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Cat Behavior: Covering Poop

Why, When, and Where Cats Cover Poop


kitten and litter box

Kittens learn from mom-cats to cover, and may also inherit the tendency.

Photo Credit: © Amy Shojai, CABC

Covering poop is a normal cat behavior, right? Not necessarily.

Feral cats rarely bury feces, and often leave waste on grassy tussocks that elevate and make it even more prominent. They may cover waste if nearer to home and young kittens. Ferals in managed colonies may be more fastidious.

Cat Litter Box Behavior

Our pet kitties do tend to bury the waste but only because it’s so close to home. A free-ranging cat’s territory might encompass more than two miles, so having a litter box across the house is still virtually in the cat’s face. But cats that choose not to cover, or leave a deposit outside the box, may simply be doing what comes naturally.

In fact, one study followed female pet cats out and about, and observed them poop 58 times—and only twice did the cats try to dig a hole first, or cover it afterwards. Roaming kitties may use unburied waste as another form of marking.

Pleasing Humans

Humans have encouraged the behavior in our pet cats, by selectively choosing (and breeding) the ones that are “clean.” Cats that leave their creativity uncovered for the world to admire are not abnormal—they’re just being cats.

If your kitty has always dug-and-covered as normal litter box behavior, and suddenly makes a statement with uncovered poop, ask yourself what else has changed? This may be the cat’s way of sending a smelly signal to other cats (or even a stray hanging around outside the window) that the territory is owned.

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