You might be surprised to learn that you’re not the only one wondering why your cat keeps dragging your clothes away and stashing them in her litter box of all places. The clothes in the litter box issue is one that multiple cat owners have puzzled over. Fortunately, we have answers for you.
So, why does my cat put my clothes in her litter box? Most likely, she is unhappy with the quality or amount of litter in the box and is using your clothes to bury poop to her satisfaction. Alternatively, your cat may be trying to get your attention, following her instincts to move kittens and prey, or behaving territorially.
In this article we’ll explore several cat-specific quirks related to carrying and hoarding, including your cat’s idea of tidiness and how exactly your clothing factors into it. Then we’ll follow up with a few tips on how to keep your belongings out of the litter box.
A Cat’s Idea of Orderliness
Most cats are extremely tidy animals. Some can even be a bit OCD about having everything just so. They want to be clean, and they want their surroundings to be clean.
On the positive side, this often makes training them to use a litter box extremely easy. On the other hand, some cats can be picky about their litter box, refusing to use it or rearranging it to suit them. This may be where your clothes enter the equation.
Dirty Litter or Not Enough Litter
Your cat may be using your clothes to cover her messes because the litter box is too dirty for her liking. Cats instinctively bury their poop and can be very particular about how thoroughly it is covered up. If the litter in your cat’s box is too clumpy or has too many deposits, she may be unable to get everything covered up to her satisfaction.
Even if the box is otherwise clean, your cat may feel that that there is enough litter in her box to properly cover everything. She’s being entrepreneurial in using your clothing instead.
Quality of Litter
Many cats have definite preferences when it comes to the texture, smell, and quality of litter. These preferences can be developed quite early. Outdoor cats may be accustomed to going in dirt. Kittens that were raised on newspaper or towels may continue to prefer them.
Cats can also develop new preferences. If a cat is unhappy with a litter box or has a temporary continence issue and goes on the carpet or in the laundry a few times, it can be difficult to get them back to using their litter.
Covering her litter with clothes could be a hold-over from a former home or habit. It could also be a clue that your cat is unhappy with some aspect—texture or smell—of the litter you’re currently providing.
Sharing and Litter Box Size
If you have multiple cats, the one carrying your clothes around may not appreciate sharing a litter box with them. Piling your clothes in the box could be her way of covering up what she finds offensive. If sharing seems to be the issue, you can try switching your current box out for a larger one or offering a second box.
Insecurity, Nervousness, or a Bid for Attention
If none of the above issues seem to be the problem, it’s possible that your cat is just trying to get your attention. Does she look pleased when you discover the missing clothes and wonder aloud about what’s going on? Is there any reason she might feel that she hasn’t been getting enough of your attention recently?
This odd behavior could also be the result of a recent life change that has left your cat unsettled. A new house, a new appliance or piece of furniture, a change in schedule or family dynamics, another pet—all of these changes can upset your cat, causing her to try to establish order or gain your attention in whatever way she can think of.
Naturally, you’ll want to rule out any health issues that could be distressing your cat or causing her to have issues, whether they are directly related to the litter box or not. Then consider any recent life changes and how they may be affecting your cat.
Finally, make sure your cat is getting a certain amount of your undivided attention every day. This will not only help her to feel more secure and understood, it will also give you a better idea of her emotional and physical state, allowing you to more easily determine the cause of her clothes snatching.
Territorial or Hoarding Behavior
Some cats have an inexplicable inclination to hoard things. Clothes or stuffed toys are common targets. This has led to speculation that cats—especially females—are following an instinct to carry kittens or prey to a place they consider safe or necessary. This “safe place” may be their litter box, their food or water dishes, or under a couch or rug.
Occasionally, a cat’s tendency to steal or hoard your belongings can be traced to territorial behavior. Jealousy over your attention to another cat or person could also be a motive. Your cat knows the clothing belongs to you and is dragging it away either to assert her claim on you or on your belongings.
If this fits your cat’s personality, and none of the more common motives associated with this behavior seem to be applicable, this could be the case.
A cat that steals and hoards not only toys and clothes but also shiny objects like jewelry may be predisposed to this type of activity by breed or personality. Only if your cat seems to be obsessive compulsive about collecting things or is in danger of swallowing and choking on small objects do you need to be seriously concerned about this behavior.
Tips for Keeping Your Clothes out of the Litter Box
Figuring out why your cat is putting your clothes in her litter box will give you a clearer idea of how to stop this behavior. Although keeping your clothes out of your cat’s reach, in a hamper or closet, can decrease her opportunity for carrying them off, it’s even better if you can address the root cause of this habit.
Litter Box Maintenance
First, try cleaning your cat’s litter box several times a day. If she’s trying to bury an overloaded litter box with your clothing, this may eliminate the problem entirely.
You may also want to experiment with different types of litter. Try an unscented or natural option and finer or coarser textures. Make sure you are putting enough litter in the box for your cat to dig and cover her stools to her satisfaction.
If you suspect that your cat simply prefers to do her business on fabric and no type of litter will satisfy her, you may try placing a few paper towels or toilet paper squares in the litter box for her to use.
Dealing with Insecurity and Mothering Instincts
A cat that is upset by a recent life change may just need time to adjust. During this transition period, you may wish to limit her access to some areas of the house. This will help make the adjustment more gradual as well as keeping your clothes out of her reach.
Make sure your cat’s litter box is in a place she is comfortable using and establish a few other areas around the house where she can feel retreat and feel secure. Cat trees are perfect for this.
If you think your cat may be carrying clothes around as an instinctual behavior—using them to replace kittens or prey—you may try offering her a replacement. Small, stuffed cat toys often do the trick. Any amount of time you can use to give her one-on-one attention will also decrease clothes snatching maneuvers for attention or resulting from jealousy.
Sometimes a cat will steal and hoard clothing and other items simply because she is bored. As natural hunters, cats are designed for a highly stimulating lifestyle that they can’t get as indoor pets. Make sure your cat is getting plenty of enrichment by providing an interesting environment and regular playtime.
Again, cat trees and cat toys are great for redirecting your cat’s attention, but cardboard boxes, balls, and pin lights also make safe, easy playthings.
For most cats, placing clothes in the litter box is their way of trying to keep things as clean and orderly as possible, and a tidy, well-filled litter box will make this habit unnecessary. For those that are craving attention and routine, new habits can soon be established.
Cats with strong hoarding instincts or established quirks may be more difficult to discourage but with a few adjustments and consistency, you should be able to keep your clothes out of the litter box while keeping your cat happy and healthy.