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Why do Cats Guard their Litter Box?

 by jaime on 09 Aug 2014 |
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Animal lovers that own dogs are often familiar with possessive behavior when it comes to the food dish. Dogs that guard their food dish often have food insecurities and can lash out aggressively at those who come near the food. Cats have similar possessive behaviors. Not only are cats known to guard their food trays, it is also common for cats to guard the litter box.
It may seem silly to imagine a cat guarding a litter box, but in reality it is a resource that the cat is trying to protect. Recognizing this behavior and taking steps to prevent it is particularly important for cat owners with children in the home, as well as other cats. Below you will find some helpful information to tackle this commonly missed behavior.
Why cats guard resources
Resource guarding is a natural behavior in all animals. It stems from an insecurity over the availability of necessary items in life, such as food, water, and (in the case of cats) a litter box. Dogs react to other dogs or people approaching their food dish if they fear that it will be taken away or if they view the food as their possession. Cats can react in the same way to a food dish or litter box. However, unlike dogs, the outward signals of litter box guarding may not be so obvious.
Also, keep in mind that with more cats in your home there will be a sense of competition among the animals for resources. This can increase resource guarding or lead to the development of this behavior in cats that have a dominant attitude in the home.
Why guard the litter box?
Your cat may guard the litter box for the same reason that animals guard their food. That litter box belongs to it and it does not want to share that litter box with other cats. Your cat won't likely sit in the litter box to guard it, in a way that dogs would hover over their bowl while eating to guard the food. Instead, cats will stand guard somewhere near by to deter would-be intruders from using their litter box. While this may not seem like a threat to humans, it can in fact prove dangerous for children and adults in the home. For example, with a litter box in the laundry room and an on-guard cat, you may suffer the wrath of the cat if you make your way to the room to switch loads.
The cat isn't afraid of you doing the laundry, but it does associate your movement to the room as a threat to its resource.
Identifying and preventing resource guarding
As just mentioned, the most common resource guarding sign is a cat that stands guard. Litter boxes are commonly placed in laundry rooms in many homes. Cats don't necessarily hang out in the room all day, but they will lounge in the hallway that leads to the room. This subtle sign is meant to show intruders (humans or other cats) that the litter box belongs to them and it will be guarded.
If you have multiple cats in your home, the best thing you can do to avoid litter box guarding is to use multiple litter boxes. Asking multiple cats to share one litter box is likely to create resource guarding and tension. However, placing multiple litter boxes in the same room still creates a potential problem. If that room has just one narrow access point, such as a long hallway, the dominant cat can still guard the room by lounging in the hallway.
Place multiple litter boxes around your home so that one cat cannot guard all of the litter boxes. If you have a one-cat home and still have an issue with litter box guarding, consider placing the litter box in an area of the home the cat cannot so easily guard. This means placing the box in an area that isn't accessible only through one doorway and/or a narrow hallway.

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