spending too much time in the litter box, it might be because they're sick. When cats are feeling physically or emotionally unwell, they may retreat and seclude themselves. If you notice that cat is spending an unusually large amount of time away from you, this may be a sign that something is wrong.

In this case, you might want to make an appointment to bring your kitty to the veterinarian and get her checked out, especially if sleeping in the litter box is occurring with other symptoms, such as loss of appetite and acting lethargic.

When you let the vet know the reason for your visit, they might ask you to bring in a stool or urine sample. Some causes might be:

  • A urinary tract infection, which is when kitty has the urge to go but can't because it's too painful
  • Urine crystals, which makes it uncomfortable to urinate and can make her feel insecure when she's positioned far away from the litter box
  • Eating something she's not supposed to eat, and now it's working its way through her digestive system, which makes her feel uncomfortable as a result

Your cat's veterinarian can help you diagnose any health issues your kitty may be having through exams and talking to you about her symptoms.

Is Your Kitty Newly Adopted?

If you've recently rescued your fur baby from a shelter, she may be accustomed to sleeping in or near the litter box, especially if she was kept in a small enclosure. The small size of the litter box may make her feel cozy and safe, and so she might choose to sleep there until she feels more at home in her new, more spacious surroundings.

Guarding the Litter Box

If you live in a home with multiple cats, but they use the same litter box, one of your kitties might be trying to guard it from the others. This is a common problem in homes with multiple cats. One kitty decides she's not going to let anyone else access the box, which can lead to an entirely new set of problems, including going to the bathroom in inappropriate places and avoiding the litter box altogether.

A good solution to this problem might be to have multiple litter boxes available. Put them in different rooms, such as one in each bathroom, or one in the laundry room, and each kitty is likely to end up picking their favourite or just the one that's closest to them most of the time.

A good rule to remember is to have one more litter box than you do cats — so if you own two cats, consider having three litter boxes.

Is Your Cat Pregnant?

If your cat is female and she's not spayed and sleeping in the litter box, it's possible she might be pregnant and getting close to delivery. If you didn't know she was pregnant and there isn't a birthing box provided, she may choose the litter box — because it's perceived to be safe — as the place to have her babies.

Instead, you can make her a birthing box. Line it with old sheets or blankets for softness and ensure her food, water and litter box are nearby but outside the birthing box because she won't stray far from her babies for a few weeks.

There are many reasons for cats sleeping in the litter box, and some are harmless while others may be more serious. To help you sort it out, consider making an appointment with your cat's veterinarian. They may be able to offer advice and help to get your kitty sleeping in more conventional places.

There are some small changes you can make at home to deter your cat from a snooze in her litter box. For instance, you can try out some new bedding options for your cat, such as an enclosed plush bed. You can also look for quiet areas in your home where your cat can sleep without being disturbed, such as an elevated location in the sun. For more information on cat behaviour, check out our pet care and behaviour hub.

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