If you share your home with a cat, then you’re no stranger to their weird habits. From strange nighttime behaviors to the interesting noises they make when they spy a bird out the window, our feline pals can certainly keep us guessing. But perhaps the most unusual thing you may see your cat do is to sleep in their litter box.
While the idea of sleeping in the toilet doesn’t sound appealing to us, there are actually several reasons why a cat would do this that may make perfect sense to them. In this guide, we’ll explore what may be causing your cat to make a bed out of their litter, and what you can do to help them find a more hygienic space for their nap.
The Root of the Behavior
If you thought that cats were clean animals who detest sleeping where they urinate or defecate, you’d be right. So, when a cat starts sleeping in the place they eliminate, there’s definitely something going on. Your cat may be experiencing a medical issue, or having a behavioral problem.
Having an upset stomach or other digestive complaint could have them lingering in the box in anticipation. Or they could be experiencing a urinary tract infection, urinary crystals, or bladder or kidney stones that can make them feel like they always have to go. Crystals and stones could also cause an obstruction, making elimination painful and unpredictable, and diabetes can cause increased urination, all reasons why your cat may stay in the box to prevent accidents outside of it.
As cats age, the pain of arthritis and other mobility issues could make it difficult for them to jump up or climb into their bed or other sleeping areas, and the litter box may just be a familiar place that is easy to access. They could also stay in the litter box because it may be too painful to get out of it. And cats who are experiencing cognitive dysfunction syndrome can get lost in familiar places, and may be unable to actually find their sleeping spots.
In the wild, cats use their scent to mark their territory, and for a domestic cat, there’s no place that smells more like them than their litter box. If a cat feels stressed or unsafe, they may spend time in the box because it makes them feel safe. And if the box has high walls or is enclosed, it may even serve as a den to hide in.
A lot of situations could cause your cat to feel unsafe or stressed, such as moving to a new home, or having new people or animals in the house. A multi-cat household can experience inter-cat aggression which can result in one cat claiming the litter box and physically stopping others from using it.
And then there are kittens who may just not know better yet, and pregnant cats who don’t have another place where they feel safe having their kittens.
Encouraging the Behavior
If your cat is sleeping in their litter box, you should definitely discourage the behavior for their own safety. But the first thing you’ll need to do is to consult with your veterinarian to find out if a medical condition is to blame.
Your cat should be examined for any cognitive, pain or urinary issues that may be causing this behavior, and may need urine and blood tests, or imaging. Often a cat in pain will cry out when eliminating or walking, so be sure to tell your vet any symptoms you may have noticed. If your cat does have a medical condition, you’ll likely be prescribed medication or given care instructions should eliminate the naps in the litter box.
For mobility issues, you can provide a ramp or stairs in and out of their litter box, and to their bed or sleeping areas. Bring beds down to ground level and get a litter box with lower walls to make it easier for them to get to them. Memory foam beds are wonderful for arthritic pets and may become their new favorite spot. And for cats with cognitive dysfunction syndrome, make sure beds are easy to find in several areas, including near the litter box.
If there isn’t a medical issue present, you may need to address your cat’s stress level or feeling of insecurity. Sometimes, simply providing a box or bed that’s filled with soft blankets and familiar smelling pheromones can encourage them to sleep there instead, and can serve as a birthing box for pregnant cats. If they like the enclosed feel of a hooded litter box, prove hiding areas for them, such as a cat cave.
A multi-cat household experiencing aggression issues can benefit from multiple litter boxes in different areas of the house, with one more box than the number of cats. If this doesn’t stop the behavior, consult a cat behaviorist to find ways to reduce the territorial issues.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While the reasons listed above are the most common issues causing litter box naps, there are some cats who simply like the feel of the litter box. If your cat seems to be one of these, an easy solution may be to buy a duplicate box and fill it with bedding instead.
Lastly, a cat may enjoy the coolness of the litter box, especially a long-haired one who can get quite uncomfortable in warmer temperatures. In hot weather, try placing a metal pan out without any bedding for your cat to cool down in instead.