What to Do If a Cat Is Laying in Its Litter Box

Published August 27, 2020
cat sitting in a litter box

It might seem odd to find your cat laying in the litter box, but this is common behavior. The reasons behind it can vary from medical conditions to anxiety and stress. It's important to determine why your cat is sleeping in the litter box so you can alleviate the reasons she feels the need to do this.

Why Does My Cat Lay in the Litter Box?

Cats are very clean animals, so owners should be concerned any time a cat chooses to lay down and even sleep in their litter box. It's a clear sign that something is wrong with your cat, which could mean she's sick or is under a great deal of stress.

Your Cat May Have Urinary Problems

One of the most common medical reasons behind cats laying in the litter box is urinary tract infections. It's not so much in these cases that the cat is sleeping in the litter box, but they may spend a very long time in the box because they're straining to go. Another common urinary problem that affects male cats more than females is crystals in the urine, which can be very painful and possibly fatal if not treated right away. If you notice your cat is suddenly staying in the litter box for long periods of time, is drinking more than usual, and you're not seeing a lot of urine in the box, a trip to the veterinarian is warranted immediately.

Your Cat May Have a Medical Condition

Some cats with a serious underlying medical problem will stay in the litter box, and these conditions do not have to be related to their urinary tract. The reason your cat may stay in the box and lay there is because when they're not feeling well, the litter box may feel like a safe place to be. Cats tend to hide when they're sick or stressed, and litter boxes, particularly covered ones, are good, familiar spots for a cat to hide in. If your cat has suddenly started this behavior and you notice other symptoms, such as lack of appetite and excessive hiding, take him for a veterinary check up right away.

cat looking curious out of a litter box

Your Cat May Be Feeling Anxiety and Stress

Just as cats that are sick tend to hide, cats that are anxious use hiding as a way to cope as well. If something has happened in your home to stress your cat out, you may see them lying or sleeping in the litter box. Examples are adding a new pet to the home, bringing home a baby, or during a loud thunderstorm or fireworks. Cats in particular will react to a new cat in the home this way, as they may want to establish their "territory" around the litter box to the unfamiliar feline. There are several things you can do in this situation:

  • Speak to your veterinarian about the possibility of putting your cat on some anti-anxiety medication to help alleviate his stress

  • Make sure you have multiple litter boxes if you add a new cat to the home. Ideally, you should have at least one more box than cats, so a two-cat household should have three boxes, and so on.

  • Try to spend time with your cat to help them feel less anxious, such as playing with them, brushing them or just cuddling together.

  • Increase your cat's exercise by adding in some interactive toys for them, cat trees and perches, and even consider leash training them for walks.

You've Moved to a New Home

Related to stress, it's very common for cats to hide and sleep in their litter box after a move to a new home. Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment, and a new home is full of sounds, sights, and smells that will initially be overwhelming for a cat. Shyer, quieter cats will have a harder time than bolder, more outgoing ones. It's normal for cats to stay in their litter boxes for a few days in a new home, as it's a place that smells familiar to them and feels like a safe hiding spot. In most cases, if you allow the cat to come out on his own, he will eventually explore the new house and get used to it. If you have a sensitive cat, you might also want to speak to your veterinarian about some temporary anti-anxiety medication. You can also put a cardboard box or a commercially-made cat hiding spot next to the litter box to see if he uses that instead.

A Pregnant Cat Is Ready to Give Birth

If your cat is pregnant and starts to cuddle up in your litter box, this is a sign she may be ready to give birth very soon. Cats will look for a safe, enclosed space to give birth to their kittens. If you don't provide them with a spot, they'll look for the next best alternative. In this situation, provide your momma cat with a soft, clean box she can give birth in. Keep it close to the litter box so she can have easy access without needing to move too far away from her kittens.

You've Changed the Litter

If you've always used one type of litter, such as clay litter, and then switch to a completely different type like recycle paper, pine, or crystals, your cat may be confused. Sometimes a cat will snuggle up on a brand new type of litter because they don't associate it with the place where they do "their business." In this case, try slowing down the changing the litter to a mix of half of the old type and half of the new. Do this for a few days and then decrease the ratio of the old type to about 25% and then fade it out completely over the next few days.

Dealing With Cats Laying in the Litter Box

If your cat starts to lay and even sleep in his litter box, it's wise to call your veterinarian first as this often is a sign of a medical problem. If it's due to stress, your vet can prescribe anti-anxiety medication while you work on a plan to provide your cat with more physical and mental enrichment to make him feel better. Some cats will do this behavior only temporarily in relation to stressful events, such as moving to a new home or in some cases, if they're ready to give birth. Providing them with an alternate place to be can alleviate the problem as you don't want them to keep sleeping and staying in an unsanitary litter box.

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What to Do If a Cat Is Laying in Its Litter Box