NORMAN — Dear Dr. Fox: I have been around cats for decades and love them dearly. I would like to offer my insight into a question posed by one of your readers. She wanted to know why her otherwise wonderful cat gets into and sleeps in his litter box.
My firm belief is that he wants to leave his scent in it, marking his territory. The reader mentioned that the cat does this “mostly when I clean the box and add new litter; or if I add a refresher scoop.” New litter (even a small portion of it) does not carry his scent, so he is leaving his scent to let the other cat know “this box is mine.”
I speak from experience. I had a cat, Norman, who would do this every time I put in new litter. He was a most intelligent cat, very sweet and communicative, but he was also an alpha male.
Everything in the house belonged to him, and that included his litter box. Cats are very attached to their litter boxes.
Right after I cleaned the box that he shared with two other cats, he would urinate in it before any of the other cats could get into it. If he could not urinate, he would at least walk all over the box and leave his paw prints and smell.
It was his way of letting the other cats know that this box was his, but they could use it when they needed to.
— Y.S., Arlington, Va.
Dear Y.S.: Your observations on this puzzling aspect of feline litter box behavior certainly call for some cat behavior research studies.
It is surely not a normal behavior for cats in the wild to share the same latrine site, so this sharing may be stressful for some house cats. On occasion, this can lead to one cat not using the litter box. This is why some cats do best in homes where there is one box per cat, even though they may share more than one box.