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Why is my cat laying in the litter box

Why is my cat laying in the litter box?

Learn about common health and behavioral issues that could be causing this unusual behavior and find effective solutions.

Is your cat spending too much time in the litter box? You are not alone! In the years I’ve been a vet, many cat owners have asked, “Why is my cat laying in the litter box?” – It’s an unusual behavior that makes you question what might be going on.

There are two main reasons your cat might be laying in the litter box: Stress/anxiety or an underlying medical problem. 

In this article, we’ll cover how to work out what the underlying cause of this strange cat behavior might be and what you can do to prevent it.

Owner statistics around cats laying in the litter box

  • 62% of cat owners reported their cats spending more time in the litter box than usual at some point.

  • 45% of owners believed their cat’s behavior was due to medical issues, while 31% thought it was related to behavioral factors.

  • 24% of pet parents reported trying to address the issue by increasing playtime and exercise, while 21% tried changing the cat litter or litter box.

Medical Reasons Why Cats Spend More Time in the Litter Box

Cats are known for being picky about their toileting habits. That’s why it seems unusual and out of character if they start to spend more time in the litter box than usual. One reason for a cat lying in their litter tray is that there’s an underlying medical issue that needs attention, often involving the urinary tract. Because of this, it’s also crucial to assess your cat’s health as a whole.

Here are some medical reasons why your feline friend might be spending more time in the litter box:

Note: If you notice any signs such as straining to urinate or inability to pass urine, it’s important to schedule a vet visit promptly as this could indicate a medical emergency that needs urgent veterinary care.

1. Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

cat urinating in litter box

Cats with UTIs may spend more time in the litter box due to the frequent need to urinate. UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract, resulting in inflammation and causing symptoms like frequent urination, accidents outside the litter box, and straining while urinating. Male cats are at a higher risk of urinary tract issues such as urinary obstruction and urinary crystals, which can be potentially fatal if left untreated. Often cats with a UTI may associate the litter box with relief from pain, leading them to spend more time there.

Maintaining a clean litter box is essential in preventing a UTI, since many begin when bacteria in soiled cat litter gets on your cats fur or skin, and travels up through the urethra to the bladder. Most UTIs will require treatment by your vet, but there are some home remedies that might help prevent future urinary issues.

2. Bladder Stones

bladder stones in a cat

Cats with bladder stones may also show similar behavior, as they feel the need to urinate more often and so spend more time in their litter tray – often to the extent that they don’t want to leave. Bladder stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form in the kidneys and can cause severe irritation and pain. They can form for many reasons, including imbalances in your cat’s diet, dehydration, urinary tract infections or kidney disease. Some cat’s may also have a generic predisposition to suffering from them.

3. Constipation

constipation in a cat

Cats with constipation may spend more time in the litter box as they strain to defecate. Constipation occurs when the stool is too hard or dry, making it difficult for a cat to pass and can be caused by a variety of factors, including a low-fiber diet, dehydration, hairballs or obesity to name a few. Cats may spend more time in the litter box as they try to relieve themselves, leading to discomfort and pain.

4. Arthritis in Older Cats

back legs of a stiff older cat

As cats age, many experience the onset of arthritis, a condition characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the joints. This painful ailment can significantly affect a senior cat’s mobility, making movements that were once effortless, like climbing into or squatting in the litter box, challenging and uncomfortable. Consequently, you might notice your older cat spending more time in or around their litter box as they struggle to get out. Other older cats might actually find the litter box a comfortable place to lay down due to bing a soft and secure place to rest.

Arthritis can also often be misinterpreted as a urinary problem. Arthritic cats might struggle to find a comfortable position to urinate or defecate, which can look like they’re straining to pee. Regular veterinary check-ups can help manage arthritis with medications and supplements that ease joint pain, improving the quality of life for your senior cat.


Behavioral Reasons For A Cat Laying in the Litter Box

Behavioral problems could also be to blame for your cat lying in the litter box. Changes in your cat’s environment or new stressors in the house could be causing this unusual behavior; many cats will see the litter box as a safe space and seek solitude there.

Here are some behavioral reasons why your cat might be spending so much time in the litter box:

1. Marking Territory

cat marking territory in litter box

Territorial marking is a natural behavior in cats, driven by their instinct to establish and maintain their positon in the hierarchy. When a cat feels the need to reinforce their territorial claims, particularly in a multi-cat household or after sensing a threat or change in their environment, they might visit the litter box more often.

This behavior is their way of depositing a strong, personal scent through urine or feces to communicate their presence and establish boundaries. As a result, you might notice your cat spending more time in or revisiting the litter box multiple times, meticulously covering or uncovering their waste to ensure their scent is noticeable. This can also occur if the cat feels insecure or stressed; they may repeatedly enter the litter box as a way to reassure themselves of their control over at least that aspect of their environment. Managing this behavior often involves reducing stressors, providing multiple litter boxes in different locations for multi-cat homes, and ensuring a clean, appealing litter box environment that encourage over-marking.

2. Security and Comfort

cat hiding inside litter box

The litter box may be a cozy and quiet spot for your cat, providing a sense of security and comfort. The soft litter and enclosed space of a clean litter tray may be very appealing to your cat, making them feel safe and relaxed. This is especially true when a litter box has a lid over it. It’s like their own little bedroom, where they can retreat from the hustle and bustle of the house.

Loud noises such as fireworks, construction, or storms can lead to anxiety in cats, prompting them to find refuge in the familiar and enclosed space of the litter box. To prevent this behavior, ensure that your cat has plenty of other comfortable hiding spots around the house.

3. Boredom

bored cat laying in litter box

Boredom in cats can manifest in various unexpected behaviors, including spending more time in the litter box. When cats lack sufficient mental and physical stimulation, they may turn to their immediate surroundings for entertainment or comfort, which can include their litter box.

For some cats, digging or playing in the litter can provide a form of activity or serve as an outlet for their pent-up energy. To address this, it’s crucial to enrich your cat’s environment with toys, scratching posts, and regular interactive playtime. Providing perches with views outside or even puzzle feeders can help keep your cat mentally stimulated and physically active, reducing their reliance on the litter box for entertainment or comfort.

4. Anxiety

anxious cat hiding in litter box

Anxiety in cats can lead to various behavioral changes, including spending more time in the litter box. Cats often seek out enclosed, secure spaces when feeling stressed or anxious, and the litter box offers a secluded refuge where they can hide and feel protected. This behavior might also be accompanied by increased frequency of urination or defecation, which is a physiological response to stress.

In addition to spending more time in their litter box, anxious cats might also exhibit excessive digging or covering behavior as a way to cope with their unease. Managing anxiety in cats requires creating a calm, secure environment and may include environmental modifications such as adding more hiding spots and vertical spaces. In some cases, pheromone diffusers or even medical intervention from a veterinarian might be necessary to help alleviate their stress and reduce anxiety-driven behaviors.

Should You Let Your Cat Lay in Her Litter Box?

No, it’s best to discourage your cat from laying or cat sleeping in her litter box.

As a veterinarian, I advise against allowing your cat to habitually lay in her litter box. While it might seem harmless, this behavior can be indicative of underlying issues such as stress, anxiety, or health problems. The litter box environment is not hygienic for resting, as it exposes the cat to potential pathogens and irritants that could lead to infections or skin issues.

Additionally, lying in the litter box can be a sign that your cat doesn’t feel secure or comfortable elsewhere in her environment. It’s important to ensure that your cat has access to several comfortable, clean resting areas throughout your home. If your cat persists in spending time in her litter box, it’s advisable to consult with a veterinarian to rule out health issues and to discuss ways to improve her comfort and reduce any stress or anxiety she may be experiencing.

How To Stop your Cat From Lying In The Litter Box

  • Provide a comfortable alternative: Offer a soft, clean bed or blanket for your cat to relax on.

  • Keep the litter box clean: Scoop out solid waste daily and change the litter completely every 7-10 days.

  • Consult a veterinarian: If your cat continues to lay or sleep in her litter box, consult a vet to rule out underlying medical issues.

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Frequently Asked Questions Related To A Cat Lying In Their Litter Box

Can a dirty litter box cause my cat to lay in it more frequently?

No, a dirty litter box usually discourages a cat from using it because cats prefer a clean environment for elimination. If your cat is spending more time in a dirty litter box, especially lying in it, this could indicate stress, anxiety, or a health issue rather than an attraction to the dirtiness. It’s crucial to keep the litter box clean and consult a veterinarian if unusual behaviors continue.

Can I use a litter box liner to reduce my cat’s laying in the litter box?

Using a litter box liner might not directly discourage your cat from laying in the litter box. While liners can make cleaning easier and keep the box cleaner, a cat lying in the box typically indicates other issues like stress or health problems. It’s better to address the root cause of this behavior through environmental enrichment and consulting with a veterinarian if it persists.

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