Why Do Cats Roll Around in a Litter Box?

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Although the litter box is meant to be used as your cat's bathroom, you might find your feline friend rolling around in it. Don't fret, though, because this is a perfectly normal behavior that has a variety of causes, including happiness and territorial marking. One of the main reasons cats roll around is to mark their territory with their scent. Cats have scent glands on their flanks, tail, paw pads, cheeks, lips, and forehead. Rolling around allows them to deposit their pheromones in a spot in order to claim it as their own.

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Many cats do spend extra time in a litter box.
Image Credit: Mila Naumova/iStock/GettyImages

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Why do cats roll in litter?

Because litter has a scratchy texture, it's the perfect thing to roll in when your cat is itchy. Think of your cat's litter box as a giant back scratcher for areas that are hard to reach. A simple roll in the litter box will scratch that itch and make your cat feel better.

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By rolling in the litter box, your cat may be depositing his own pheromones in the litter box to claim it. This is especially true if you've recently cleaned the litter box and removed the scent of your cat's urine and feces, which he sometimes also uses to mark his territory. So, your cat figures that he can redeposit his scent within the litter with a roll.

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While an occasional roll to scratch an itch is perfectly OK, if you notice that your cat is making a habit of rolling in the litter box, he may be suffering from a flea infestation, an allergy, or a skin infection. To rule out a medical cause, take your cat to a veterinarian for a checkup if you suspect that he is having persistent itching.

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Why do cats roll in the dirt?

Cats roll in the dirt as a form of dust bathing. When cats lick outdoor dirt off their fur, they deposit healthy bacteria into their system to help with digestion. By rolling in litter, indoor cats can replicate this feeling, depositing the dusty litter on their coat before licking it off.

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Rolling around occasionally and licking off a small amount of litter won't likely hurt your cat. If, however, your cat is making a habit of rolling in litter and eating a lot of it in the process when cleaning, a condition known as pica could be at play. Pica is a condition that is sometimes caused by a dietary deficiency or behavioral issue and occurs when cats eat items that aren't food, like litter.

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Why does my cat keep rolling around?

In the litter box or out of it, if you notice that your cat is rolling around, it could simply be because she's happy. Cats sometimes roll around as a way to initiate play, so your cat may simply be feeling a bit frisky and playful.

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Another potentially related cause is that in the past, when you've seen your cat rolling in litter, you've started laughing, praised your cat, petted your cat, or otherwise positively reinforced the behavior. If this is the case, your cat may simply be repeating the behavior to elicit a positive response from you.

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When to be concerned about rolling

Rolling in litter is mostly harmless, but if your cat is spending all of his time hanging out in the litter box, that's not a healthy behavior. If your cat is feeling stressed or sick, he might head off to his litter box to hide. That's because cats tend to feel safe in spaces that hold their scent, like the litter box, when they are ill or stressed.

To rule out a medical issue, get your cat to the vet for a checkup and encourage him to hang out in other spots instead, like a comfy cat condo or snuggly bed.

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