cat suddenly sleeping in litter box
Behavioral Problems

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

Cats are known for their unusual behavior. Considering the time that cats spend keeping themselves clean, it can be strange for an owner to see their cat sleeping in the litter box. If you notice your cat resting in its litter box regularly, you need to determine the cause.

A cat that is lethargic, unwilling to eat or doesn’t show enthusiasm for its favorite pastimes, may be sick. Being mindful of your cat’s typical hangout spots and offering it a clean and cozy place to relax can also help if stress is causing your cat to sleep in its litter tray.

In most cases, cats tend to seek refuge in their litter box because it smells like them and provides comfort, even if it has been cleaned. This is especially common in shelters and multi-cat households.

Why is My Cat Suddenly Sleeping in the Litter Box?

Cats don’t sleep in their litter box under normal circumstances. Therefore, if you find your cat sleeping or spending too much time in its litter box, it’s vital that you keep track of any other unusual behavior and determine the cause.

Pay attention to your cat’s everyday behavior. Is your cat acting sluggish or refusing to play lately? Is your cat getting up to eat or getting its favorite view from the window?

Is your cat straining or using the litter box too often? Any of these could indicate that your cat isn’t feeling well and may be using the litter box and a source of security and comfort.

1) Dementia

Dementia is the most common cause of elderly cats displaying unusual behavior in their homes, such as sleeping in their litter box.

Cats with dementia also tend to yowl for no reason, wander aimlessly, stare into space, become loud at night and get confused or appear disconnected from their environment.

In extreme cases, a cat with dementia may even lose some hearing and vision, stumble often and have difficulty balancing and walking.

Successful treatment for feline dementia often depends on accurate diagnosis. There are two causes of dementia in cats, one that can be treated with medication and supplements and the other known cause is high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is typically caused by kidney disease and hyperthyroidism, which are common in older cats. The two conditions result in high blood pressure that causes fluid leakage from the blood vessels in the cat’s brain.

how to stop your cat from sleeping in the litter box

Some cats may also display unusual behavior when waste materials accumulate in their bodies as a result of poorly functioning kidneys. According to a study published in The Canadian Veterinary Journal, kidney disease and high blood pressure are especially common in elderly cats between the ages of 12 to 15 years.

Consult your vet and ask to get a few additional tests performed to find out about your cat’s physical condition. If your vet rules out other possible causes and all tests are normal, you could discuss a treatment plan for an Alzheimer’s-type dementia that is common in cats.

2) Urinary Problems

Sleeping in the litter box may also indicate other serious disorders. Check if your cat’s behavior has been different or abnormal in any way, including increased thirst, lack of appetite or thirst, changes in social interactions, increased sleep or difficulty moving after being removed from the litter box.

The above symptoms could indicate many illnesses. However, if you notice your cat (especially if it’s male) squatting or sitting in its litter box for prolonged periods, or scratching the litter without producing any urine, it may have a lower urinary tract disease.

According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, male cats commonly develop crystals in their urine that can inhibit a cat from passing urine completely, if left untreated.

When entirely blocked, the condition can prove to be detrimental within 48 hours. Therefore, if you notice your cat frequently visiting the litter box or straining, it is critical that you take it to a vet immediately.

However, just because your cat is sleeping in the litter box, doesn’t mean you should jump into conclusions about any severe illnesses.

Keep a close lookout for any unusual activities and behaviors, such as the ones discussed above and take your cat to a vet if you suspect it may be suffering from a disease.

3) Your Cat is Stressed

After your vet has ruled out all diseases, you can start paying attention to your cat’s environment – from its perspective to determine any changes and rectify them, if necessary.

Understand that cats are highly comforted by objects that smell like them and their sense of smell is crucial for their understanding of their surroundings. Cats often mark their territory with their urine. Therefore, its scent can sometimes be comforting to a stressed cat.

Some cats also hide in litter boxes, just like they do in cardboard boxes, because the small, enclosed space makes them feel more secure. This is why cats lying in their litter boxes in a common sight in animal shelters.

Other possible causes for unusual behavior and stress in cats include:

  • Changes in your home environment. According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, rearranging the furniture in an area where your cat spends most of its time in, having more visitors, a new family member or a loss of a family member and an illness in the home can stress a cat. Lack of hiding places and secure pathways in the house are other possible causes.
  • Changes in interactions. This doesn’t only include vocal interactions with your cat. New food, a new water bowl, changes in meal times and not enough playtimes can cause a cat to seek comfort from its litter box.
  • Changes in the neighborhood (particularly for outdoor cats). A new cat in the neighborhood, new neighbors who spend more outdoors time, or construction work in your area can emotionally trigger a cat.

Once you’ve determined the cause for your cat’s unusual behavior, or develop an idea about it, you can work towards reducing your cat’s stress. Some effective tips include:

  • Providing alternative sleeping places. Most cats like to sleep in different places. Cat’s like to sleep in warm beds with thick bedding. They also enjoy a good view with decent elevation, such as a cat tree, a wall shelf, a window ledge perch or the top of the staircase. For added comfort, create a bed that is partially covered from the top.
  • Provide suitable pathways. If you have a new dog in the house, consider installing elevated pathways to help your cat avoid your dog when necessary and feel more secure. Make sure the pathways have no dead ends and allow your cat to safely travel through the house without confronting other pets in the house.
  • Reduce competition. If you have more than one cat in your house, try feeding them separately to reduce their need for competition with food. Adding more water bowls or fountains can also help reduce competition for resources in multicat houses.
  • Add litter boxes. It is recommended that you have 1 to 1.5 litter boxes per cat.
  • Spend quality time. Engage in interactive play with each cat to stimulate their minds and refresh their hunting skills. Sometimes, when cats are bored, they may pick on the sick or elderly cat, causing the victim cat to display unusual behaviors, such as sleeping in the litter box. Giving each cat enough attention and offering them quality play can reduce the number of attacks in multi-cat households and make each cat feel comfortable with their surroundings.
  • Use pheromone sprays. Spray the litter box and other areas of the house your cat spends most of its time in with a pheromone spray or diffuser to help alleviate stress.
why is my cat suddenly sleeping in the litter box?

If your cat was recently adopted from a shelter, consider providing a shoebox or a crate with warm blankets for it to snuggle in. Once it gains enough confidence in its new home, your cat’s strange sleeping behavior is likely to change as well.

4) Your Cat Needs More Privacy

A bathroom is a quiet place for humans to seek refuge and get privacy from chaotic children, unwanted guests, and a quarreling partner. The same goes for cats.

Cats love their privacy, and as soon as they are caught off guard, for example, by high-energy children or dogs, they quickly crawl under your bed linens, hide in the closet or even sleep in the litter box.

Sometimes loud noises from outside your house, from construction, thunderstorms, or unruly neighbors, can cause your cat to exhibit similar behaviors.

The litter box is typically located in an area of the house that is out of the way for other members of the household. It’s also something that exclusively belongs to your cat. Therefore, it is only natural for a cat to get a few good naps in its litter box when no other peaceful option remains.

Does this mean you should let your cat sleep in its litter box? Absolutely, not. A litter box is still an unsanitary place crawling with germs that can harm your cat. Therefore, you should provide a clean and secure alternative somewhere near your cat’s litter box so that it can sleep and relax comfortably when it needs some time alone.

However, don’t grab your cat or try too hard to stop your cat from sleeping in its litter box. Offer a clean and comfortable bed, and it is likely that your cat will consider switching from its litter box when it thinks the time is right. Cats have a mind of their own, so it’s best to let them decide their course of action most of the time.

5) Your Cat is Being Territorial

If you’ve recently adopted another pet, your cat may choose to sleep in its litter box as an act of claiming ownership of it. Cats are highly territorial. Therefore, if another animal appears to be threatening their personal space, they will behave differently to assert their dominance.

Sometimes, a cat may sleep in its litter box to guard it and not get denied access by a pushy cat. Alternatively, the cat sleeping in the box may be the actual bully, keeping other cats away from the litter box it has claimed ownership of. Regardless of the reason, there is only one solution to such a dilemma, and that is keeping peace among all cats in your household.

Add a litter box in different locations of your house. As a general rule, you should have 1 to 1.5 litter boxes per cat. If you have three cats in your home, you should have 4 to 5 litter boxes available in different areas of the house.

Make sure each litter box is equally desirable, which means keeping them all clean. If you have many cats in your house or have a busy schedule that is keeping you from keeping all litter boxes equally clean for a demanding group of cats, consider using a self-cleaning litter box to reduce your workload.