The Reasons Why Cats Bury Their Waste

If you own dogs and cats then you no doubt have noticed the difference in how they bury their waste. Most dogs are content to do their business and leave it in full view on the lawn, but cats instinctively look for loose soil if a litter box is not available. They choose an area where they can scratch dirt over the top to bury their waste. Have you ever wondered why felines bury their poop? The research about this interesting instinctual behavior is really quite fascinating and there are a few different reasons that cats bury their waste.

Avoiding conflict

Cats are serious about hiding their waste because this action helps to hide the fact that they’ve been there. Smaller members of the species want to eliminate the unique scent that the waste gives off so it doesn’t signal their presence. The urine and feces is loaded with chemical scent markers that signal to predators and even perhaps challenging felines from the same species that the cat lives in the area. Animals have the ability to detect subtle differences where humans cannot. Cats instinctively want to hide their presence from larger animals and other cats to avoid being attacked and challenged in their home environment. We learned that larger members of the species do not cover their waste when they are marking their territory.

Mother cats protecting their young

Cats in the wild have buried their waste for centuries because of the instinct to survive. This is a way of protecting a litter of kittens from predators and male cats who pose a threat to their young. Domestic cats are no different than wild cats. The instinct is strong and even when there has been no threat of harm from predators, the drive to veil their presence in a place is strong. This is why your house kitty will even bury his or her waste in the litter box.

It’s an inborn instinct

Even kittens begin to bury their waste as soon as they are able to do so. Studies show that this is not a behavior that has to be learned from the mother. It is a natural drive that is inborn in both feral kittens and for domestic kittens that are born and raised indoors. Generally, mother cats will not eliminate waste anywhere near the area where the kittens are being raised because of the internal mechanisms that tell them they must keep the kittens hidden from potential threats whether they exist or not. It’s fascinating how this natural tendency is passed on in their genetic behaviors and dispositions. It’s as if they know and understand the threats even if they have never experienced them on an individual level.

It is a way that cats signal intention

Cats that cover their waste are subordinate animals who are not looking for a fight or a challenge. The pheromones that are infused into urine and feces tell all other animals around that a cat lives nearby or has been in the neighborhoods. This is why cats who are prowling with the intention of domination will not cover their waste. It’s one of the ways that they mark their territory and it tells other felines that this is their turf. A Tomcat who is looking for a challenge may spray the bushes or the ground in a certain area to send the message to other cats.

Cats are clean animals

Humans love to have cats as pets because most of them meticulously clean themselves and they try to cover their waste to prevent the odors from sending out the message that they are present. This is also a way of pleasing their owners. Humans reinforce the behavior of cats. They love the fact that they cover their waste.

Why some cats don’t bury their waste

Now that we have a firm understanding of why cats bury their waste, it’s important to know what to think when your cat stops burying his waste. Even cats who have been consistent with covering elimination with kitty litter or dirt may suddenly stop doing it, leaving their waste in full view, or even peeing on things in the house. There are usually very good reasons for this abrupt change in behavior. If your cat senses that there is a stray hanging around outside, he may feel the need to mark his own territory and let other cats know that he is present and up for a challenge.

Other reasons your cat might not cover waste

If your cat has begun leaving his or her waste out in plain view there could be a few other reasons for doing so and it could be sending an important message. Other issues may prevent your cat from burying his waste that needs your attention. If the litter box is too full there may not be room for him to scratch the litter over the waste.

Some cats are particular and they prefer to use a somewhat clean litter box so make sure that you keep it properly cleaned out with fresh litter. Another reason that your cat may stop covering waste is if there is a medical issue. While there are some cats (although rare) that do not cover their waste regularly, most do. If your cat is having abdominal issues or problems with the urinary tract, he or she may stop making the effort to cover their waste, and it could mean that they need to go in for a medical checkup to find out what’s going on.

Final thoughts

Most cats cover their waste because it is a nature-driven instinct to hide their presence from challenging cats or from larger predators. They like to fly under the radar so to speak. You can learn a lot by your cat’s bathroom habits and if they change suddenly, it could be a sign that your cat is not feeling well or is picking a fight with a stray that is in the area. Cats are creatures of habit who usually have a reason for everything they do.

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