Cats are naturally clean animals. They groom themselves, use the litter box without needing to be trained, and cover their waste when finished.
These cleanliness behaviors stem from their natural instincts as both predators and prey.
Read on to learn the evolutionary reasons for your cat hiding its poop and what would cause it to no longer hide its waste.
5 reasons why your cat hides its poop
Unlike dogs that seem very distant from their wolf ancestors, cats are still very closely linked to their feline ancestors of the past.
Because of this, they still hold on to so many of their wild predecessors’ predatory and self-protection behaviors.
#1 To avoid threatening other dominant cats
Dominant cats in the wild, like lions and tigers, don’t hide their waste like domestic cats.
Feces carries pheromones that are unique to each cat, and dominant cats want to mark their territory.
However, cats further down the food chain cover their tracks to keep the pecking order intact.
Cats like bobcats and servals don’t want to signal to other, more predatory cats that they think they’re dominant.
This translates directly to domestic cats. Cats usually understand that humans are more dominant in the home, so they cover their poop.
This phenomenon is also observed in colonies of feral cats.
Dominant cats will leave their feces uncovered in easily seen spots, while the more submissive cats in the group will cover their poop with dirt.
#2 To cover their scent from predators
As mentioned before, a cat’s feces carry strong pheromones unique to each cat.
While cats are hunters, they are also prey in the wild and leaving their scent out places them in danger.
To keep themselves safe and hidden, cats try to suppress their scents as much as possible.
Burying their poop in the dirt or sand helps mask their scent, and our domestic cats still do this with their litter, even if they feel safe inside their homes.
When cats hunt, they stalk, chase, and pounce on their prey. To do this successfully, a cat must be stealthy and catch its victim unaware.
If they leave their feces uncovered, their scent could alert potential prey that there’s danger in the area, and they can miss out on their next meal.
Covering their poop keeps them hidden, so they can pounce when the prey least expects it.
Even though our house cats aren’t hunting for their next meal, this behavior is still ingrained in their biology.
#4 To decrease the chance of parasites
Cats have a natural instinct to keep themselves alive and safe, and a big part of that is protecting themselves from illness and injury, not just predators.
Burying waste helps decrease the number of parasites in your cat’s waste and reduces their chances of catching a parasite-borne illness.
Even though the sanitary conditions of your home are much better than those out in the wild, cats still like to take precautions to keep themselves safe.
#5 To be more likable to humans
While domestic cats today are closely related to their wild ancestors, humans have bred cats for more desirable or cleaner traits over the years.
Over time, the desire to cover their poop has been more deeply ingrained in your cat’s instincts through careful breeding.
What if your cat isn’t burying its poop?
If your cat isn’t burying their poop, it’s usually something in their environment that’s making them uncomfortable. With a few changes, you should see improvement in this behavior.
However, there could be potential behavioral or health issues at play. Always consult your vet when any of your cat’s behaviors change.
Here are a few reasons your cat might not be burying their poop:
Your litter box is too small
Cats need plenty of space to do their business. If your cat can’t comfortably turn around in the litter box, it’s too small.
If there isn’t enough room in the box, your cat can’t successfully kick the litter to cover its feces.
While some will still try to cover it by leaving the box and pawing at the litter, many will just leave it.
Larger cat breeds like Maine Coons have a hard time with conventional-sized litter boxes, so consider a larger litter box if you have one of those breeds.
Your litter box is dirty
Cats are naturally clean creatures, and most will only tolerate one or two messes in their litter box before they start to feel uncomfortable.
There might not be room in the box for them to cover their poop.
Cat feces also carries strong scents, and they don’t want their scent building up too strongly in the litter box.
If your cat’s litter box isn’t regularly cleaned, your cat might refuse to use it all together.
Scoop your litter box every day to prevent this issue and give it a thorough cleaning at least once a week.
Your cat doesn’t like the litter
If the texture of the litter makes your cat uncomfortable, they won’t want to touch it with their paws, if possible.
Clay litters especially can get stuck in the nooks and crannies of your cat’s paws. If you’ve recently changed your cat’s litter, this could be the culprit of their uncovered poop.
Take this as a sign that this litter isn’t the right choice for your cat, and opt for one with a different texture.
Some potential cat litter options for you to try include:
- Silica gel litter
- Pine pellets
- Wheat litter
- Paper pellets
- Shredded newspaper
Your cat is territorial
Because a cat’s feces carry such strong pheromones, cats who feel territorial may leave their poop uncovered to let other cats in the area know that this house is occupied.
This is especially common if you have multiple cats in your household. If one cat feels threatened by the other, it may use its feces to assert dominance.
Similarly, if stray cats in your neighborhood hang out near your home, your cat may also use their poop as a territorial signal to these cats.
If behavior like this is the root cause of the litter box issues, you’ll need to work with your cat to make them feel more comfortable and confident in their environment.
This could mean adding more playtime into their daily routine or giving them more vertical space to watch and observe at their own pace.
Your cat is sick
If your cat is in pain, kicking the litter over their poop could be too painful for them to do.
Joint conditions like arthritis and paw injuries can stop your cat from burying its poop. Other health conditions can change your cat’s litter box habits.
While no specific medical conditions would cause your cat to not cover their poop, any change in how your cat feels can cause changes in its behavior.
It’s always a good idea to talk with your vet if you’ve noticed changes in your cat’s litter box routine.
Your cat is stressed
Cats love routine, so any change to their regular schedule can cause stress for your cat.
Recent moves or additions to your home, like a new pet or baby, or even just rearranging the furniture, can change your cat’s litter box routine.
If you’ve made any life changes recently, your cat may just need more time to adjust before its poop habits return to normal.
How to get your cat to bury their poop?
If your cat isn’t covering their poop, something in their environment is likely making them uncomfortable or stressed. The first step is to figure out the cause of that stress.
You can start with the litter box itself. Add a couple of new litter boxes around your house in different locations to see if they prefer somewhere new.
You can also test out different litters to see if your litter is the problem.
Ensure every new litter box you add is big enough for your cats to move around comfortably.
Then, you can try adding new safe spaces for them throughout your house to see if this reduces stress.
Areas like tall cat towers or cubby holes where they can hide when feeling scared are great ways to reduce your cat’s stress levels.
If all of these changes still don’t change your cat’s litter box behavior, consult with your vet to rule out any underlying health issues.
Is it normal for your cat to cover their poop?
Yes, your cat’s bathroom behaviors are caused by your cat’s natural instincts to hunt and survive.
While it might not seem like your house cat has any predators or potential dangers to protect themselves from, the instinct is still there.
This is what makes them naturally drawn to the litter box.
If your cat isn’t covering their poop, it’s a sign that something in their environment and daily routine has changed.
That could be a dirty litter box or a deeper behavioral or medical issue, so it’s essential to monitor your cat closely.
With your vet’s advice, a clean environment, and added care and support, your cat should cover their poop in no time.