Why Do Cats Sit, Sleep, or Play in the Litter Box?

Why Do Cats Sit, Sleep, or Play in the Litter Box?

Cats are quirky. They’re silly. And of course, sometimes, they’re just plain weird. I know my cats have left me speechless by some of the strange things I’ve caught them doing. One of these head-scratchers is sleeping in the litter box. If your cat has plopped down in the litter box and decided to take a nap or kick around litter in a light-hearted play session, you probably have wondered why. Well, wonder no longer. I can shine some light on this litter box mystery.

The Litter Box is as Complicated as Your Cat

When your cat steps into the box, it may seem like a cut-and-dry routine. Get to business and bolt, right? Well, the latest studies on cat box behavior (yes, there are scientists that devote their studies to our kitties’ boxes) is more complicated than most can imagine. Your cat’s trip to the litter box involves up to 39 distinct behaviors. This behaviors add up to what they call the “elimination sequence.” And it turns out cats spend way more time in the box not peeing or pooping than they do actually going to the bathroom.

So what do these cats in the box when they’re not peeing and pooping? Stretching, pawing at the sides, burying, burying, burying, tail wagging, sniffing, positioning, stretching, and paw shaking. 

Notice I didn’t mention sleeping or playing or just hanging out? Well, these litter box behaviors are relatively rare. But before we get paw’s deep in an explanation about these not-so-normal box behaviors, it’s important to understand why your cat’s potty patterns and behavior matters.

Why Do Your Kitty’s Litter Patterns Matter?

Calico cat sitting in a litter box

Cats are prone to urinary tract issues, some of which can be deadly. This makes how much time and how your cat acts in the box extremely important. If your cat begins avoiding the litter box or having accidents outside the box, it could be a sign that your cat has developed negative associations, possibly related to pain or discomfort. Prolonged time in the box can also be a sign that your cat is straining to urinate, which can indicate urinary tract issues.

While I don’t suggest you pull out the stopwatch when your kitty steps into the box, it is important to pay attention to what’s normal for your cat and what’s not. This can help you know when you should make an appointment to see your veterinary. 

Why Do Cats Sit, Lie, or Sleep in the Litter Box?

While most cats don’t just poop and pee in the box, they normally don’t spend much time in the box performing behaviors unrelated to pooping and peeing. So, should you be worried if your cat decides the litter box is her favorite spot to take it easy? Possibly.

Cats can begin sitting, lying, and even napping in their litter boxes for a multitude of reasons. I’ll start with the worrisome reasons, to help your gain some peace of mind.

1. Signs of Illness

Cats can experience a wide range of litter box problems. If your cat suddenly begins spending unnecessary time in the litter box, it could indicate that your cat isn’t feeling well.

Think about it--when you have the flu, whether you like it or not, you often spend a great deal of time in the bathroom. The same is true of your cat. If your cat feels like he or she may not make it to the box in time or is struggling to go, staying in the litter box seems and feels like a good solution. 

To rule out urinary tract problems, kidney issues, constipation, or blockage, consult your vet.

2. Your Kitty’s Safe Place

Cats, being the weirdos that they are, deal with stress in strange ways. If your cat lies, crouches, or sits in the litter box, she may feel anxious or nervous

When cats are kenneled, they don’t have a lot of room to roam and they may not have very comfy beds, which makes sleeping in the litter box more appealing. Sometimes when the litter box is small, it can feel comforting and safe. If you just recently adopted your kitty, this may be a habit from the shelter. 

Running for cover and winding up in the litter box happens during duress. If you have a new pet, a niece or nephew is visiting, or fireworks are lighting up the sky, your cat may be seeking refuge from stress.

3. Your Cat is Looking for a Little Alone Time

When you try to apply human logic to kitty behavior, it often doesn’t align. And in this case, it may not make sense to everyone, but cats may want a little space and privacy. If you just moved or you just adopted your cat, the litter box may be that comforting spot where your cat feels secure and can collect his or her own thoughts.

Some cats like the scent, temperature, or location of their litter box, and they just want to spend some time there.

If this is the case, you should be proud that you keep your kitty’s litter box clean enough for your cat to want to spend time in there.

4. Kittens Are Still Figuring it Out

Kittens learn to use the litter box by watching their moms. This isn’t always as intuitive for some cats. Some cats act as if they’ll never finishing burying or digging. Then they get sleepy and decide to just lie down. 

5. Claiming Space 

Everyone feline wants a room of her own. Sometimes that’s just not an option or sometimes that room she claims is actually a litter box. If you have several cats and your cats that love the litter box pounces, surprises, or attacks another cat, this is likely this case. 

Look for that flicking tail and slicked back ears while your cat lies in the box. If this is the case, your cat may feel like her box is her territory.

You can try to discourage this behavior by providing your cat with a new bed (although she’ll probably prefer the box it came in) and an extra litter box.

Why Do Some Cats Play in the Litter Box?

Fluffy tabby cat walking out of a litter box

Why is your cat playing in the litter box? It does look like a sandbox, after all. This behavior most often occurs in kittens. And the simple explanation is that your kitty is just playful and the sound of the litter or the movement of the litter is stimulating. 

If this happens right after your scoop the box, your cat may even consider the sound of the scoop as a call to recess. 

Try to encourage your kitty to play with normal play objects like toys, in normal places, like… not the litter box. Being patient helps, too. Almost all cats grow out of this phase.

So, Is it Normal for a Cat to Sleep, Sit, and Play in the Litter Box?

Kind of. Cats are strange, curious animals that communicate with us in some of the oddest ways. If you’re ever worried about your cat’s oddball behavior, call your vet. If your cat is just being a weirdo, try to provide those other, better, non-litter box options for sleeping, sitting, and playing.

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