a long haired white cat laying in a litter box in sphinx pose

Cat Laying In Litter Box – What Are They Thinking?

Has your cat suddenly taken to laying or sleeping in the litter box? Even if the box is used? Yuck! For such fastidious and clean creatures, this can be a bizarre turn of events. As owners, such wild changes of behavior can be quite worrying. 

Here we check out some of the common reasons why your cat could be laying in the litter box and help you identify whether your cat is just having a bit of a temporary change of behavior or whether something more serious might be going on. 


A cat can end up suffering from or feeling stress if there is any change in its everyday existence. Any experience that is out of the normal can cause a stress reaction in a cat. Some typical examples of experiences that might cause stress to your cat can be a change of mealtime, a change of household routines (change in shift patterns), addition or loss of household members, a home invasion by a neighboring feline, a territorial invasion of the cats’ perceived territory by any kind of wild or feral animal, the relocation or movement of furniture within a home or moving home completely to a new environment, as well as many other instances of changes to daily life.

close up of a stressed tabby cat snarling at an unseen foe

The cat might seem to take these experiences completely in their stride or they might exhibit unusual behaviors that are all about releasing or avoiding stress. They might go into hiding under a bed or in a closet, they might groom incessantly resulting in fur loss, they may urinate and mark the home in a departure from their normal behavior, they might scratch up random furniture, they might go off their food, their personality may become more aggressive and unfriendly or they might end up laying in their litter box. 

If your cat is laying in the litter box this may just be a sign of stress. You should see if you can spot the stress-inducing situation and see if there is something you can do to alleviate the circumstances. 

You might wonder “but why would a cat that is fastidious in its cleanliness opt to lay in a toilet?” Good question, but from the cats’ point of view there are some good reasons why a toilet that smells of them might be a comfortable place to be. Straight up, it is marked-up territory that smells of them therefore it is as safe a spot as can be found. It is also likely to be semi-enclosed giving a sensation of protection, privacy, and safety – we all know of cats that like being in boxes or “cat caves”, this litter box behavior is probably motivated by a similar place.

If this activity is occurring in a new cat straight from the shelter it could be that the cat is used to living right next to a litter box and they simply haven’t unlearned the behavior yet. To them it could be comfortable and normal and only after a period of adjustment to a larger territory – your home – will they get over this type of behavior.

close up of a orange and white cat laing in a litter box asleep

Territorial Behavior

Not to be confused with stress, your cat could be acting in a territorial manner. If you have a new pet in the house your cat might be acting like the bully and asserting its dominance by occupying the litter tray – a hostile act of “stay away this belongs to me”. 

This type of selfish behavior is more likely to happen if you just have one or two litter boxes in the house. A straightforward way to solve the issue is to add additional litter boxes so the incumbent cat doesn’t feel that their territory is quite as threatened. They still have designated, non-contested litter areas.

If you have two cats three to four litter trays dotted around the home should cut out this strange behavior.

Health Issues

Your cat could have taken to the litter box due to health issues. 

If your cat is suffering from a UTI, urine crystals, or kidney problems they may feel that the litter box is the best place to be until the problem passes. Likewise, if they have a dicky stomach and have loose bowels they may feel the litter box is the most appropriate place to stay until the situation has cleared up.

a black cat lying in cat litter in a tray

If your cat is a “whole” female, she could actually be pregnant and be occupying the box as a safe and convenient area that smells of her and offers some security in her more vulnerable state.

If your cat is on the senior end of the age spectrum and the behavior is new and can’t be linked to any changes or stressors around the house, it could be caused by the onset of dementia. A cat with dementia will start to disassociate their surroundings and become lost and confused. They may be in the litter box having forgotten why they are there and then deciding that it is actually a cool place to be!

If there are clearly no home life changes or stresses that have resulted in your cat occupying the litter box then the most likely cause is a health-related change. In these circumstances, the best thing to do is get your cat to a vet for a full check-up. Many health conditions that cause this behavior can be treated, saving your cat too much discomfort!