Why Do Cats Play in the Litter Box?

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Cats may play in their litter box for several reasons.


  • One likely reason is that cats are drawn to the texture and smell of the litter, which can provide them with a sense of security.


  • Additionally, cats may use the litter box as a safe space when they feel anxious or stressed out.


  • In addition, some cats may see the litter box as a type of playground, mainly if it is located in an exciting spot or has some fun toy nearby.



It’s important to note that playing in the litter box can also be a sign of stress or other underlying health issues.

If your cat is displaying this behavior, it’s best to consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes and create a plan for addressing the issue.

Additionally, providing plenty of stimulating toys and activities may help keep your cat entertained in ways that don’t involve the litter box. This will help ensure your cat is engaged in healthy and safe playtime activities.


Why Do Cats Play in the Litter Box? — 5 Reasons Behind This Strange Behavior


#1 They’re Just Practicing


The litter box is a massive pain in the neck for some cat owners because of all the scratching and digging. Cats will first come into the box and sniff around when they must eliminate. Then, once they find a good spot, they’ll dig a nice depression and “fill” it. Afterward, they may admire their “work of art” and search some more to hide any traces of them being there.


Now, to humans, this sort of behavior is rather bizarre. To cats, it’s just an instinct. So most of the time, when owners complain about cats playing in their litter boxes, they’re referring to the constant digging. 


But there might not be anything to worry about—cats, especially kittens, like to practice digging to hide their waste over time better.


#2 They’re a Bit Itchy


Why do cats play in the litter box by rolling around? Well, they might be only trying to scratch an itch. 


Though at first glance, it may seem as if Whiskers is only trying to make a mess and is rolling around out of pure enjoyment. However, there is a good chance something is bothering him — most likely fleas


So, cats may decide the litter box is a great place to resolve any itching they might be feeling and get some relief. The pebbles found in the litter are pretty helpful in that case. Also, since the box has to be big enough for them to move in, there’s enough space to roll around and get to the itchy area.


The solution? If you suspect fleas are the main culprit here, ask your vet how you should treat the cat. Also, make sure you’re brushing it from time to time to prevent any further issues. That should be enough to stop it from rolling around — if that’s why it’s doing it.


#3 They’re Marking Their Territory


Rolling around in soft (and sometimes gritty) litter may be enjoyable for some cats. However, Whiskers might not be playing at all — it could only be marking its territory.


This mostly happens when you have multiple cats and possibly not enough litter boxes in your home. See litter boxes here. If your cat doesn’t want anyone approaching its box, it may roll around and hang out there to allow its scent to rub off. 


By doing so, it’s only trying to show the other cats that this area is off-limits. Cats have a unique relationship with their litter boxes, so each must have its own. In addition, they need their privacy and are naturally territorial animals!


#4 They’re Dust-Bathing


There’s one more reason our cats may decide rolling around in litter should be on their agenda these days — dust-bathing. As strange as it sounds, this sort of “bathing” doesn’t mean the cat will be clean. On the contrary, the whole point is to get themselves dirty so that they can bathe afterward.


Confused? Consider stray cats and how they roll around in the dirt outside. It may seem rather vile to use as we wouldn’t do it. But to cats, it has a purpose. By rolling around in dirt or litter, the cat can lick away the dust once it settles and ingests some good bacteria. This natural feline instinct allows them to keep themselves in excellent health!


Do know, though, that dust bathing isn’t a daily occurrence. At best, the cat will do it every few weeks.

See our litter recommendation.


#5 They’re Just Playful


Finally, there might not be a reason to worry about our cat playing in the litter box. More often than not, it’s doing it because it simply likes it!


In essence, kittens are somewhat similar to toddlers, who can spend hours in a sandbox, building castles and putting at least some of it into their mouths. Since the litter box is their personal sandbox (and a bathroom, as well as a sort of den), kittens tend to spend a lot of time in there, throwing the litter out, tasting it, and sometimes even scratching the box.


There isn’t much to worry about there, although we’d recommend getting litter that won’t harm your pet if it eats it, such as corn- or wheat-based. Most cats grow out of this phase, but we’ve also heard cat owners talk about how some felines are still crazy about playing in the boxes. 


Ultimately, never underestimate a cat’s ability to find various entertainment methods. Cats are true masters at never getting bored, as they’re not looking to please humans so much and are naturally solitary creatures. 


Why Do Cats Play in the Litter Box By Kicking Litter Out and Making a Mess?


Drawing inspiration from toddlers yet again, it seems that cats can sometimes throw litter out of the box just for pure fun. However, in some cases, they do it intentionally to explain that something is annoying them. Therefore, before writing the behavior off as playfulness, check to see whether there’s something wrong with the box.


For one, the litter box could be too small, so most litter ends on the floor. On the other hand, perhaps the box is big enough, but the sides are low. In that case, flinging the litter out is easy, especially for cats who like to eliminate it near the edges.


Then there’s the litter itself. Although it may seem as if the cat is digging and throwing sand to entertain itself, maybe there’s either too much or too little litter in there. If not enough, the cat will keep digging and flinging it out because it needs more material to cover the mess. Otherwise, if there’s too much litter, it’ll end up on the floor because it’s going over the sides. So pour only 2 to 4 inches of it and add more to avoid mess.


Finally, since cats love having their space clean and enjoy bathing themselves all day long — if the litter box is dirty, they’ll express their frustration by kicking the litter out. The feline will have to dig and dig until it finds a clean enough area to do the deed. Consequently, most of the litter will be thrown out. At the same time, it might be upset that you haven’t cleaned the box and are doing it on purpose.


Are They Scratching the Sides Too?


Remember, though, that some scratching could also accompany this. To express disappointment with our lack of care and attention, the cat may scratch the box’s walls if any of the abovementioned issues make it uncomfortable.


Final Thoughts


So why do cats play in the litter box? In general, kittens and some rather playful felines enjoy the feel of litter underneath their paws. Most are only looking for a way to entertain themselves. Other times, however, they may be trying to resolve issues, such as scratching a pesky itch or getting enough healthy bacteria into their system. 


The important thing is that, in most cases, this is all quite natural. But if the mess becomes obscene, we could distract it. Most of the time, if we ignore their bad behavior and entertain them with some other items, cats will grow out of this phase and only use the litter box as a bathroom (and for occasional dust-bathing!). 



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