When we first adopted our cat and brought her home, she effortlessly adjusted to her new environment. She ate well, she slept well, she was active and social, and she even used her litter box properly — at first. After a few weeks, our cat suddenly began spending an excessive amount of time just sitting in her litter box, sometimes even taking naps in it. At first we found it silly and endearing, but as our concern grew, we decided it was time to think outside the (litter) box and consult her veterinarian. Thankfully we did, because while this behaviour is very common in cats of all ages, it can often be a sign of other underlying health issues. If your cat is also spending more time than usual in the litter box and you're wondering why, two veterinarians, Karen Fling, DVM, owner of East Lake Veterinary Hospital, and Massimo Orioles, DVM, explained what you need to know.
Why Is My Cat Hanging Out in the Litter Box?
"Sometimes it's simply because they like the cosy shape and the security of a litter box," Dr. Fling explained. Cats thrive in familiar routines and environments, and a litter box is no exception. "If the cat has been drawn to a litter box, a lot of times providing a second similar-shaped box with no litter, but rather a comfy blanket or something with a nice cosy texture that your cat can snuggle into will solve the problem," Dr. Fling said.
Your cat could also be using it as a safe space. Dr. Fling said that cat owners should be aware of the context in which their cat decides to hang out in their litter box, as "it may be because they're actually frightened or scared." If they head straight for the litter box and stay there during a loud thunderstorm or whenever you have guests over, it's most likely because your cat is looking for a sense of privacy or safety, and a litter box is considered a reliable option. If this behaviour is also accompanied by changes in sleep patterns or a drop in energy, it could be chronic stress, though it's unlikely, Dr. Orioles said. "If otherwise your kitten is fine — urinating, defecating, eating, and drinking normally – I would not be too worried," he assured cat owners.
Can Hiding in the Litter Box Indicate a Medical Issue?
"If you're convinced it's not a behaviour where they want a secure cosy spot, consult your cat's veterinarian to seek more help," Dr. Fling stressed. "Cats with diabetes, urinary tract problems, difficulty urinating, or kidney problems will sometimes stay in the litter box because they constantly feel like they have to go." Look for changes in your cat's behaviour if you're unsure, as bladder and digestive issues are typically accompanied by noticeable fatigue, mobility difficulties, and changes in appetite and thirst. Dr. Orioles said to keep an eye on your cat when they're actually using the litter box. "Common feline parasites affect the gastrointestinal tract and, if found, they should be in the feces."
But as always, if the problem persists, consult your cat's veterinarian to rule out more serious medical issues. "Male neutered cats are particularly prone to develop urinary tract obstructions, in which crystals create a plug in the urethra," Dr. Orioles added. Though this is a substantial concern, it's a common one that can be easily detected and treated. "Your veterinarian will ask for a urine sample or will analyse the urine to detect crystals and signs of infection/inflammation," Dr. Orioles explained.
Should I Do Anything to the Litter Box?
It's generally understood that cats are very self-sufficient. They don't have to be consistently supervised, they can be trusted without a leash, they groom themselves (and sometimes they even groom each other), but that does not mean it's OK to neglect cleaning their litter boxes. "Fortunately, most kittens figure out how to use a litter box consistently pretty early in life with minimal training," Dr. Orioles said. So while it's easy to forget that a litter box should be cleaned daily, both Dr. Orioles and Dr. Fling agreed that a dirty one is a pretty big deal to your cat.
If you find your cat sitting in their litter box for seemingly no reason, think about the last time you cleaned it, because it's possible your cat is trying to bring your attention to its dirtiness. It might be hard to maintain a litter box in a busy household, but if that's the case, for your cat's sake, invest in a self-cleaning litter box.
A litter box is a mundane part of a cat's routine, but when it turns into something more than just a place to do their business, veterinarians say the last thing should do is ignore it. Whether their behavioural changes are related to something as straightforward as hygiene or stress, or something as serious as kidney failure, leaving any or all of these issues untreated is bad news for your cat's well-being. Take it from Dr. Fling, who left POPSUGAR with a parting remark: "Listen to and look at subtle changes in your pet. Early detection and prevention can cost two to nine times less than treating an advanced disease."