Why Do Cats Roll Around in a Litter Box?

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Originally published Apr 19, 2015

My parents’ Ragdoll cat, Caymus (if you’re subscribed to our YouTube then you know how crazy I am about Caymus) likes to roll around in his litterbox.  It’s gross.

Caymus in NVR Miss Litter Box
Caymus thinks litter boxes are sandboxes and he likes to roll in them. Gross =).

Recently, a Floppycats reader wrote me and told me that her kitten does it and she wanted to break her of it.  Well, I said, it’s doubtful she will be broken of it because Caymus at 10 years old is STILL doing it.

As it turns out, this is a perfectly normal, healthy behavior.

Why Do Cats Roll Around in a Litter Box?

There are three reasons that cats roll around in litter products:

  • dust bathing
  • scent marking
  • itching

Dust bathing – an activity in which cats instinctively engage when they are in the wild. If a cat is unable to dust bathe outdoors, they will use litter boxes to compensate. Dust bathing enables cats to cover themselves in beneficial digestive bacteria (which they subsequently lick off and ingest) as well as scratch itches that they would otherwise be unable to reach.

Ragdoll Cat Caymus Rolling in His Litter Box

Scent marking – a process whereby a cat deposits the scent produced by glands located along the tail, on the chin, on the sides of the head, between the front paws, and near the genitals, thus marking any area where that scent has been deposited as belonging to them. It is particularly likely that cats will scent mark a litter box if there are multiple cats competing for access to the same litter box. It is important to keep in mind that because cats frequently groom themselves, it is unlikely that cats rolling around in their litter boxes will pose health risks to their owners so long as they are not petted immediately after having been in the box.

Itching – Yes, it can be as simple as that. When your cat rolls around in the litter, it could simply be trying to scratch an itch. The litter box is a place where it can roll around on a large rough surface guaranteed to help it scratch. It might seem like an odd choice to us, but it makes a lot of sense to your cat.

Check out Caymus enthusiastically rolling around in his clean litter box:

Is rolling around in the litter box dangerous for your cat?

Regardless of the reason why your cat is rolling around in the litter box, it is not a sign of anything dangerous. If you see your cat doing this, then there is no reason to get scared because there is nothing wrong with your cat.

The worst thing that can happen is your cat to get a bath or to get poop stuck in its fur. In long-haired cats, this type of behavior might make some areas difficult to brush, but if it does not happen regularly, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Ragdoll Cat Rolling in His Litter Box

Is rolling around in the litter box dangerous for you?

This depends entirely on the state that the litter box is in when the cat decides to roll in it. But even in the worst of cases, there is no actual danger. If the cat gets dirty after it gets out of the litter box, it will most likely get your floors, sofa, furniture, or various other surfaces dirty.

As long as you notice this and clean up after the cat, there is no danger. It is important that you do so because there is plenty of bacteria in the cat’s litter box and it has no place outside it.

Can you teach your cat to stop rolling around in the litter box?

While you probably can teach your cat to stop rolling around in the litter box if you take enough time for this task, it is not your best choice. The process of teaching your cat tricks is a lucrative one, but it pays off. However, anything you teach your cat to do or to not do anymore, it is a good idea to not interfere with its litter box routine.

In this case, your first step would be to notice when your cat rolls around in the litter box and then, interfere by stopping it, taking it out of the box, and using a specific phrase to let it know that it should not do that anymore.

Naturally, you would have to repeat that for a number of times until, eventually, the cat might stop its litter box bathing. However, any way you do this, it is going to stress out your cat.

And stressing out your cat when it is using the litter box is always a bad idea because it might put a strain on its urination and defecation, which could be very bad for its health.

But while stopping your cat from rolling around in the litter box by actually stepping in when it does it is most likely not a good idea, there are other things you could do.

Your cat will stop litter box bathing, scratching, and rolling if the litter becomes improper for this, right? And you don’t have to be anywhere in sight for that to happen. It will also stop it all on its own if it has a better place to do its rolling.

This one is a bit harder to do, but offering the cat a superior rolling alternative than the litter box will solve your problem. Here’s what you can do:

Change the litter to make it less roll-friendly

There are plenty of types of kitty litter out there, so you have a lot of choices available. If your cat loves rolling in its litter box, there is a high chance it has a lot to do with the litter itself.

This behavior comes from cats that roll around in the dirt, so a fine litter. If the litter you are currently using is fine, then you might consider switching to one that is coarse.

Another promising choice is silicone-based kitty litter because it is the furthest away from dust or sand. Try some of these options and see if it gets your cat to stop rolling in the litter box.

Change the litter box to make it uncomfortable for rolling

Large open litter boxes are welcoming places for rolling around because your cat has the space to relax and roll around. But there are other types of litter boxes that are not as welcoming, such as closed ones, so you might consider changing the litter box.

It is not a good idea to switch to a litter box than what your cat needs, but closed litter boxes are less likely to cause problems. If your cat is not used to going inside a closed litter box, you may have to show it a couple of times, but it should get used to it quite quickly.

Give your cat a better place to scratch

If your cat uses the litter box to scratch its itches, then all you have to do is offer it a better place to do that. A good idea is using a larger scratcher.

Some of the best scratching posts out there also double as loungers, which means that they offer plenty of space for your cat to roll around in. The fabrics used for the cat scratchers are good enough for the cat to scratch its itches on, certainly a superior choice to kitty litter, so it should do the trick.

Give your kitty an alternative to the litter box

If you live in a house with a garden, then this is something you might consider trying out. Since the cat’s litter box rolling behavior is related to rolling around in the dirt, give your cat a place where it can roll around in actual dirt and it will stop using the kitty litter all on its own.

All you need is a small patch in your garden where you can set up a sandbox. A spot where you don’t have a lawn set up or plants with dry dusty soil will also do. Introduce the cat to this spot in the garden and it will know what to do from there. The biggest risk is for the cat to turn it into an outdoor litter box.

Keep in mind that these suggestions are not guaranteed to work, but there is a chance that they will. This behavior is something quite personal for your cat and so are the reasons behind it and what it is willing to substitute it with.

While a cat rolling around in its litter box seems strange to us, it is not a dangerous behavior and there might be some good ways to make your cat stop. Does your cat roll around in litter? Has it been doing it for a long time? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.

Does your kitty roll around in his or her litter box?

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Comments (38)

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  1. Oh my god! It’s a great thing you wrote this post!

    My crazy cat (not a Ragdoll), well her name is Star; and she likes to “sit” in her litter box. She isn’t trying to poop or pee, she just likes to sit there! It’s gross.

    I didn’t know Caymus does that, thanks for sharing!

    1. I was told that when a cat just sits in a litter box there are two reasons:

      1) They are feeling insecure and it helps them feel more confident
      2) They aren’t feeling well

      That’s what I was told and I am by no means an expert myself!

    2. Ragdoll Mommy, often times your comments make me wonder if you read the title, the post or watched the video of the post.

      Caymus DOES NOT “sit” in the litter box. Please watch the video.

      As the post title says, “Why Do Cats Roll Around in a Litter Box?”, as the video shows and as the post explains – this is about rolling in the litter box, not about sitting in it.

      Please do read ChristyB’s comments – I agree that sitting the litterbox when they aren’t in a cage with it, is NOT a good thing and it might be time to take Star to the vet for a checkup.

      My best to you and Star.
      Jenny

      1. I did read the title and the post, I tried to watch the video, but it never works:-(

        I wasn’t saying Caymus sits in the litter box, I meant I didn’t know he rolled in it. Geez, I only said what my cat does; if this bothered anyone, than feel free to delete the comment.

        Ps: I would like to let you know that your website sometimes has these “pop-ups/ ads” on your website, it sometimes makes it hard to comment. I thought I’d let you know.

        Thanks,
        Ragdoll Mommy~

      2. Hi I’m Jenn and this morning for the first time ever after putting fresh litter in her box my 8 month old Charolette rolled and played in her box.I was thinking the new litter had cap mop lol the way she was rolling round.she’s an over enthusiastic scratcher always getting litter everywhere esp. When covering poo.she is so cute she digs and meows and turns and repeats until she has finally got the right spot or just finally worked it up she goes the covers and smells and covers lol she’s a very good coverer but messy.but never till this morning rolled in it.I did start a new litter the light weight scoop away.a little cheaper than the light weight tidy cat I was using.

      3. ha ha ha – a litterbox roller – love it. i am sort of skeptical of those lightweight litters because i don’t know what is used to make them. so if it were my mom’s caymus rolling in it, i would use a different litter.

  2. Hi, Jenny & Ragdoll Mommy!

    I remember watching Pink Sugar “play” in one of the litterboxes at the breeder’s house when we went to pick her up last January. (I didn’t quite know what to make of THAT.) lol 🙂

    I haven’t seen my Pink Sugar girl do much of this since she’s turned a year old. However, when I got the NVR Miss Litterbox a few weeks ago and got it set up with the new Dr. Elsey’s Precious Litter schtuff she went right in and just laid there content as could be… (This was after she scent marked most of the outside edges of it with the side of her face.)

    Lurved the video! Such beautiful kitties are Caymus and Murphy!

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Pink Sugar 🙂 <3

      1. Hi Jenny,
        My Simon, who is a Russian Blue will roll around in the litter box like Caymus too. He also does what Charlie does, pretending like he’s after something that’s in the box. Then, after he does his business, he will jump out and go tearing through the house like he just had a shot of adrenaline or Red Bull! It’s so funny. And like Caymus & Charlie, it’s only when I’ve just cleaned the box and put in fresh or when I’ve done a “Quick Clean” & added some fresh to the box. None of my other 2 kittys do this but, I had another Russian Blue, Petey, and he also would do this. I think it’s quite comical! It’s nice to here that other kittys do this, and not just my crazy Russian Blue kidz!

      2. Ha ha ha – recently, a vet or someone told me that the bursting out of the litter box could be something else health related – like IBS or something. I dated a guy whose cat did that and it was hysterical.

      3. The vet has given him a very healthy report. I think that he just feels so much more lighter & freer, after taking “care of business”. If you know what I mean ? =)

      1. She’s still transitioning to her all wet food diet. I think she thinks she’s going to get some dry food any second, though. You can kind of see that thought process on her face when I bring out her dish. It’s a learning process for all of us. Slow but steady wins the race!

        We’re still giving her the Uromaxx with her wet food each day, too.

        Overall, she’s doing pretty darned good!

        Thanks for asking, RM! I hope everything is good with you and your brood! 🙂 <3

        Big hugs!

        Patti & Pink Sugar 🙂 <3

      2. Aw, good; she sounds like a sweetie! INSIDE and OUTSIDE!

        We are also doing good, I finally got over the Flu (and it’s about TIME too!), Nico is also good, Anya is too:-)

        Happy ( be late), New Years!

      3. Miss Patti: There’s no “reply” button on your comment regarding Pink Sugar’s transition to wet food. I had to laugh at her hopes of getting some dry. That hope will continue until she’s a little (little??)old lady.

        My cats haven’t had dry since 2003, and no Greenies for years, yet Zen would always rush to the cabinet where I once kept the dry and Greenies whenever I opened it. She would stand like Charlie, alert, focused, paws together and slightly back, hoping. For 10 years, she hoped. For 10 years, only 12-packs of paper towels, toilet paper and other uninteresting junk have come out of that cabinet. But Zen never gave up hope that maybe, just maybe, something crunchy would fall like manna from heaven. Feline optimism; gotta love it. 🙂

  3. None of mine do that but have heard about it and how they scent mark. Mine love to rub their heads all over the sides of the boxes probably like Patti’s Pink Sugar does. They follow me around the house and sometimes I stay downstairs for a long time. When we all come up here at night to go to bed, it is like they are elbowing each other to see who is going to get to the boxes faster. Then, they get in to do their business and fly out because they know it’s time for their night time meal.

  4. This confirms what my cats have been telling me for decades: I am an abysmal failure, an utter disgrace, as a cat mom. I have had no litter box rollers.

    I strolled down memory lane the other day, counting, naming and remembering all the cats I’ve known since I was 17. Not a single litter box roller in the bunch. Not even when I had the less-than-brilliant idea of filling a kiddie swimming pool with non-clumping litter in the late 80s.

    Have they felt insecure? They’ve always marked my (white) couches with their heads. They’ve chewed on soft and hard woods. But they’ve shown no interest in their litterboxes except for doing their business. At this late date, how do I develop a kumbaya relationship between the grrrlls and their boxes? Rolling would make me ecstatic.

    1. you are so funny! i have never had a cat that rolled in the litter box either and i’ve had cats all my life. i do however have a spot outside that i noticed when i first moved here that they roll in. it’s a rather bare spot with dirt and it’s always a sunny spot. there is a metal post there so i made a little sign that says “kitty dirt beach” i didn’t know really why they did it other than to get dirty. interesting to know that they do it to collect beneficial bacteria. still waiting for your book release..smile.

      1. =) what book would that be? And yes, I have been around many kitties who have a “kitty dirt beach” – including Trigg and Charlie!

      2. yeah i remember trigg rolling in the dirt under the snow.. that was so funny. i saw this cat the other day that lives in my neighborhood and i didn’t even recognize her. she’s a black and white but what i saw was brown and black and i thought.. “wow i have never seen a cat that color before”. then she shook and a huge poof of dust and dirt dissipated and then she was black and white. i laughed so hard and then she went back to this spot and started rolling again. the book.. dementia boy needs to write a book.

      3. oh yes, dementia boy does need to write a book – i don’t know where she is/where she went. she’s disappeared.

        too funny about the dust kitty!

  5. Mew! We don’t ever roll in our litter pans, but our sisfur Bear, does “super fling” litter (scratch and throw out litter like she is digging for China) all over the place every week when Momma changes the pans! Dis does not make Momma happy either, since she has either just vacuumed or swept that room 🙂 MOL!

  6. There has always been a bit of a “stink up the place” argument between my cat and dog. My kitten flicks her litter, rolls in it flicks it about some more. Basically makes a huge mess. But hey, she’s only 9 mths! I guess despite everything, she is still trying to establish her place in the world. The cat and dog “fight” over beds, people, food, you name it. At least since the kitten was spayed she doesn’t spray – that was horrendous stench, from her and the local toms – yag!

  7. Great re-post, Jenny! Well, I’ve still never seen Miss Pink Sugarbelle roll around and dust bathe in either of her litterboxes but she still scent marks the heck outta them (especially after I’ve cleaned them both…which makes sense because I washed all The Good Smells away). But she lurves, lurves, lurves it when I pour fresh litter to either fill up a cleaned box or to replenish the amount in a box between cleanings. All I have to do is shake the litter bag a bit and she comes running to watch me put the new litter in and then she jumps in an sniffs it like crazy! lol 🙂

    Big hugs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarsniffer 🙂 <3

  8. Incidentally, dust baths have been mentioned in this thread, my girl is a house cat, and rolls herself up in nubbly bath mats and sisal runners. Is this an adequate substitute for a dust bath?

    She seems to enjoy being a “pig in a blanket”

    I am happy to provide her a patch of dry soil in the house, until I can get her “catio” constructed for the summer, especially if it be beneficial for her. And if so, what type of soil might she prefer? Obviously fine and dry, but chalky, sandy?

  9. Valentino loves to roll in the litter box- right after I’ve washed it. He can’t wait for me to dry it with a paper towel so he can jump in and roll all around like a crazy cat! So silly…I always assumed he was trying to put his scent in it.
    Sometimes Manolo will sit in the litter box, getting ready to do a number 2. When I offer him a magazine to read, he declines…

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