Whether they do it in the litter box or the garden, we’ve all witnessed our cats carefully burying their poop, and the behavior can seem strange indeed. But burying waste is actually not at all uncommon in the wild, and many other animals are known to do the same thing. Luckily, this behavior is perfectly normal in cats and nothing to be concerned about.
Still, the behavior is certainly curious, and you may have found yourself wondering exactly why cats do it. Let’s take a look at the three reasons for this strange but perfectly normal behavior.
In the wild, big cats are at the top of the food chain, and as such, there is a constant battle for territory and dominance. Lions, leopards, and cheetahs do not have any natural predators to worry about, so they do not need to worry about hiding their poop. On the other hand, smaller cats, like domesticated felines or bobcats, are extremely vulnerable to these apex predators, so they bury their poop to let larger cats know that they are not a threat and present no territorial challenge. This habit has been passed down through generations of cats and is still a part of their natural instincts today.
While territorial disputes with larger cats are certainly a concern, there is more in the wild that smaller cats have to worry about. Predators are a constant and deadly threat, especially if a small cat has a litter of kittens around. Predators have a keen sense of the world around them, and scents like poop or urine are a glaring sign that a small cat is in the area. For this reason, small cats will bury their poop in an attempt to stay under the radar and not attract larger predators.
Your domesticated cat still has survival mechanisms in their DNA, and certain habits are purely instinctual. You know that no large predators or big cats are roaming around the neighborhood (hopefully), so why would your cat still carry on the practice of burying their poop? Your cat is not as sure about this as you are and likely sees you as the dominant member of the household. They’ll still bury their poop to avoid conflict, and this is a part of their instincts that is unlikely to go away.
Also, cats are fastidious about cleanliness, so they may just bury their poop to keep the smell away from their sensitive noses.
What if your cat doesn’t bury their poop?
Since burying poop is such normal behavior for cats, there may be an issue if your cat is not engaging in the behavior. Even in a calm, predator-free domestic home, most cats still see themselves as subordinates of their human owners. Cats that avoid using the litter box may feel dominant over their owner or possibly another cat in the home, and this is a part of their way of asserting that dominance. That said, the behavior is more likely due to issues like lack of training or something being wrong with their litterbox. It may even be due to illness.
Cats may also learn this behavior from observing their mothers, and kittens taken away from their parents too early may not have had a chance to observe this. The behavior is largely instinctual, though, so this is possible but unlikely. Litter box issues are possibilities, as your cat may not like the feel of certain litter or where the litter box is situated, so they avoid using it.
In general, there is probably nothing to worry about if your cat is not burying their poop, as cats are notoriously finicky and the smallest issue may be preventing the behavior.