Cat enjoys rolling in litter boxes - have tried everything - long post

crouton

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This is going to be long so thanks for reading. She’s going to be estimated 3 this year. Has had one litter before I adopted her. We also have two other cats in the home that are her kittens and are now going to be 2 next month.

After we took in the kittens they had stomach issues with the food we were feeding so we installed motion sensitive cameras near the litter boxes to see who was having diarrhea and to make sure they weren’t all sick. The camera unknowingly showed us the momma cat repeatedly rolling in both clean (scooped boxes not necessarily just changed and washed boxes) and dirty litter.

That was late summer in 2019. We have yet to curb this behavior or understand it. We had to change all of their food after having them tested for sensitivities and allergies when we couldn’t find any other medical reason for the stomach issues. Spent much money on many poop tests both cheap and expensive. Never found any parasites or problems.

No one has urinary problems except for the box rolling cat who when we took her in was underweight due to feeding her litter. She’s not overweight now but she’s on the larger end of the scale and has a short torso. She can reach to clean herself...she just doesn’t. And due to the way she squats in the box she constantly smells like urine even if I give her the sanitary trims and lately she gets a full on brazillian (yes picture it ) but still the urine smell persists so I have to wipe her off often for that or the urine dries on her skin or fur creating crunchy fur or hard balls of dried urine. I’ve tried washing her off with soap (gentile Castile watered down), giving her a full bath which she doesn’t mind, or just using various wipes like unscented water wipes, wet towels or recently glandex or furbliss wipes designed for the private area. It only helps until she goes to the box again. I’ll probably create another thread for this but I wanted to share it here as not sure it’s relevant to her. She comes to me every night before bed when Im doing my own before bed washing up and demands I brush her and wash her off or just wipe her with a hot rag. It’s our ritual and sometimes it works to keep her from rolling in the box, but not always.

I keep track of what she eats (they use microchipped feeders), what she does all day like play time or upset time (tantrums), toilet habits, if I wash her off or not that day etc. there is no plotted data point that tells me what makes her do this. I’ve also plotted everything we do at home in the houses of finding some kind of pattern. There is none.

Different vets all say there is nothing physically wrong with her. We don’t have her history so don’t know if she was born on the streets or what before she came to the humane society already pregnant. Outside of this she’s a very happy and loving cat. That’s what makes it worse.

The problem is she does this in both dirty and scooped litter. She rolls around so much that she coats herself in litter like sprinkles on a cookie or cake. Then she wants to be pet, and gets dirty litter and dust all over my floors, furniture, me, my bed. I’m a germophobe and this is my nightmare.

What we’ve tried:
  • Many tests and doctors - no problems found physically no other ailments except some food sensitivities
  • Many different foods (slowly) before we settle on what she eats now as she has problems with certain proteins and cannot eat many ingredients in food. Her food doesn’t seem to be the problem because throughout all this she’s still done it
  • Behaviorists recommendations nothing works
  • Building her a box to only roll in including some kind of filler that’s not litter, if it’s litter she or the other cat will use it. Didn’t work. Tried many sizes of boxes
  • Building her a box with rugs or Astroturf or a nubby pressure point and bath mat in it, didn’t work.
  • Those cardboard scratchers that are shaped like a box to lie in, she lays in it but doesn’t roll in it
  • Many different litters and box styles and sizes. If the box is too small she still does it, she just hangs her feet out the side to fit. Also if the box is too small the kittens step in poo, no win situation.
  • Many different litters. She prefers clay litter to do this in but the other cats will only use clay litter. They reject any natural litter or pellet shaped litter in the long run. We have tried every kind of litter except breeze pellets because they hate all other pellets so I just haven’t tried it yet. The kittens and the rolling cat have scent allergies so we can’t use anything scented
  • She doesn’t just roll in the boxes but will roll on the floor or carpet or bath rugs when happy. I give her her own bath rugs to play with. She loves them but still flies to the litter box to roll.
  • Picking her up and removing her when she does this. She just gets upset and sometimes goes back and lays in the litter
  • Calming aids. All of them, really. Including a thundershirt
  • Clothes, thought maybe that would deter her. She loves clothes! But didn’t deter her. 😔
  • Baths. She likes being in the sink with a slow trickle of water. Doesn’t mind a bath. Didn’t deter her she rolled in the box about an hour later last time I bathed her
  • Trimming her back end in case she was rolling in it to get off smells, doesn’t work
  • Brushing her more and brushing her less
  • Combing her more and combing her less
  • Not wiping her off (I died then but stuck it out for ages I still am grossed out) didn’t work she still did it
  • Wiping her off more, like once a day, twice a day, thrice a day up to 8 times in one day whenever she asked for it by following someone to the bathroom where her rags are
  • Leaving pee clumps or poo in the middle of the boxes, this worked for like a day. She would go in and get mad there is pee in all boxes (hers or not didn’t matter, they all get along great) eventually the kittens caught on and now when I do this they run in to cover it up (thanks guys) and then she’s happy and...rolls in it.
  • Cleaning the boxes less: despite a large number of boxes this creates disaster as the kittens always want to use the last used box and they were stepping on each other’s poo and pee. Not fun
  • Can’t clean the boxes more i already clean a lot, tried cutting back and it doesn’t matter to her. She just waits until she wants to do it
  • Taking her outside on a harness/leash so she can roll in leaves, dirt, sand or on the driveway. She will not roll outside.
  • Shampoos and conditioners and skin treatments, dr says it’s not a skin issue
Some things to note:
  • She always looks around before she does this because I think she knows it’s naughty or at least that we don’t like it
  • Because of this she mostly does it if we aren’t around (in the other room) or are asleep
  • Yesterday she did it at 6 am and again at 8am sometimes she will do it 3-4 times before we realize it’s been done
  • Between 12/30-1/28 of this year she didn’t do it at all. Nothing changed in her routine, food, litter or schedule. Nothing. Then one day she did it again and hadn’t stopped since.
  • She always does this before she uses the box but she doesn’t always use the same box she rolls in. She may roll in box A and walk somewhere else to use box B. Doesn’t matter if either box is used
  • She makes a very happy trilling noise when she does this, she looks in bliss. You have never seen a happier cat
  • I have to wipe her off regularly as she’s one of those cats that leaks anal gland fluid when happy or overstimulated. You can smell it a mile off. Her glands are fine and have never needed to be unblocked or expressed.
  • I’ve been working from home since feb 20 but she did this even before then. My partner has always worked from home since we got her.
  • Sometimes she does it in the middle of the day or evening it doesn’t matter
  • She does it year round so it’s not dry skin from winter
  • She does not do this for attention it seems as she looks very sad when we catch her
  • She has many cat trees and high spots, beds, blankets, toys, outfits. It’s not a case of no safe space. They frequently pile in together for a snooze.
  • None of the cats go outside of the box
  • She always starts the roll by putting her chin down in the box and then slowly rolling over in a somersault style and then rolls back and forth until she’s caught or done
  • Lately she also goes into the box and does a really deep downward dog stretch before starting the roll but sometimes she does the stretch but not the dirty roll
I feel like we’ve honestly tried everything here. Thankfully the kittens have not done this but they walk-in on her doing it and she runs out of the box sometimes when they walk in on her she hits them and runs away. I feel at my wits end and I can’t deal with cleaning her off so many times a day every day or every morning before I can get to work. I’ve recently gotten in trouble at work for needing to take breaks so often to take care of the mess or from having to clean her off in the morning before I can get online.

Getting rid of her is not an option please don’t suggest this. She’s a family member. But I am on a ledge here and feeling hopeless. I can’t live with all of the cleaning of her. I don’t know why she won’t clean her private area off either. She leaves pee smell all over when she sits on things. Thankfully it’s mostly on blankets or stuff that can be washed. Per doctors there is nothing wrong with her lady bits.

Has anyone successfully combatted this? I only find online others that have the same problem. No one has found out why or fixed it.

Because of this Im honestly considering paying an animal communicator to see *** she is thinking or what makes her do this. Yes I know how crazy this is. I have a separate thread on that. What is the urge? I understand dust baths but she won’t do this is dirt or anything and she wants to be cleaned off after.


I have to vacuum my house 2-3 times a day because of this. She tracks so much litter around by covering herself in it. I’m worn out.
 

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Hi there,

I can understand your frustration from your lengthy post. it's a real mess.
I haven't come across such a case, but what I know is the following:

cats need to smell themselves. I mean they need to smell their natural odor in the house. So, are there places in the house that act like a cat-zone? if not, this means that the litter box is the only place where the cat smells herself and that is why she enjoys it.

I have also learned that it is a sign of anxiety that a cat likes to stay in its litter box.
 
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crouton

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Hi there,

I can understand your frustration from your lengthy post. it's a real mess.
I haven't come across such a case, but what I know is the following:

cats need to smell themselves. I mean they need to smell their natural odor in the house. So, are there places in the house that act like a cat-zone? if not, this means that the litter box is the only place where the cat smells herself and that is why she enjoys it.

I have also learned that it is a sign of anxiety that a cat likes to stay in its litter box.
Yes, she has her own areas and blankets that are cat friendly zones and she enjoys rubbing on furniture etc. we definitely leave her scent soakers around.

I’d guess anxiety too if she stayed in there. She rolls in like sped up motion, gets up, uses a box and leaves. She doesn’t hang out in the box or just lay there loafing

if I don’t wipe her off with a wet paper towel or rag she will get visibly upset. When she wants this she waits in a certain spot near our bathroom (which is where she likes to be wiped off) and make noises until someone agrees to go wipe her off or brush her. We give her a choice by asking and holding out the brush or rag. If she wants in the sink with the water on she taps the sink. She’s not dumb which makes this even more frustrating.
 

dalya

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oh wow! that's a very different case then. I really wish I could help
 

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what would you think if this was a person? You’d think it was a fetish.
I had a cat who sat in his box sometimes. It was part of his personality. I know that’s not to the extent of this. She’s also getting attention for the behavior. She’s getting the wipe down and baths. Im stuck between is this your cats ultimate fetish or did you accidentally reinforce the behavior?
 
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crouton

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what would you think if this was a person? You’d think it was a fetish.
I had a cat who sat in his box sometimes. It was part of his personality. I know that’s not to the extent of this. She’s also getting attention for the behavior. She’s getting the wipe down and baths. Im stuck between is this your cats ultimate fetish or did you accidentally reinforce the behavior?
I can never wipe her off right after, so I don’t think she associates the wiping off with it. We’ve tried ignoring it for long periods of time as well. If it were a person I’d ask what the attraction is or if there’s a problem they are trying to relieve by doing it. I’ve tried asking her, she doesn’t answer being a cat and all. But hey it was worth a shot. I talk to her all the time.

Mostly she gets the baths for the pee smell, different issue 😔 but otherwise my house and furniture would constantly smell like pee. As it is I’m doing laubdry daily to combat where she sits
 

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I can never wipe her off right after, so I don’t think she associates the wiping off with it. We’ve tried ignoring it for long periods of time as well. If it were a person I’d ask what the attraction is or if there’s a problem they are trying to relieve by doing it. I’ve tried asking her, she doesn’t answer being a cat and all. But hey it was worth a shot. I talk to her all the time.

Mostly she gets the baths for the pee smell, different issue 😔 but otherwise my house and furniture would constantly smell like pee. As it is I’m doing laubdry daily to combat where she sits
You love the cat, but you’d rather not have the smell on your furniture. If it was me in this circumstance I’d consider making her a catio space. 2x4’s and chicken wire. Then bathe her before she can join the family for social time. The cat is weird.
 

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Hi crouton crouton

I care for a large colony of feral cats. This is the way feral or outdoor cats behave if they feel threatened. For example, if another cat they don't know is near their territory or if an animal they perceive as a threat, dog or raccoon etc, comes too close.

My cats are all confined to a large enclosure and can come in and out of the house whenever they please, so they're not really at threat from other animals. But I have observed a few of them fluffing up and yowling or slinking off and hiding when a strange cat or another animal is outside of their enclosure. Once the animal has gone they'll run to a patch of earth that smells of pee and roll over in it.

Not sure why they do it, but I guess their own smell is comforting to them. Which is why she gets upset with you wiping her off after she's rolled in her litter.

I guess your cats are indoor only? Are there other animals outside that she is aware of? It might be worth setting a camera up outside and seeing if there are wildlife of other cats coming into your yard. Motion triggered water sprays are good at keeping other animals from coming too close to your house.
 
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crouton

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Hi crouton crouton

I care for a large colony of feral cats. This is the way feral or outdoor cats behave if they feel threatened. For example, if another cat they don't know is near their territory or if an animal they perceive as a threat, dog or raccoon etc, comes too close.

My cats are all confined to a large enclosure and can come in and out of the house whenever they please, so they're not really at threat from other animals. But I have observed a few of them fluffing up and yowling or slinking off and hiding when a strange cat or another animal is outside of their enclosure. Once the animal has gone they'll run to a patch of earth that smells of pee and roll over in it.

Not sure why they do it, but I guess their own smell is comforting to them. Which is why she gets upset with you wiping her off after she's rolled in her litter.

I guess your cats are indoor only? Are there other animals outside that she is aware of? It might be worth setting a camera up outside and seeing if there are wildlife of other cats coming into your yard. Motion triggered water sprays are good at keeping other animals from coming too close to your house.
No cats outside, we have had cameras there. She’s not angry (visibly) and like I said she does this when happy and looks in ecstasy.
 

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Some cats really love rolling in dust. One cat we had when I was a teenager would run out the front door every time someone opened it and flop in the dusty area next to the door and roll around ecstatically. She never ran off or went anywhere else, she just wanted a good roll. She also rolled in clean litter, which never bothered anybody, but if she rolled in used litter I can see how that would be a problem.

So I suppose my suggestion would be to have a pan full of rolling dust (sold for chinchillas) and offer it to her once or twice a day (so nobody can use it as a litterbox). I know you said you tried that though. Maybe leash train her and take her out to a dusty spot in the yard?

I don't think she can be broken of the habit, but it can probably be redirected.
 
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crouton

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Some cats really love rolling in dust. One cat we had when I was a teenager would run out the front door every time someone opened it and flop in the dusty area next to the door and roll around ecstatically. She never ran off or went anywhere else, she just wanted a good roll. She also rolled in clean litter, which never bothered anybody, but if she rolled in used litter I can see how that would be a problem.

So I suppose my suggestion would be to have a pan full of rolling dust (sold for chinchillas) and offer it to her once or twice a day (so nobody can use it as a litterbox). I know you said you tried that though. Maybe leash train her and take her out to a dusty spot in the yard?

I don't think she can be broken of the habit, but it can probably be redirected.
Yes thanks for the reply these are all things we have tried. She will not roll in dirt, grass, gravel or sand outside. She is not interested in rolling in a designated box that is left out for her, she mostly does the rolling behavior when we are not around so I don’t think I offer it when she wants it. She’s already leash trained and goes outside on the leash, no rolling.

She already does roll on certain bath rugs on on the floor sometimes, so we tried giving her bathrugs of her ownwhich she plays with and rolls on but still uses the box.

As I type this she was rolling in the box about an hour ago when no one was there to see her (video motion cam) and I haven’t again given her any attention for it or brushed or wiped her off. It skeeves me out that now she’s coated in dirty litter walking around my house
 

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What a difficult situation! How about trying medication such as Prozac? Medication can sometimes help cats with disturbing obsessive compulsive behaviors.
 
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I'm just curious since you mentioned that you wash your litter boxes in another thread, how often do you wash them?
Pretty often seeing as they use them all regularly and don’t favor one box. I’ve tried leaving them longer, it doesn’t change her habit. I also wipe them out above the litter line regularly bc if I don’t they end up rubbing on the sides of the containers and getting dust on themselves, plus if the boxes stay dusty they all have allergy issues. I use unscented box wipes to clean them in between washings. Have tried different ones, none of them trigger her. Have tried new boxes too, different styles or sizes or containers.

The one box she rolls in the most often is in the place where her first box was when she moved in. Then she had two boxes herself, at that time no camera to catch this behavior.

As I didn’t acknowledge this morning they she was covered in litter, she’s been following me around rolling on the floor and rugs.She still has litter and dust all over her and she smells like litter.

Also as I said before sometimes she will go over a month with never doing it and nothing in the house changes. Then she’s back to it once and does it continually. Most recently she didn’t do this at all from 12/30-1-28 and then in the afternoon of 1/28 she’s back in there rolling around.

Her other issue is that she doesn’t clean her back end. She sits like she’s going to, and she can reach it, but she just licks her tail. So as I said in another thread I gave to trim her hair and wash her stuck pee off often. Because of this she leaks urine on the box entry or floor when she leaves the boxes so I have to clean that up regularly.

Because of the rolling behavior every morning my house is a minefield of litter all over and I have to vacuum every box area each morning and multiple times a day. After she rolls in a box wherever she goes she trails litter. I honestly spend most of my life now just cleaning up after her and have zero time to even take care of myself.
 

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Pretty often seeing as they use them all regularly and don’t favor one box. I’ve tried leaving them longer, it doesn’t change her habit. I also wipe them out above the litter line regularly bc if I don’t they end up rubbing on the sides of the containers and getting dust on themselves, plus if the boxes stay dusty they all have allergy issues. I use unscented box wipes to clean them in between washings. Have tried different ones, none of them trigger her. Have tried new boxes too, different styles or sizes or containers.

The one box she rolls in the most often is in the place where her first box was when she moved in. Then she had two boxes herself, at that time no camera to catch this behavior.

As I didn’t acknowledge this morning they she was covered in litter, she’s been following me around rolling on the floor and rugs.She still has litter and dust all over her and she smells like litter.

Also as I said before sometimes she will go over a month with never doing it and nothing in the house changes. Then she’s back to it once and does it continually. Most recently she didn’t do this at all from 12/30-1-28 and then in the afternoon of 1/28 she’s back in there rolling around.

Her other issue is that she doesn’t clean her back end. She sits like she’s going to, and she can reach it, but she just licks her tail. So as I said in another thread I gave to trim her hair and wash her stuck pee off often. Because of this she leaks urine on the box entry or floor when she leaves the boxes so I have to clean that up regularly.

Because of the rolling behavior every morning my house is a minefield of litter all over and I have to vacuum every box area each morning and multiple times a day. After she rolls in a box wherever she goes she trails litter. I honestly spend most of my life now just cleaning up after her and have zero time to even take care of myself.
Have you tried going a month without washing the boxes, doing a full litter change and using the unscented wipes? I only ask because most people do this about once a month and it really sounds to me like you cat is rolling around in the litter in an attempt to get her scent on it. Even though the wipes are unscented they'll still be removing her scent from the boxes.

Apologies, I don't have much to say on the grooming issue but there may be some good solutions in other threads.
 
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Have you tried going a month without washing the boxes, doing a full litter change and using the unscented wipes? I only ask because most people do this about once a month and it really sounds to me like you cat is rolling around in the litter in an attempt to get her scent on it. Even though the wipes are unscented they'll still be removing her scent from the boxes.

Apologies, I don't have much to say on the grooming issue but there may be some good solutions in other threads.
Yes I have tried that, it just ended up with all of the cats covered in litter dust bc they always stick their heads down close to sniff near the side of the box and then get a visible chalky stripe on their dark fur. It did not deter her rolling but made her messier and smellier. And it made things very hard to clean as the litter they like to use can crumble and leave little bits of clumps behind.

I also tried cleaning more often and that didn’t work.at the start of this she would prefer to roll in any box that had just been topped up with litter or got new litter in the whole box. Now in the past 8-10 months she prefers the dirtier boxes and if I change litter, add litter or wash the boxes shesometimes doesn’t do it for a day or two. There is no rhyme or reason to it. With three cats who use all the boxes it’s tough not to have to add more litter regularly. I have to wipe the entrance to the containers regularly because she frequently drips urine on it while exiting a box.but I left it there for a long time once and it stressed them all, out. The cameras showed them all regularly just going to the dirty box and sniffing the pee spills.
 
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Update: haven’t wiped her off all day despite her begging for it. Caught her son giving her an extensive bath 🤭 which is surprising because she normally doesn’t let the kittens groom her for long before she turns the table and grooms them instead.

I’m trying to hold out again despite being grossed out. I did pet her (I’m not a monster!)

checked my notes for the timeline she didn’t roll in the box from 12/30-1/28 of this year and nothing changed. One day she will do it 3-4 times in a day and then nothing for a day or two.
 

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Took me a few read-throughs but I have a thought or 2 on options to try.
Have you tried to have a litter box, with litter in it, covered by a puppy pad? The litter is still there, still able to be smelled and pretty well felt through the pad, but not directly accessable to her fur. Pee will still be soaked up, but you'll have to be somewhat aware when someone poops.
My second thought is to get a "sifting" litterbox, but prop the sifter up above the litter. Pee will go through to the litter below, and she can still try to roll on the sifter itself.
One other thought would be about your cats poops. What is the consistency like? If you can help them be more towards the firm end of the scale, it can help reduce any of the kittens from spreading it all over the house.
 
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Took me a few read-throughs but I have a thought or 2 on options to try.
Have you tried to have a litter box, with litter in it, covered by a puppy pad? The litter is still there, still able to be smelled and pretty well felt through the pad, but not directly accessable to her fur. Pee will still be soaked up, but you'll have to be somewhat aware when someone poops.
My second thought is to get a "sifting" litterbox, but prop the sifter up above the litter. Pee will go through to the litter below, and she can still try to roll on the sifter itself.
One other thought would be about your cats poops. What is the consistency like? If you can help them be more towards the firm end of the scale, it can help reduce any of the kittens from spreading it all over the house.
No I haven’t tried using a puppy pad, I’ll order some and try it but I don’t think she would use it as she only likes going in gravelly litter. I have tried the sifter box but maybe it didn’t sit up high enough.

All of their poops are normal type of firm on the poop scale now after many tests to see what proteins and ingredients give them stomach upset. The kittens still sometimes poop and dig up their own poop or someone else’s poop, turn around and just stomp on it with one foot. Then it gets all mashed into their nails, regardless of consistency. They all have messy bottoms regularly due to never cleaning themselves in the back end. One of the kittens has terrible pooping form and is basically like sticking his butt out horizontally and pooping so it falls down from his booty and leaves bits in his fur or around his bum hole.
My house is just a black hole of problems with these cats. I love them very much so I just keep trying things and cleaning them and trying to encourage them to clean themselves.

They have all had many fecal tests too and never a problem found.The stepping in poo problem is exacerbated because they have all decided they like to go to the bathroom around the same time or one after the other, even if there are clean boxes in the same area or elsewhere. As they will only respond to using clay litter properly and they need unscented litter that is not too fine in grain we use dr elseys which isn’t the best but works best for them. However jr doesn’t always stick to the poo even if they spend 5 mins burying it into a mound reaching up to the heavens.
 

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She’s not angry (visibly) and like I said she does this when happy and looks in ecstasy.
Yes. my cats all look happy when they are rolling too. I think it's comforting to them. The danger has passed and now they smell very strongly of themselves. Do you get regular wildlife visitors to your yard?
So I suppose my suggestion would be to have a pan full of rolling dust (sold for chinchillas) and offer it to her once or twice a day (so nobody can use it as a litterbox).
I was going to suggest that too.
Have you tried to have a litter box, with litter in it, covered by a puppy pad?
Another good idea. How about using either pee pads or shredding newspaper as cat litter? And another box of clean litter with catnip sprinkled in it?

That would give you an idea about whether it's the rolling in dust or the actual smell of the used litter box that she is interested in.
 
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