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Why Does My Cat Lie, Sleep, or Play in the Litter Box? 6 Vet-Reviewed Reasons

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on March 4, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

two cats looking at the litter box

Why Does My Cat Lie, Sleep, or Play in the Litter Box? 6 Vet-Reviewed Reasons


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It is more common than you might think to see a cat lying or even sleeping in their litter box, and it is usually an undesirable action. It can be a sign of illness or may indicate that your cat is stressed or anxious. If your cat is playing in the litter, it could be a sign of boredom. In any case, spending time in their litter box can make your cat ill or cause them discomfort, and it will almost certainly mean that more cat litter is tracked around the house and will need cleaning up.

We have highlighted the most common reasons that your cat might be lying, sleeping, or playing in the litter box, as well as a few steps that you can take to stop this behavior.

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The 6 Reasons Your Cat Lies, Sleeps, or Plays in Their Litter Box

1. Urinary Problems

Urinary tract issues are unfortunately seen in cats at times. They’re painful and uncomfortable. Your cat may not be sleeping in the litter box, but they may be spending a long time straining and trying to pee. Also, if they are unable to tell whether they need to go or not, it could feel safer to stay in the litter box.

If your cat seems to be struggling with urination, or not able to pass urine, you need to immediately seek veterinary care for them.

2. Other Medical Conditions

Another medical condition could be the root of the problem. For example, your cat may have diarrhea, so they will want to be near the litter box.

However, their illness does not necessarily have to be litter-related at all. The litter tray might feel like a safe place to hide, especially if it is covered, and this can help set your cat’s mind at ease and make them feel better.

If this behavior is new, it’s best to get them examined by a vet as soon as possible.

cat outside the litter box
Image Credit: Jennifer McCallum, Shutterstock

3. Hiding Because of Stress

Stress can cause cats to go into hiding. If you’ve moved to a new house or you have brought a new cat, dog, or child into the home, this could be causing anxiety that is manifesting itself in nervous behavior. Other possible causes include fireworks or storms.

Moving to a new house is stressful for everybody, and you shouldn’t overlook the potentially damaging anxiety that it can cause to your feline friend. After you move, the litter tray may be one of the few things that your cat recognizes: a tray of stability in ever-changing surroundings, rather than just somewhere to pee and poo.

In this case, most cats will eventually exit the litter tray of their own accord. It may take a few days and almost certainly until most of the heavy lifting and loud noises have stopped.

Put out a bed and blanket that was in your old home, even if you intend to buy everything new. This will give your cat a reassuringly recognizable place to reside. Consider pheromone diffusers that are safe for cats, or ask your veterinarian for advice to help get your cat used to the change in circumstances.

4. Territorial

Besides causing stress, a new cat or dog being introduced to the home could cause territorial issues. If your cat is worried that the new member of the household is going to try and hijack the litter tray, they could lay or even sleep in it to prevent the new family member from using it.

Ideally, you should have one litter tray per cat, plus one extra, in your home. This ensures that all your cats will always have a tray that they can use. If you do not have this many litter boxes, consider adding another to minimize territorial issues.

british shorthair inside top entry litter box
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

5. Boredom

At times, cat behavior can be attributed to boredom. If they are playing in the litter box, it could possibly be a sign that they’re bored. Get them a new toy, or offer them a new cat post to get enthused about. Interact with them, and they are likely to leave their urine-stained playpen when they have something better to do.

6. Parturition

Parturition, or queening, is the term for the action of a cat giving birth. If your cat is female and they could be pregnant, she could be getting ready to give birth. If you haven’t provided a comfortable and private spot in which to do that, she may opt to use the litter tray.

If she is pregnant, get a blanket-lined box that is big enough without being so big that it doesn’t offer some kind of enclosure. If you’re unsure, get your cat checked by a veterinarian to see whether she could be about to birth kittens.

Lynx point Siamese tabby Cat nursing litter_MW47_shutterstock
Image Credit: MW47, Shutterstock

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Stopping your cat from lying, sitting, sleeping, or playing in their litter box is possible, but the best technique to do so will depend on the reason for the cat’s new activity. Change to a new litter slowly, ensure that your kitty isn’t showing any other symptoms of illness, and look for possible causes of stress or anxiety, and remove these.

Consult a veterinarian if you’re unsure if your cat is sick. If the problem is that your cat is playing in the litter, try to find ways to interact and keep them entertained.

Cats are naturally clean and tidy animals, so playing in a litter box is not positive behavior and it should be addressed, as it usually isn’t normal.

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Featured Image Credit: Zoran Photographer, Shutterstock

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