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Why do Cats Bury Their Poop?

cat health Cats


Dogs bury bones. Squirrels bury nuts. Cats bury their poop. It’s a natural instinct that affects cats on a global level throughout as many generations as we can track. But why they bury their poop isn’t just a feline tendency for cleanliness. Explore this ritual with us and find out more about the kitty waste disposal system.

A System of Territory Marking

Why do Cats Bury Their Poop? Vet OrganicsWe mistake a lot of cat behaviors for territory marking. Licking, pawing, kneading, and rubbing are among some of the top everyday activities our feline friends act on that we may assume are affection and territorial. Those acts are both, as well as a communication system we can decode if we listen closely. However, for cats, burying poop is mostly territorial. Cats can tell their waste apart from other cats. Just like wild cats, they will bury their feces to keep from being discovered or followed. This is especially useful for cats who want to avoid bringing predators home to their kittens.

In the wild, dominant cats will not bury their poop as a sign of their ownership of the area. In our homes, cats bury their poops as a way to communicate that they understand we, their trusted guardians, are the alpha cats. In a situation where Fluffy doesn’t use the litter box, it could be because they consider themselves to be dominant. Although, this should be out go-to explanation. Cats will also go without using the litter box if it’s dirty, they don’t like the litter, or the box is difficult to access.

Kitties Who Don’t Use The Litter Box

A kitty who doesn’t use the litter box might also be showing signs of distress or health problems. Avoiding the litter box can be indicative of a urinary tract infection, a stomach problem, or constipation. Checking on other factors, such as location, litter quality, available food and water, and perhaps a vet visit, can clear up confusion.

Why do Cats Bury Their Poop? Vet OrganicsIf a cat-companion has never used a litter box, it could be because he or she doesn’t know how. As guardians, it’s our job to help them understand and to train them. The only way kittens learn without our guidance is if they were with their mom long enough to learn the proper way to poop from her. In fact, sometimes cats will try to bury their poop around the house, rather than use the litter box. This may mean they don’t understand that the litter box is there for them, or they don’t like the litter. Some clay litters are sharp on kitty paws. Some softer litter brands can feel sticky to kitty paws, making them less hygienic.

For those guardians who are sure it isn’t a health problem and are worried their cat just doesn’t know how to use their litter box, training is, in fact, possible. The best way to do this is to carefully pick up their poop with gloves or a scoop, and place it in the litter box. This is effective whether they left their business under the desk, in the closet, or next to the litter box. Their sense of scent is pretty strong, and it shows them this is where the poop goes. We should never yell or become harsh. The learning process can take a little time but it’s sped up when kitties understand this is a positive learning experience and aren’t fearful of making a mistake.

Litter Box Best Practices

Not everyone realizes kitties need litter box options. For one thing, regardless of how many cats we have, there should be a litter box on each floor of the house. A three level home means a single cat will have three litter box options, one on each floor. A single level house

In addition, there should always be one more litter box than there are cats. A single level house with one cat, for example, would need to have two litter boxes. A single level home with two cats would need three litter boxes. One of them represents the single level of the home, and the other two represent that there are two cats.

One final example, a home with two levels, and three cats will have four litter boxes. Each level will have at least one litter box and there is one more litter box than there are cats. A home with this many litter boxes may sound like a lot, especially for those with multi-level, multi-cat homes, but for those of us who live with cats and the right number of litter boxes, we know just how important these options are.

Why do Cats Bury Their Poop? Vet OrganicsCats mostly use litter boxes as a territory signal and a way to keep themselves and their kittens safe. They may avoid using a litter box if the litter doesn’t allow for proper burial of their poop, the box hasn’t been cleaned, or they are experiencing a health issue. Training a cat to use the litter box is entirely possible, but there are best practices regarding the number of litter boxes a cat needs. Remember these best practices and all guardians can get along with their kitty-companions in a happy, healthy, hygienic home.

Michelle Lievense

Michelle is a writer and ghostwriter, specializing in wellness, sustainability, and global social change. She is particularly fond of serving ethical organizations who contribute to a better life for people and animals through humane and environmentally responsible missions. At Vet Organics, Michelle uses her time as a vet tech, her academic studies in animal science and behavior, and nearly a decade working on a ranch teaching animal husbandry to write on a variety of cat and canine health topics. When she isn't writing, Michelle can be found hiking in the mountains of Colorado with her dogs or snuggled up with a good book and her cats.

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