grey cat sleeping in the litter box
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Why Is My Cat Sleeping in the Litter Box?

Est. read time: 6 min.

Cats are known to display weird behavior every now and then. But when they do something out of character—like hanging out or sleeping in the litter box—it's time to figure out the problem and supply a solution.

If your cat is spending a lot of time in the litter box, take note of what they are doing in there. Is your cat using the litter box, then lingering? Or not using the litter box, but hanging out and resting—or are they on high alert? The context of your cat's odd litter box behavior will help you find a solution.


The first thing to do is to rule out illness. If your cat is sleeping in the litter box, pay attention to other routine behaviors: Are they not getting up to eat, acting lethargic, or ignoring their favorite view out the window? Is your cat using the litter box, but straining or going frequently? Any of these symptoms could mean your cat isn't feeling well and they’re using the litter box as a source of comfort (even if it's just to keep the toilet nearby). Make an appointment to see the veterinarian and have your cat checked out. Report the abnormal behavior and mention any context clues to help pin down the diagnosis.

Here are a few examples of issues your cat may be having that may make them want to stay in their litter box:

This list is not exhaustive, as a cat may choose to sleep in their litter box for many reasons if their health is compromised. Unless you otherwise have an explanation for the change in sleeping arrangements (and a solution), calling your vet to determine whether an appointment is recommended is a great start. 


If your cat is female and not spayed, have the vet check if she is pregnant—especially if she ventures outdoors. Or, if you know your cat is pregnant and see her spending long periods sleeping in the litter box, she might be looking for a place to have her...well, litter.

Feline mothers-to-be seek protected places away from household noise and traffic to birth their kittens, and the litter box easily fits the bill. However, the litter box is not an ideal place to birth or have infant kittens, and it can lead to illness. It's best to prepare an alternative nesting box for your cat by lining a bin or cardboard box with clean, soft towels or blankets. Place it near the litter box and, once she has resettled in her new, clean birthing box, make sure to keep food, water, and the litter box nearby.

tabby cat sleeping in litter box

Adjustment anxiety

During periods of transition, like adding a new pet to the family, having a house guest, undergoing a home remodel, or some similar upheaval, your cat might have a hard time chilling out. Really, any change in the environment can cause anxiety—anxiety that your cat will try to soothe by retreating to a comfortable, protected spot, and that can include the litter box.

In addition to being located away from household noise and traffic, the litter box smells familiar. While the thought might seem off-putting to us, for cats, it hearkens to their natural, wild ways. When nowhere else feels like home, the litter box will. The solution: be mindful of tumult in and around your cat's usual spots and offer a secluded, cozy, clean spot or two in quiet areas. If anxiety is the source of the problem, it won't be long before your cat finds these new serene hideouts.


When the house is chaotic, guests are over, and the kids are bouncing off the walls, where's the one place you can go with guaranteed privacy? That's right, the bathroom. And the same goes for your cat!

When caught off guard—maybe the dog is being a ball of energy (and so are the kids), or a thunderstorm rages outside—you might find that your cat has crawled under your bed, deep into the linen closet, or, they might be sleeping in the litter box. The litter box is usually in some out-of-the-way room or area and is something that is theirs and only theirs; a place where they can do some serious napping when no other option exists.

That doesn't mean you should let your cat sleep in the litter box, however. The litter box is not a sanitary place, of course, so you'll want to supply a clean, comfortable alternative and place it next to the litter box. Don't try too hard to get your cat to leave the litter box; simply offer the clean alternative and let your cat do as they will. It's likely that if refuge was what your cat was seeking in the litter box, they will surely find it in the soft clean box you placed in the same location.

Territorial guarding

In multi-cat households, staking out the litter box can be an attempt to claim and defend territory. Depending on your cats' dynamics, the cat sleeping in the litter box may be guarding it so they don’t get denied access by a bully cat, or they may be the one doing the real bullying and keeping other cats away from the litter box. Whatever the case, the solution is the same.

To keep the peace and get your cat out of the litter box, you'll need to add litter boxes in different locations. A good rule of thumb is to have n +1  litter boxes per house. So, in a house with three cats, you should have at least 4 litter boxes available. The key is to make them equally desirable and that means keeping them clean. If that sounds like a lot of work, consider a self-cleaning litter box that automatically separates the waste from the clean litter. That way, each cat has a fresh place to go every time, and you're not scooping all day long!

Cats may guard their litter boxes from nosy, digging dogs too. In these situations, some environmental engineering can usually clear up the issue; it is sometimes as simple as moving the litter box to a more secluded area or considering a different litter box style (or associated furniture) to limit access to just the cats

orange tabby cat laying in litter box

When in doubt: Call your vet

What is most important is ensuring that cats feel safe, secure, and healthy. If attempts have been made to remedy a cat sleeping in the litter box to no avail, call your veterinarian for further recommendations, advice, and to potentially schedule an appointment.