Litter Love: The Real Reason Your Cat’s Lying In Their Litter Box

  • Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.

If you’re a cat parent, you’ve probably seen your crazy kitten do many strange things. They have wild personalities, and each one is unique. But, you may sometimes wonder if the odd things they do are a sign of something wrong. Are they just being quirky? Or is your cat trying to signal you that they are sick? One of these puzzling cat behaviors is lying in their stinky litter box. When it comes to your cat lying in their litter box, it could honestly be either.

Meaghan Thomas, DVM, a veterinarian at East Ridge Animal Hospital, says it can be entirely normal for a cat to choose to lay in their litter box without it being a sign of any medical or behavioral issue. As long as you clean your litter box regularly, there shouldn’t be any danger with your cat lying in it. However, she explains that you should seek veterinary care and advice if your cat shows other signs of illness or behavioral issues, such as inappropriate urination, vocalizing while urinating, lower appetite, or lethargy. Keep reading below as we dig into the potential reasons your cat may be lying in their litter box and whether or not you should be concerned.

What Are The Medical Reasons Cats Lie In Their Litter Boxes?

Dr. Thomas says medical conditions like UTIs, bladder stones, and urinary stones can drive cats to lie in their litter box. So, watching your cat’s body language and habits is essential anytime you notice something new. If something’s wrong, there will be additional symptoms, like the following. They are all signs that a veterinarian should evaluate your cat immediately.

  • Bloody urine
  • Inappropriate urination
  • Difficulty or painful urination
  • Overgrooming of the genitalia

iStock/Olga Kholiavina

The litter box might not comfort cats during active episodes; if they have the constant sensation to urinate, it is more convenient to stay close to or in the litter box.

Are certain cats more susceptible?

Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), one of many factors that might cause feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), is more common in males and younger cats. However, it can and does occur in any age or gender of feline.

Dr. Thomas says appropriate diagnosis and early intervention tremendously improve the prognosis. Consequently, if your cat cannot urinate toxins and electrolytes, they can build up and cause life-threatening situations.

How can I treat my cat’s urinary problems?

Below Dr. Thomas explains what treatment looks like for urinary problems that might make your cat lay in their litter box and what you can expect from the recovery time. She emphasized that every case should be treated on an individual basis.

  • Treating a UTI. A UTI can be treated with antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication. Dr. Thomas says recovery is usually quick (a week or so), but recurrent or complicated UTIs may require more serious intervention and longer dosing intervals.
  • Treating urinary crystals. Crystalluria is a condition where crystals are seen in the urine. Typically, treatment requires finding the cause of the crystalluria and treating it while putting your cat on a prescription diet focusing on wet food to increase their water consumption.
  • Treating urinary and bladder stones. Urinary/bladder stones usually require surgical intervention and the same long-term treatment plan as crystalluria. Veterinarians remove the stones via a cystotomy, or sometimes if the stones are small enough to pass through the urethra, they use urohydropulsion, a nonsurgical method. Once they know what kind of stone was removed, they can recommend prevention methods, including prescription diets, routine urine cultures, or further surgical interventions.

iStock/Todorean Gabriel

What Are The Emotional Reasons Cats Lie In Their Litter Boxes?

Stress can make our cats behave differently. Whether that’s hiding away, acting depressed and anxious, peeing outside of their litter box, or laying inside of their litter box, your cat could be stressed for several reasons, including the following.

  • Adopting a new pet
  • Bringing home a newborn
  • Having a new roommate
  • Moving to a different home
  • Hearing loud or scary noises
  • Adjusting to new pet parents

If you notice your cat acting anxious or stressed, it’s best to contact your veterinarian for advice. They might prescribe anti-anxiety supplements or medications. Furthermore, they might think that stress and anxiety are part of a more significant medical issue. Work with your vet on developing a stress management plan before self-diagnosing because this condition can easily be mistaken for FLUTD and detrimental to your cat’s health.

Will Litter-Box Lying Harm My Cat?

The biggest health concern from your cat lying in their litter box is sanitation and potential diseases from their feces. Dr. Thomas says to combat this, clean your litter box frequently or invest in a self-cleaning litter box. “Providing a clean area for your cat to urinate and defecate in is important to their general health, even if they are not spending more time than normal in their litter box,” she says.

Additionally, she says if your cat lays in urine or feces, this can cause ascending infections, recurrent parasitic infections (if your cat is not on an antiparasitic), urine scalding on the skin, etc. She reiterates that a clean litter box is the best way to combat potential health issues.


How To Stop Your Cat From Lying In The Litter Box

While your cat lying in their litter box is strange and can sometimes signal a health problem, there are many different methods to curb the behavior. First, explore ways to directly tempt your cat away from their litter box, including the following.

  • Create a “cozy box” with calming pheromone blankets
  • Offer a variety of comfy cat beds to help them settle on a more appropriate sleeping location
  • Move your senior cat’s bed(s) to a more accessible location
  • Offer safe places to hide, including vertical places
  • Give your cat enrichment items, including puzzle feeders, stimulating toys, and scratching posts

In addition to the above items, Dr. Thomas encourages all cat pet parents to research Multimodal Environmental Modification (MEMO), a set of techniques to reduce stress and decrease the likelihood of FIC. These methods encourage their cats to leave their litter box lying behind.

However, she cautions pet parents against diagnosing and coming up with a behavior modification plan without help from a vet. Instead, they can design a plan based on your and your cat’s needs.

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