Why doesn't my cat cover or bury her poop?
There are a thousand reasons why someone might choose a pet cat over a pet dog, but high up on the list has got to be the fact that cats use a litter box.
Walk down the street and if someone coming towards you has a dog on a leash, chances are they’re carrying a little bag of poo, too.
If you get a cat, you expect to have the cat use a litter box, and then neatly cover his own messes up. You don’t have to see it, and if you have the right kind of litter, you might not have to smell it either.
But what if your cat doesn’t share your ideas about toileting, and walks away after doing his business without covering it up? Is there something wrong with your cat?
Wild cats don’t bury their poop
Cats – both wild and domestic – and humans do not share the same idea about poop in general.
To us, poop is gross and meant to be disposed of immediately, sooner if possible. To cats, and many other animals, poop is a form of communication.
Mountain lions, for example, only bury their poop under particular circumstances. Mostly, they build a little hill and then deposit their poop on top, for all the world to see and smell. According to Mountain Lion Foundation, cougars create “scrapes” – little piles of dirt and leaves – all over their home range, but especially at the borders or where one cat’s territory overlaps another. They pee and poop on top of the scrape. The poop-covered scrape is a smelly way for a male cougar to advertise his dominance and keep other cougars from trespassing. This, in turn, increases his chances of breeding with the local female cougars and decreases the chance that his cubs will be harmed by an intruding male.
There’s a whole chapter on “Pheromones of Tiger and Other Big Cats” in the Neurobiology of Chemical Communication that explains how big cats communicate through chemicals that they release into the environment in urine, feces, and other gland secretions. The great thing about unburied poop is that it sends a message that sticks around even when the animal has left the area. Poop pheromones might tell other cats about the age, health, and sexual status of the one who left it behind. This is important information in the cat world.
And yet, some wild cats do bury their poop. Female cougars with cubs will hide their poop, and that of their babies, in leaves and dirt, often near a kill site, presumably to hide their scent. Small cats living in a territory with bigger cats might bury their poop as a way to say “I’m not a threat and I’m not claiming this territory.”
Why do our pet cats bury their poop?
If wild cat behavior is any indication, leaving poop uncovered is “normal” behavior for cats. So why do our house cats typically clean up after themselves?
There are two possible reasons.
- Some behaviorists think that house cats who cover their feces are doing so because they view their human companions as dominant, or because they feel dominated by other cats in the neighborhood or in their house. The “coverers” are like the small wild cats, or the mother cougars who cover their poop for their own protection.
- It’s believed we may have bred the tendency to bury poop into cats ourselves. We humans prefer “clean” cats and so we may have selectively bred those animals with a propensity for covering up.
Why is my cat suddenly leaving his poop uncovered?
If it’s natural for cats to leave poop exposed, should you worry if your cat, a reliable coverer, suddenly stops?
There are medical and behavioral reasons why a cat may change his behavior and these are worth addressing.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 "Sign: Evidence of a Lion's Presence." Mountain Lion Foundation. https://mountainlion.org/2010/01/01/sign-evidence-of-a-lions-presence/.
 Fiorella, Linda. "Why Does My Cat...Not Cover Her Poop?" 8 Mar 2012. VetStreet, vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/why-does-my-cat-not-cover-her-poop.