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Ask A Vet: Why Doesn’t My Cat Cover His Poop In The Litter Box?

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All cat people know it. The smell seeps from the litter box, crawling through the room like a green vapor from a Batman cartoon. “Holy Foulness, Batman, did you smell that?!” You mutter to yourself as you go to the litter box to identify the culprit. Lying there in plain sight is a pile of cat poop and you wonder why your cat didn’t bury that stinky tootsie roll. There is probably a reason.

Image Source: Tom Thai via Flickr
Image Source: Tom Thai via Flickr

Let’s talk about what excrement means to a cat. That funky pile is his calling card that announces where he has been. There have been articles on the internet that say cats who fail to cover their feces are evil and expect for us, as their servants, to clean up after them. It’s funny, but not the truth.

In the wild, your cat’s feces would be an indicator that he was present in a territory. The scent and physical presence of the stool would help him declare his territory boundaries. But in our homes, he knows that his territory (your house) is identified and defined for him with physical barriers. He knows there are usually no strange cats passing through with which he is unfamiliar. If other cats were present that might pose a threat to him, he would probably choose to cover his stool to cover his scent, but in your house, he knows the barriers are defined and he is familiar with all of the other creatures in his zone.

He doesn’t need to cover his stool since everyone living in his territory knows that he lives there and accepts it. He might make a little show of scratching after his stool, but it is probably just a halfhearted effort. He turns and looks at the stool and knows it isn’t covered, but just doesn’t see it as enough of a motivator to finish the job. He doesn’t feel vulnerable in our home. He feels like it is a known territory and it is not threatened.

Your cat feels safe leaving his banner waving. His litter box is not a natural environment where leaves and dirt would naturally cover the feces over time. He isn’t worried about a stranger finding it and hunting him down. Remember his stool doesn’t bother him-only you. If your cat does cover his stool, that’s ok too. Covering it or leaving it, are both normal variations for cats living in a home environment, so don’t worry.  But if you notice that there is blood in or on the stool or if you cat cries or strains trying to produce a bowel movement, it is time to call your vet.

 

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Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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