Cat Psychology 101: Why Does My Cat Roll in the Litter Box?

You cleaned the litter box earlier to see your cat coming into it. However, he’s not doing his business, he’s rolling in it. In fact, the clean litter box seems to make him more hyper than ever before.

Why does my cat roll in the litter box? Cats live in the world of scent and the strongest location of scent exists right in the litter box. When you go to clean his litter box, this removes some of the scent. For that reason, your cat may be rolling in it to return his scent to the litter.

To learn more on why your cat rolls in the litter box, stay tuned because we will cover this in depth and learn a little about cat psychology.

Building a Scent Masterpiece: The Litter Box

We think the litter box smells bad, but we don’t have even half the smell sensors of cats. Believe it or not, cats can smell their own litter box from a mile away. They may use this as a scent marker to find their way home. Sounds interesting? Keep reading.

Some cat behaviorists such as Jackson Galaxy, the star in My Cat from Hell, says that when a cat poops in the litter box, he marks the location with his scent. Believe it or not, this scent makes the cat feel more confident in himself.

If you have an insecure cat, you might add a couple of extra litter boxes around the home to put his scent around the home. For some people, that may not be an option because they understandably don’t want the poop smell. However, this can go a long way to curing insecure and destructive cat behaviors.

Letting your cat build his scent masterpiece makes him feel like he owns his territory. Many times, people put odor control litter in the litter box, and this takes away part of your cat’s sense of ownership. In fact, it can do a lot of harm to him. Cats live in the world of scent with their 200 million odor sensors.

Again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t regularly clean the litter box. However, cleaning it so that it keeps some of his scent can eliminate some undesirable behaviors.

Rolling in a Clean Litter Box

Luckily, your cat does this with a clean litter box. You should never see a cat rolling in a poopy litter box because it could indicate health problems. Cats are clean creatures, and they find many of the same things gross that we humans find gross.

Rolling in clean litter helps your cat to put his scent back into the litter box. Obviously, you need to clean the litter box. or he won’t poop there. Kitty will choose less desirable locations. However, I would advise not using strong household chemicals to clean it. In this way, some of the scent remains in his litterbox, and he won’t feel as strong of an urge to roll in it and put his scent back into it.

The rolling adds his scent to it. Litter is a porous substance, and it holds in the scent better because of this.

What are Scent Markers?

Previously, we mentioned how your cat can find his way home from a mile away using his litter box. It acts as a scent marker. He may roll in it to use it as a scent marker.

In the cat world, scent markers get used in specific locations to communicate with other animals. The least desirable form of scent marking is when a male cat urinates to mark territory. However, this is an insecure form of scent marking.

Another form is simply rolling in the dirt for a scent marker. I wrote about that and some of the reasons they roll in the dirt here.

Cats are territorial creatures, and the box provides him with a sense of comfort. It says to all others that he owns this location. With multiple cats in the home, you will want to give each their own litter box because this prevents problems.

This can stop your cat from rolling in the litter. He’s trying to tell the other cats that he owns this space.

Other Reasons He Rolls in the Litter Box…

Now that I covered the main reason that your cat rolls in the litter box, I would like to cover some of the lesser reasons kitty might be blessing the litter box. In the cat world, you should understand how nothing is random. However, cats often do things for multiple reasons. Let’s cover some of them.

Scratching an Itch

Depending on the type of litter, it may help him scratch an itch. Cats can’t as easily reach certain places to itch themselves. Because of that, they may resort to rolling on uneven surfaces like kitty litter or concrete. I wrote about cats rolling on concrete here.

You can also buy him a scratching post, such as Coching Cat Scratcher Cardboard Cat Scratch Pad. This can help your cat to roll on the cardboard, rather than in the litter box for scratching those difficult to itch locations.

Dust Bathing

Your cat may roll in clean litter because it provides him with a form of dust bathing. It’s similar to the reasons why he might roll in dirt. He can dust bathe in this way. In addition, when he goes to clean his fur, he will consume healthy bacteria that can help him with digestion.

Beware of if your cat begins to eat dirt or litter, however, because this could indicate health problems with his digestion system. He’s trying to put the bacteria back into his gut to aid digestion. You may want to take him to a vet.

Dust bathing in the litter box becomes especially common when cats don’t have access to the outdoors. They can’t roll in the dirt, so they might use the litter as a substitute. When a cat doesn’t have access to this, they will dust bathe wherever they have access to a place for it.

Because Litter Box Rolling is Fun

When my cat does this, I’ve never seen a happier cat. I don’t even want to ruin his moment. He looks like he’s having a heyday. Your cat may be rolling in the litter box because he likes to play in it. That will make it a hard behavior to root out, but changing the characteristics of the litter may help.

How Do You Stop the Cat from Rolling in the Litter Box?

Unless he’s rolling in a poopy litter box, I wouldn’t consider this behavior particularly harmful to your cat. However, if you find it disturbing, you have a few things that you can do to stop his litter box rolling.

First, change the litter type. This becomes especially helpful if he’s dust bathing in it. You want it very different from the current litter. Look for a litter that doesn’t give off a lot of dust. Make the change slowly because you don’t want the cat to protest and boycott the litter box for other locations.

Let’s give an example of how to change the litter type. If your cat’s litter is pellet litter, change it to sandy litter. If it’s the other way around, do it the other way. This works because it may change what originally attracted him to roll in the litter.

Switch the Litter Box Size

Large litter boxes especially have a problem with cats that like to roll in it for dust bathing. You might buy a smaller box to keep him from enjoying a good roll. Keep in mind, however, this may mean that you will have to clean it more often.

Small and covered litter boxes may stop the behavior, but you should watch out for one thing. You need to clean a covered litter box more often because the scents can get trapped in the box. While this may sound like a good thing, it could become too strong and stop your cat from using it altogether. Clean it more often to keep kitty using it.

Use Scent Markers around the Home

Litter boxes aren’t the only scent markers around the home. The cat bed, for example, serves as another scent marker. Scratching posts serve as another scent marker because he has scent glands between his claws. When he scratches at the post, it marks the area with his scent, which may stop him from rolling in the litter.

Add extra scent markers around the home to keep your cat’s scent throughout the home. It will give him confidence. You can’t change your cat from marking with his scent. However, you can stop some of the less desirable scent-marking behaviors.

Is it normal for cats to roll in their litter box? Cats may roll in the litter box as a way to get their scent back into it. Consider it normal cat behavior, and usually, they do it with the intention of using their litter box as a scent marker. Basically, it helps them to mark their territory. It can also help them to navigate.

How can I get my cat to stop laying in the litter box? To keep your cat from laying in the litter box, provide him with more attractive options. For example, cats love high perches or places where they can climb to look down on their territory. This gives him a better spot than the litter box.


Overall, this isn’t a harmful cat behavior, and I wouldn’t worry about it. Unless he rolls in dirty kitty litter, then it’s time to find a solution. Most cats, however, would be revolted at the thought of rolling in dirty kitty litter.

The one exception to this rule is kittens. Kittens haven’t yet learned what is gross and what isn’t. Because of that, they may start out rolling in the used litter box as a form of play. Luckily, he will quickly learn that there are better ways to have fun.

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