Why Do Cats Play in the Litter Box?

How to Stop My Cat Getting Hairballs

By all accounts, cats are rather unusual creatures. Sometimes, they’re so aloof that we believe they truly hate us and are currently plotting world domination. Other times, they’re eager to have a good time, cuddle, run around, etc. But one thing has always perplexed many cat owners — why do cats play in the litter box?


You may think that the reasons are sinister and could be a sign of some underlying issue. However, the truth is much simpler than that. Apart from some common cat behavior quirks, most cats are simply playing in their litter boxes because they just like it!


Why Do Cats Play in the Litter Box?

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


#1 They’re Just Practicing


For some cat owners, the litter box is a huge pain in the neck because of all the scratching and digging that occurs in there. When they have to eliminate, cats will first come into the box and sort of sniff around. Then, once they find a good spot, they’ll dig a nice depression and “fill” it. Afterward, they may admire their “work of art” a bit and dig 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 their digging so that over time, they can get better at hiding their waste.


#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 quite useful in that case. Also, since the box has to be big enough for them to move in it, there’s enough space to roll around and get to the itchy area.


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


Why Do Cats Play in the Litter Box?

#3 They’re Marking Their Territory


Rolling around in soft (and at times gritty) litter may be quite 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 in your home and possibly not enough litter boxes. See litter boxes here. If your cat doesn’t want anyone approaching its box, it may decide to roll around for a bit 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. Remember — cats have a rather special relationship with their litter boxes, so each needs to have their own. 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 in the end. On the contrary, the whole point is to get themselves dirty so that they can bathe afterward.


Confused? Well, consider stray cats and how they roll around in 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 then lick away the dust once it settles and ingests some good bacteria. This is a natural feline instinct that allows them to keep themselves in great 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 rather 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, therefore, 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 the corn- or wheat-based one. 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. 


In the end, never underestimate a cat’s ability to find all sorts of ways to entertain itself. 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?

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’re doing it on purpose 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 of the litter is ending up 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 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 there’s not enough, the cat will keep digging and flinging it out because it needs more material to cover up the mess. Otherwise, if there’s too much litter, it’ll end up on the floor because it’s going over the sides. Remember to pour only about 2 to 4 inches of it and add more when needed to avoid any 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 simply 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 is doing it on purpose.


Are They Scratching the Sides Too?


Keep in mind, though, that this all could be accompanied by some scratching as well. To express its disappointment with our lack of care and attention, the cat may scratch the walls of the box if any of the above-mentioned issues are making it uncomfortable.


Final Thoughts


So why do cats play in the litter box? In general, kittens and some rather playful felines simply 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 some 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 is becoming obscene, we could distract it a bit. 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!). 



Affiliate Disclosure
This website is supported by its readers. Please assume that all links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links we will make a commission from Amazon. Thank you.

Michael Grover

About Me I have been a pet owner for most of my life. I am now retired and spend my days writing about problems relating to cats, dogs, and funeral poems. I am passionate to stop animal cruelty in any shape or form. My passion is to help people like you identify behavior problems in cats and dogs. That is what I do. Over the years of my life, I have always kept cats and dogs. About 4 years ago I retired and found I had a lot of time on hands so I started to write all about dog and cat problems. It was suggested to me that I should start up a website and publish my words to help people with their pet problems. I am still writing every day and hope you find my articles useful. Regards Mike Grover

Recent Posts