cat suddenly sleeping in litter box
Behavioral Problems

How Do I Stop My Elderly Cat Sleeping in the Litter Box?

Senior cats develop some odd habits, such as going to sleep in the litter box. This is unhealthy. Spending so much time close to urine and excrement can be harmful, especially to an older cat with a weakened immune system.

Elderly cats often sleep in their litter box due to insecurity. The cat may be guarding territory or have concerns about incontinence. Providing multiple litter boxes throughout the home will calm these worries. Offer a cat a warm, comfortable bed and the opportunity for privacy. Your cat will soon start sleeping in its bed rather than its litter tray.

Never restrict access to a cat’s litter box. Older cats often struggle with pooping and peeing. Not being able to use the litter tray will cause additional stress and anguish. Focus on learning why your cat has developed this habit, and take action to change this behavior.

Why Has My Senior Cat Started Sleeping in Its Litter Box?

Understanding the reason why your elderly cat sleeps in its litter box is key to stopping the behavior. Possible explanations include the following:

1/ Arthritis

An arthritic cat will struggle with its mobility due to stiff and tight joints, and seek comfort wherever it can find it. This may involve sleeping in the litter tray, especially if the tray has low sides.

An elderly cat may find it easier to climb into the litter box than jump onto furniture. This is for the following reasons:

  • The softness of the litter may also provide comfort
  • Your cat may be exhausted from walking to the litter box
  • After eliminating, it may decide to doze where it is right now

Preventing an arthritic cat from sleeping in the litter tray is a two-step process. Manage your cat’s arthritic condition to improve mobility, and offer a very comfortable bed as an alternative.

Treating arthritis involves keeping the cat at a healthy weight, massaging arthritic limbs, and exercise. Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice also recommends fatty acid supplements, such as fish oil.

The ideal bed for an arthritic cat is low to the ground and soft. Use orthopedic memory foam, if possible. The bed should also be warm. Apply a hot water bottle and add blankets.

An arthritic cat will instinctively want to spend most of its day in a warm, comfortable bed. Also, ensure that your cat can easily access its tray. If the path is clear, the cat will move easily between the two locations.

2/ Cognitive Decline

The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains that feline cognitive dysfunction is NOT just part of the normal aging process. All cats develop quirks and foibles as they get older, but this is totally different.

One symptom of cognitive dysfunction is the confusion surrounding elimination. The cat will often pee and poop in its bed, or on the floor. The cat may mistake the litter box for a bed or vice versa. A senile cat that pees in its bed will forge links between urine smells and sleep.

Breaking this habit is very challenging in senile cats. A simple routine may be insufficient. Your cat’s memory will not be strong enough to retain information. Capturing the problem early will help, though. Cognitive decline cannot be cured, but its progress can be slowed down with meds.

Also, play mentally stimulating games with your cat. The more your cat thinks, the stronger its memory will remain. The cat will still be periodically confused, especially as the disease progresses.

3/ Incontinence

Older cats have weaker bladders. A senior arthritic cat may lack the mobility to make it to its tray in time. This is especially likely after a nap, when a cat is feeling disoriented upon waking.

Ensure that your cat does not have a urinary tract infection. This can lead to a cat struggling to control its bladder. The cat will need to urinate constantly, and urine will often dribble from its bladder.

At a minimum, the cat should have a tray on every floor. Ideally, have one in every room. Place it away from food, but within a comfortable range of a preferred sleeping spot.

The key is building your cat’s confidence. If necessary, carry your cat to the litter box as soon as it wakes up. When your cat has finished eliminating, return it to the bed. Over time, your cat will grow in self-assurance.

why is my cat suddenly sleeping in the litter box?

4/ Excess Weight

Cats become less active with age. Unfortunately, the appetite of a senior cat may not diminish. This can lead to steady weight gain. An overweight cat may no longer comfortably fit in its bed. The litter tray may be more sizable

Carrying additional weight will make movement difficult. The cat will worry about whether it can make it to a litter box on time. This will lead to the cat sleeping in its litter box for safety and convenience.

Overweight cats must be encouraged to exercise. You’ll need to factor your cat’s age and weight into an exercise regime. Don’t push too hard. If your cat is food-focused, make it earn meals and treats.

Exhausting a senior cat with exercise will encourage it to sleep in a bed. After an active day, the cat will want to sleep in a comfortable bed.

5/ Feline Diabetes

Diabetes is also more likely for overweight senior cats. According to the Veterinary Clinical Digest, feline diabetes can also cause urinary tract infections. This will cause a cat to sleep in the litter tray rather than move.

If your cat is diabetic, offer a diet low in carbohydrates and fiber. Medication will also be required to get your cat into remission. Once this happens, focus on keeping your cat’s weight down.

6/ Territoriality

All cats are territorial, but older cats grow increasingly so. An older cat begins to feel more vulnerable.

Worries grow in the cat’s mind that it will be usurped by a younger, fitter competitor. This means the cat will defend its territory at all times.

The litter box is the ultimate example of cat territory. It smells strongly of the cat itself. Your cat may sleep inside the litter box to ensure nobody else can access it. This is most likely if you have multiple cats in the home.

To combat this, ensure that every cat has its own tray. Even if one cat is happy to share, the other may not be. A senior cat confident that its territory is safe is less likely to guard it so jealously.

7/ Privacy

Senior cats value privacy. The cat just wants to be left alone to sleep for the majority of the day. If the tray has a lid, this provides your cat with the isolation it desires in order to go to the toilet.

You need to reassure your cat that there plenty of other places to relax in solitude. If you have a spare room, make this your cat’s territory. Provide a litter tray, along with climbing trees, fresh water, and toys.

Do not enter this room unless you must. Ideally, never enter when your cat is in the room. Do not leave any scents or objects behind you. The cat must feel like the room is a safe space.

If you don’t have a spare room, invest in a cat tent or teepee. Place this in a quiet part of the house, away from the television, stereo, and football. Spray an appealing scent on the tent to entice your cat. Never approach the cat while it relaxes in this tent.

Not bothering your cat unnecessarily makes it less likely to sleep in the litter tray. Let your cat come to you when it wants attention. This way, the cat will feel assured that it will otherwise be left in peace.

This approach will also manage stress in cats. Cats, especially older cats that feel vulnerable, have a strong fight-or-flight instinct. The tray may seem like a safe space. Provide your cat with an alternative place to hide.

how to stop your cat from sleeping in the litter box

8/ Pregnancy

Don’t assume that just because your cat is older, she is infertile. Cats can birth kittens throughout their lifespan. If your senior cat was never spayed, she always has the potential to fall pregnant.

A pregnant cat will experience a lot of pressure on her bladder. This may leave the cat feeling insecure about urination. Pregnant cats often stay in their tray all day. This prevents her from needing to regularly move across the room to eliminate.

In addition, pregnant cats display nesting instincts. Around two weeks before birth, the cat starts preparing. This will typically involve surrounding herself with blankets and other soft materials. Your cat may decide to use her litter box for this purpose.

To get your cat out of the litter tray, provide her with a nesting box. If your cat will not accept its own bed, then you should use a different location. Packing a cardboard box with towels and blankets is fine. Your cat will take comfort here, and likely birth her kittens within.

9/ Blindness

Older cats often lose their sight, whether suddenly or over time. This will be caused by degradation of the eyes or an organ problem.

A blind cat that is adjusting to life without vision may be confused. Searching for a soft place to nap, your cat may settle upon its tray.

This is less likely than other explanations. Cats without eyesight rely heavily on their other senses, particularly scent and long whiskers. Litter will have a strong aroma. Your cat should be able to tell the difference.

Your blind cat may still be relearning the layout of your home, though. Until your cat feels secure, it may prefer to stay in the litter box.

To deal with this, avoid moving things around the house. Your cat must build confidence and learn a clear path to and from the litter box.

Apply a strong, calming scent to an elderly cat’s bed. This will attract the cat. Ideally, strengthen this scent when the cat is dozing. This builds a strong, positive association with the bed. This will encourage your cat to sleep in its bed and not its litter box.