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Why Does My Cat Play in Their Litter Box? And How Do I Stop it?

by Ben Doyle | Reading Time: 6 minutes

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If your cat has decided to turn their litter box into a playground, you might wonder, is it normal? And should you be concerned about it?

In this article, we’ll cover;

  • Why do cats play in their litter boxes
  • Is it normal, and
  • How to stop cats from playing in their litter box

Key Takeaways

  • It’s very normal for kittens to play in their litter boxes. They’re often learning and developing life skills in doing so and they will most likely grow out of it as they get older.
  • However, older cats tend to spend less time in their litter boxes. What you might see as playing could be them showing signs of stress and medical issues.
  • If your cat starts a new habit of hanging out in their litter box, watch their behaviour to figure out why. There are things you can do to stop it.

Why Do Cats Play in Litter Boxes and Is It Normal?

It’s common for kittens to play in their litter boxes. It’s a way for them to practice instinctive life skills like hiding, hunting and digging.

They might hide in their litter box and pounce on their playmates (or your feet!) as you walk past. Other times, you might see them scratching and digging, which is an important skill for a young cat to master.

If your kitten plays in their litter box, chances are, it’s normal behaviour and nothing to worry about.

Older cats tend to spend less time in their litter boxes. Sometimes what you see as them playing, might be a sign of stress, anxiety or medical issues. 

They Might Be Bored

Like us, cats often get bored if there’s nothing for them to do. As a result, they might get up to mischief in their litter box. They might roll around in it and kick it out of the litter tray.

If you think boredom might be the reason your cat is playing in their litter box, consider;

  1. Upgrading their toys, or
  2. Giving them more attention or stimulation

It could be as simple as giving them a shoe box to play in or giving them more time for fuss and snuggles.

A Sudden Change in Cat Litter

kitten sniffing around it's litter box

If you have;

  1. Changed your cat litter suddenly without phasing it in, or
  2. You have run out and used an emergency cat litter like sand

It could confuse your cat. 

Cat litter with a completely different smell or texture could break the association between the litter box and toilet. As a result, you might find your cat starts to play in their litter tray. They might also;


cat claiming the litter box as its territory

Like food, a cat’s litter box is a resource or territory.

If you have multiple cats in the house, make sure you have enough litter boxes for them. The general rule is one litter box per cat, plus one. So, if you have two cats, you’d ideally have three litter boxes.

Some cats are happy to share litter boxes. Others aren’t. Some are happy to share and then things change as they mature.

Sometimes cats play in litter boxes that aren’t theirs in a way to make a challenge for that territory. If the other cat sees this, you might have a fight on your hands.

While this is rare, it does happen from time to time.

She Might Be Pregnant

If your cat is female and hasn’t been spayed, she may be pregnant and looking for a place to give birth.

Cat litter boxes are often put in quiet areas of the house. As disgusting as it might seem to us, it might be the best place for her.

You might see her digging in the litter and lying in the box.

If you suspect your cat might be pregnant, create a bed for her to birth and raise her babies.

Stress or Anxiety

stressed kitten hiding in their litter box

Our feline friends feel stress and anxiety just like we do. If they’re stressed, they might seek the solace of their litter box.

While this seems strange to us, remember that their litter box is their safest, most private space. So, it makes sense that they hide there if things get too much.

Any number of things could cause your cat to become stressed or anxious;

  • Changes in routine
  • New additions to the family
  • Moving house
  • Loud noises
  • Fireworks
  • Home renovations
  • Visitors

The list is almost endless.

Medical Issues

Sometimes you might notice your cat coming and going to their litter box more than usual. You might also notice them digging a lot.

While you might think they’re playing at first, it could be a sign of medical issues like cystitis. Look for them squatting and not being able to pee. 

If you see this, speak to your vet.

How to Stop Your Cat From Playing in Their Litter Box

There are plenty of things you can do to stop your cat playing in their litter box;

Give Your Cat More Toys, Play Time and Attention

If your kitten hides and ambushes you and/or their playmates from their litter box, give them somewhere else to do it. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Something as simple as a cardboard box might be all you need.

Also, give them some different toys and activities to do. A catnip mouse, a treat puzzle, anything to stimulate their mind and develop their instinctual behaviours.

Also, give your cat more time and attention. Not only for play but for fuss and cuddles.

If You Change Litter, Do it Gradually

If your cat is playing in their litter after you have changed it to a different type, change it back to the original. Then, transition to the new type gradually. 

Every time you scoop the litter box, add some of the new type of litter.

Try to have a good stock of cat litter so you don’t run out and have to use something else.

Make Sure Your Cats Have Enough Litter Boxes

If you have more than one cat, make sure they have a litter box each, in the areas of the house where they spend most time. Plus, one spare.

This will reduce the chances of your cats hopping into each other’s litter boxes and getting into trouble.

Even if, right now, your cats seem happy to share, things can change. So, make sure you have enough.

Keep All Litter Boxes Clean

Cats don’t like dirty toilets. If you don’t scoop and clean their litter box often enough, they might start using their siblings.

This could lead to trouble. 

So, scoop all litter boxes at least once a day. Twice a day is better and three times a day is even better.

If You Think Your Cat Might Be Pregnant, Create a Nesting Space For Her

First, if you think your cat is pregnant, take her to your vet and get her checked over.

If she is, create a space for her to nest and have her babies. Put it in the same room as her litter box so she doesn’t have far to go when she needs the toilet.

Use a Calming Pheromone

If you think your cat is spending time in their litter box as a result of stress or anxiety, try a calming pheromone.

Plugin diffusers like Feliway Optimum relieve stress in cats. Some users call Feliway a miracle cure.

Take Your Cat to See the Vet If You Suspect Medical Issues

If your cat is in and out of their litter box, scratching around but unable to eliminate, take them to the vet.

It could be a urinary infection like cystitis, constipation or something else. Some of these conditions can be dangerous so it’s important to get veterinary advice as soon as you can.

Does Your Cat Play in Their Litter Box?

Does your cat, or has your cat ever played in their litter box?

How long did it last for? What did you do, or are you doing to stop it? Do you have any tips that worked for you?

We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Photo of author

Ben Doyle

Ben Doyle co-owns Pet Checkers with his wife, Vicki. He spends his days looking after all kinds of animals, from dogs to eagles. When he's not taking care of animals, he's writing about them.

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