Most cats deposit their pee and poop in the litter box, cover it up, and they’re done. So why do some cats refuse to cover their poop?
There are a few different theories. The first step, as with any change in your cat’s behavior, is always to rule out a medical problem. This is especially important if your cat has previously buried her disposals, and all of a sudden stops doing so. If a cat experiences pain or discomfort during defecation, it could explain her desire to get away from the litter box as soon as possible. Painful or uncomfortable defecation could be the result of constipation, a blockage in the colon, or even a urinary tract problem.
If there are no medical issues, the problem may be behavioral.
In the wild, cats cover their stool to hide their trail so predators can’t track them. One theory as to why cats don’t cover is that indoor cats have figured out that this need no longer exists.
Another theory is that not covering their stool is the result of “bad parenting,” or no parenting. Some kittens just never learn to cover their waste.
Some experts believe that not covering waste makes a territorial statement. In a recent Vetstreet article, Dr. Katherine Houpt, a certified applied animal behaviorist at Animal Behavior Consultants of Northern Michigan, explains that cats prefer to eliminate in their own territory, noting that even an indoor cat who’s lived in the same place for a long period of time still may not feel as though the home is truly her territory. “The smell lets other cats know ‘I’m here,.’ ” says Dr. Houpt.
The litter box itself may be an issue. If a cat doesn’t like the location of the box, or the type of litter used, not covering may be her way of getting in and out of the box as quickly as possible.
Amber was the only one of my cats who didn’t cover her litter. As far as litter box problems go, I consider this one a non issue – as long as the stool is deposited inside the box, it’s no big deal for cat guardians to quickly cover it up, or better yet, scoop it and dispose of it. If you have a cat who doesn’t cover and you want to try to change the behavior, you can experiment with adding additional litter boxes – some cats prefer a separate box for their urine and stool deposits – as well as different types of litter.
However, a word of caution: don’t fix something that isn’t broken. Most cats don’t like change, and if not covering their poop is your only litter box problem, you may just want to leave well enough alone, rather than risking creating a whole new set of worse problems.
Do you have a cat who doesn’t cover her poop? How do you handle it?
Photo by Tom Thai, Flickr Creative Commons. Editor’s note: while I think this photo is adorable, I generally do not recommend covered litter boxes.