If you’ve ever seen cats use a litter box, the fact that they meticulously cover up their business is a bit of a surprise. While it is obviously very good for us that they do this, it leaves you wondering why this behavior came about, anyway?
Because most cats do bury their poop, it is likely an instinctual behavior. Cats don’t necessarily have to learn it, as they begin “practicing” at a very young age. Therefore, it must be a behavior that had huge benefits when our cats were living in the wild. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be around today.
Of course, scientists don’t know exactly why cats bury their poop. However, they do have a few ideas:
The 2 Reasons Cats Bury Their Poop
1. They Don’t Want to Start a Fight
Poop and urine are both substances that cats use to mark their territory. Larger cats, including tigers and lions, all use these substances to help mark their territory. While cat poop may just be cat poop to us, for our felines, it’s a complicated message.
Feces contain pheromones that your cat can use to communicate with other cats. In this case, it means that “this area is mine.”
Of course, this makes sense, if your feline is using a particular place as a bathroom, they obviously live there.
However, while this may be helpful in the wild, it is not so helpful under human care. In the wild, submissive cats may avoid the area or cover their own waste so that it isn’t seen as a challenge to the dominant cat. They don’t want to claim the area, in other words.
In our homes, our cats are in a similar situation. In a normal situation, cats will see us as the “head cat.” Therefore, to avoid trying to stake a claim on our home, cats will often cover their waste. It’s simply our cat’s way to avoid a fight.
Many animals use their waste to settle territorial disputes, so this is not unusual in the least.
2. They Don’t Want to Draw Attention
Our cats are not all that large, especially compared to other predators. Unlike tigers and lions, they are not the top predator out there. In the wild, cats can be preyed upon by foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and other animals.
Therefore, while domestic cats are predators, they are also trying not to become prey—that’s a very fine line for them to walk.
The best way cats avoid getting eaten is by hiding. That’s one reason cats are so sneaky and prone to loving cardboard boxes. They are instinctually trying to stay safe all the time.
One sure way a predator might spot your cat’s location is through their waste. Predators might use feces and urine to tell where your cat is, which can lead to your cat being hunted. Obviously, your cat wouldn’t want this. Therefore, many cats bury their feces to hide it.
Just like cats hide, they also want to hide any sign that they are in the area.
Of course, cats don’t have to worry about this today. Still, it is likely an instinct that cats just never got rid of while being domesticated.
Why Does My Cat Not Bury Their Poop?
While many cats do instinctually bury their own poop, this is not true for every cat out there. Sometimes, you’ll notice that a cat doesn’t bury their feces at all. Other times, your cat may suddenly stop burying their feces.
There are a few reasons why this may occur. Sometimes, something can upset the natural hierarchy in a cat household, making your cat feel like they are the dominant household member. In this case, they may not cover their feces in order to stake out their territory. In this case, it is usually paired with urine marking and similar behaviors.
If your cat doesn’t consider you the dominant household “cat”, then it becomes their job to keep the territory secured.
Other times, your cat may be sick. There are a variety of different illnesses that can affect your cat’s ability to bury their feces. For instance, arthritis can make those simple movements painful, so your cat may avoid doing them altogether.
Sometimes, stomach problems may lead to your cat not covering their feces. UTIs and a range of other illnesses can have an effect as well.
Therefore, don’t just assume that your cat has become rebellious. Sometimes, it may be a sign of an underlying problem—especially if it seems to happen for no apparent reason.
Do Cats Need to Learn How to Bury Their Feces?
We don’t exactly know. On the one hand, this behavior seems to be widespread enough that it is at least somewhat instinctual. However, there are also cats out there that never bury their feces (and not for any reason that we can figure out). Therefore, if it was purely instinctual, these cats wouldn’t exist.
It seems that this behavior is partially instinctual, but it may also be partially learned. We do know that kittens learn a lot from their mothers over the weeks that they are with them (which is why kittens should not be removed early). Therefore, it is possible that cats learn to bury their feces at this time, as well.
However, we just don’t know how learned and how instinctual this behavior is. Plus, it is not likely that we will have an answer anytime soon since there is currently very little interest in studying this behavior.
We do not have a definite reason why cats bury their feces. However, we can make some guesses based on the behavior of wild cats and what we know about our domestic felines.
Firstly, cats often leave their feces out to mark territory. Therefore, by covering up their feces, it is possible that our cats are trying not to mark their territory, likely because they see us as the head cat.
Secondly, cats may bury their feces to cover up the fact that they were there, which would keep them protected from predators in the wild. Of course, this is not particularly important today, since we don’t have coyotes wandering through our house. However, it is likely an instinctual behavior that kept cats alive for hundreds of years before they were domesticated.
Cats probably have an instinctual basis for this behavior, but they may learn how exactly to do it from their mothers. This explains why some cats just don’t exhibit this behavior, and why some others are just bad at it.
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