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Why Is My Cat Rolling in the Litter Box? 3 Vet-Reviewed Reasons & How to Stop It

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By Nicole Cosgrove

tabby cat lying inside the litter box

Generally, cats are clean animals, in that they like to have clean fur and they will groom themselves routinely to ensure this is the case. They can also be trained to use a litter tray, usually quite easily, and they will cover their poop and pee not only to be clean but also because they instinctively want to hide their scent from potential predators.

As tidy as cats are, though, some felines can develop what we might view as being odd litter box habits. Some will lay in the litter box. Others will play in it. And, occasionally, you might catch your cat rolling in the litter. They generally do this either to scratch an itch they can’t otherwise get to or to spread their own aroma or to pick up the scent of another cat.

Unless your cat is rolling in cat excrement or urine, or the rolling is kicking up litter and the content of the tray, you don’t necessarily need to stop the rolling, especially because preventing it could mean your cat shies away from using the litter tray at all.

Cats and Litter Trays

In the wild, cats would poop in the soil or other loose ground. If the poop was in the middle of their range, they would cover it to prevent predators from tracking them to their home territory. If the poop is at the edge of their range, they would leave it exposed to deter other cats and to mark their territory.

While domesticated cats don’t have to worry about predators, they retain many of these same wild habits, so cats bury their poop and pee in the litter box in order to hide the scent, which is great for their owners, too.

clean cat litter box
Image By: Guajillo studio, Shutterstock

Why Is My Cat Rolling in the Litter Tray?

Typically, a cat will do their business and then scratch or kick litter from the surrounding area over its poop or pee. Some cats are quite violent kickers, which can lead to litter being flung around the room. And you may occasionally see your cat rolling in the litter.

  • Scratching an Itch: Most cat litter is abrasive, whether it is cement-like clay litter or wood chips. If your cat has an itch that it can’t reach, then it will look for alternative ways to scratch that itch. Rolling in the litter tray is one possible method of scratching and getting relief from an occasional itch.
  • Marking Territory: Cats release pheromones in a number of ways. They release some in their urine but they also release them from the area close to their ears, their cheeks, and other areas of their body. If your cat feels there is competition for the litter tray, they may be rolling around to spread their own scent and to deter other cats from using the same tray. This is most likely to happen if you have more than one pet and especially if you have just introduced another cat to the house.
  • Sign of Fleas or Skin Infection: If your cat is regularly rolling around in the litter and doing so to scratch an itch, it could be a sign of a bigger problem. Flea infestations and skin infections are incredibly irritating, and your cat will look for ways to get rid of that irritation. Rolling around in the litter could be a sign that your cat needs flea treatment or to visit your vet.

How to Stop It

If your cat rolls in the litter as a one-off or very occasionally, it isn’t really anything to worry about, although it may necessitate cleaning their dirty fur afterward. And it will be difficult to stop because you don’t want to discourage your cat from using the litter tray. If it is happening frequently and it is likely that your cat is trying to mark the litter box as its territory, you may need more litter trays, as the minimum number of litter boxes you should have is one per cat plus one extra. If this isn’t the cause, you should look for signs of flea infestations or skin infections and visit your vet, if necessary.

woman cleaning cat litter box
Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock

Why Is My Cat Playing in the Litter Box?

It is perfectly normal for cats to occasionally play in the litter box. They likely saw something that intrigued or interested them and started playing. Kittens are more likely to do this than adult cats. You can try and distract your cat from the litter box by providing plenty of toys and scratch posts away from the litter tray and hope they move their attention to these.

Why Has My Cat Started Rolling on the Floor?

A cat rolls on the floor for similar reasons to one that rolls in the litter tray. It is either spreading its scent to mark territory, scratching an itch on their back, or they have fleas or a skin condition. However, it could be that there is a strong smell on the floor, such as wildlife poop that somebody has trodden into the house, and your cat is attempting to cover that smell with their own.

tabby cat rolling on the floor
Image By: Xseon, Shutterstock

Ideal Litter Tray Placement

As explained, it is generally recommended that you have one litter tray per cat plus one extra. So, if you have three cats, you need four litter boxes.

Ensure the litter boxes you choose are an adequate size for the cats that will use them. Place them in quiet but accessible locations, and ideally in quiet corners of rooms away from doors and windows. Your cat will want to be able to enjoy a good view around it while toileting. If you have multiple floors, place litter trays on different floors of the house, and consider placing the trays behind a baby gate if you have a dog that pays too much interest in the tray.

Conclusion

Cats are clean animals, and most can be litter-trained quite easily at a young age. While the litter tray is a serious blessing for cat owners, some cats do display odd behavior around and in their litter boxes, and these can be a cause for concern. A cat rolling in the litter box as a one-off is not likely a sign of anything negative. Your cat may have an itch and couldn’t find any other way to effectively scratch it.

But if it is a regular occurrence, make sure you contact your vet to get your kitty checked as soon as possible since it could mean that your feline friend has a flea infestation or an uncomfortable skin condition.


Featured Image Credit: Lightspruch, Shutterstock

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