Why Does My Cat Not Cover Her Poop?

cat_in_litter_box

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?

Related reading:

How to Prevent Litter Box Problems

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.

131 Comments on Why Does My Cat Not Cover Her Poop?

  1. whisperingsage
    December 3, 2015 at 6:46 pm (7 months ago)

    More from Cracked;…..”Hmmm… that’s strange. Fluffy seems to groom himself a whole lot after you pet him. What, did you have some peanut butter on your fingers he has to get off? Maybe he’s allergic to your touch and licking it makes him feel better?…..No, he’s most likely trying to get your stench off of him.

    Cats have glands that are stimulated when they tug on their fur, that ooze their own scent. Licking the fur kicks those glands into high gear, making him smell more like himself and ridding him of the terrible, terrible stink of you. It’d be like if after every time you hugged your Mom, she immediately ran down the hall and took a shower……Also, have you ever had a cat suddenly start peeing everywhere after you bring a new girl or guy home? Peeing on their clothes, or in the rooms they spend time in? It’s sort of the same principle, its trying to erase all signs of his or her scent from the area.”

    Reply
  2. whisperingsage
    December 3, 2015 at 6:39 pm (7 months ago)

    I tend to agree with Cracked.com
    “6 Adorable Cat Behaviors With Shockingly Evil Explanations……Burying the poop prevents detection by their enemies, but there’s another layer to it, which is that they do it to avoid challenging the dominant cat of the group. It kind of makes sense, if burying the poop is a sign that they fear another, larger animal, then leaving it uncovered would be a pretty aggressive act. “No one here is bad enough to **** with me. Enjoy my s***.”

    So… what do you suppose it means when your cat doesn’t bother to cover his poop?……..Yep, some cats intentionally leave their crap uncovered or in conspicuous locations (such as on a doormat or in your sister’s bed) in order to communicate to us that they are the dominant member of the household, and that this territory is theirs.

    “In the wacky world of feline politics, feces act as little, smelly flags that clearly dictate the boundaries of each cat’s domain. In the wild, these flags are intended to be seen, and smelled, by other cats, a sign that this is the stomping grounds of a badass kitty……When it comes to the shared domain with humans that domesticated cats enjoy, the same territorial rules still apply, so a housecat who leaves his waste out in the open is sending the message to us that he is El Presidente, and that we should be covering up our s***, so as not to offend him.

    And guess what? We do. We helpfully flush away our poop and your cat probably thinks it’s done entirely to avoid offending him. Yes, if you want to take back your house, it’s time to poop in kitty’s bed.”

    WEll, that’s what I thought was going on. I had two calicos that fought all the time, never working it out, One has been here on the farm at least 10 years, the new one came a year ago- the old one has run 6 cats off into the desert just being mean to them and hunting them like prey. The last two beside the other calico, were big males that fought with her all the time. And it was a contest as to who was going to crap where- they were all indoor/outdoor, and when in the house together the long term cats would get behind the TV and crap back there or all over the place, I put a second litter box in the kitchen- big ones- actually clear totes, about 2 feet by 2.5 feet, with 10 inch tall sides because the males were big cats, and still….

    Reply
  3. Ashley
    September 30, 2015 at 3:51 pm (9 months ago)

    My cat is about a year old, we adopted him from a shelter a few months ago where he had lived for just about his whole life. He won’t cover his poop and it smells awful! He also has a problem where he will miss the litter box and go on the floor next to his box. Help!

    Reply
      • Michelle
        December 3, 2015 at 3:29 am (7 months ago)

        If your cat is missing the box, as in, the cat is in the box, but their rear end is too close/over the side, you might want to try using a covered box. They can’t miss if they have walls around them. It also prevents them from scratching litter all over the place.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          December 3, 2015 at 6:58 am (7 months ago)

          I would recommend getting a larger, uncovered box instead. I’m not a fan of covered boxes,and most cats don’t like them, either. They’re often too small for the cat to comfortably turn around in and do their business, and they trap odors inside, making them very unpleasant for the cat to use. Dust can also be much more of a problem in a covered box, as it becomes more concentrated when cats dig. If you must use a covered box, at the very least, remove the filters provided by some manufacturers. They’re designed to trap dust and odors, making it nice for you, but not so nice for kitty inside the box.

          Reply
          • Natasha
            March 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm (3 months ago)

            There is a litter that has less dust and is lightweight. I use it for my cat, who is a Bangle mix.

  4. Lindsey
    March 24, 2015 at 10:06 pm (1 year ago)

    We adopted a kitten a couple months ago and she has never covered her own waste. We’re going to try different litter, but at this point I’m just hoping our older cat will start burying it for the kitten (like she did for our old geriatric cat).

    Reply
  5. tainy8lo
    February 20, 2015 at 8:43 pm (1 year ago)

    My cat tries to cover it but she scratches/pats the plastic of the litter box instead. I dont know if she can’t see or what.

    Reply
    • ctr
      May 28, 2015 at 10:51 am (1 year ago)

      I have two Maine Coon cats. They are brother and sister. Only the female has the problem that you speak of in your post. She scratches her paws on the inside of the litter box. Then leaves without covering up her poop. I may try adding another litter box, in hopes to fix this problem. Let’s keep each other updated.

      Reply
      • tobi
        June 3, 2015 at 1:15 pm (1 year ago)

        One of my cats does the same thing… we call it “playing in the sandbox” because she sits there attempting to bury it for about a minute straight and never even does. Her stool also smells AWFUL. I came to this sight hoping to find suggestions but don’t see anything that might help thus far. 🙁

        Reply
  6. Faith
    February 17, 2015 at 9:46 pm (1 year ago)

    My cat is a tiger kitten when I got her she was already litter trained and She stayed that way for two years. After that she wouldn’t cover her pee or poop but she would scratch the floor or the sides of the litter box and not get the litter itself. My dad tryed to reteach her how to cover it up by taking her paw and making her cover her mess. My cat still hasn’t covered her mess and in one month she turns three. Please help me! My dad may throw her OUTSIDE

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 18, 2015 at 7:20 am (1 year ago)

      If you haven’t already ruled out a medical problem, you need to take your cat to a veterinarian, Faith. I don’t usually recommend covered litter boxes, but in your case, it may be worth a try. You can also try different litters. If you do that, I would put a second box next to the one you have and fill one with the new litter and leave the old litter in the other one.

      Reply
  7. Sharon
    January 2, 2015 at 10:42 pm (1 year ago)

    My cat will not cover her poo. I live in a studio apartment and it stinks! ugh

    Reply
  8. BB
    December 7, 2014 at 4:08 pm (2 years ago)

    Well, my cat is a little different than most – she’s a munchkin breed. I’ve been chalking that up to her litter box problem of not covering her waste, because she doesn’t always bolt out of the box. She stands on the edge, and claws all around like she’s covering her waste. Which means.. claws on plastic. Sometimes for a few minutes! Which, in the middle of the night, can be annoying as it constantly wakes me up. I use the largest box possible, and can’t even keep the swinging lid on it (she seems to not understand how that works, and refuses to use the box with it on) so I am stumped. I’ve even tried not having a lid at all, but she still claws the edge of the box, rather than the litter itself. Yet (yesss) she will cover properly when outside. And she was about 8 years old, when she first got to do that. I’ve kept her strictly indoors, with an occasion backyard outing the past 2-3 years.

    She is about 10 years old now, I’ve had her for 8. A nine-pound munchkin siamese (aptly) named Butterball.

    Any suggestions on if this is a fixable bad habit? I will definitely look into a new raw diet as posted above, to cut down the smell at least.

    Reply
  9. LuLu
    November 5, 2014 at 3:29 am (2 years ago)

    So my cat (1 years old) doesn’t poop his litter box at all but he pees and covers it. I feed him approximately 2-3 times a day and he drinks regularly, and he only poops outside. I don’t understand why he is doing this, the vet said there was no problems with his bowel system but he almost refuses his litter box unless he needs to pee. Any advise????

    Reply
  10. Jackie
    November 3, 2014 at 10:41 pm (2 years ago)

    my cat is 17 and for the last 6 months just pees in the litter box then walks through it and throughout the day the pee just pools at the front of the litter, so I constantly have white paw marks all over my house why ?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 4, 2014 at 6:42 am (2 years ago)

      Take your cat to the veterinarian, Jackie. Any change in litter box behavior can be an indicator of a medical problem.

      Reply
    • Laura
      May 31, 2016 at 9:04 am (4 weeks ago)

      Jackie, I know this is an old thread. Just curious what was wrong with your cat to walk through the pee? My cat is 17 and she’s been doing the same for over 2 years now. She has kidney disease, but it’s manageable. She also has arthritis. It’s beyond frustrating as well as unsanitary and I’m at my wits end. I have to have a box with high sides because she will pee outside of the box, even if she’s in the box, but many times she misses at the entrance and pees all over a puppy pad I have to have on the floor. The vets don’t understand exactly why she’s doing this and I don’t know what to do about it. You’re the first person I have found online that had a similar problem.

      Reply
  11. Tommy
    August 20, 2014 at 6:13 pm (2 years ago)

    My cat doesn’t cover her poop at all, I wouldn’t mind so much but her poop smells really, really bad. She eats Iams biscuits.
    The smell is so bad it can wake me up from my sleep when it drifts in from the bathroom.

    Help!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 20, 2014 at 6:15 pm (2 years ago)

      Switch your cat to a grain-free canned or raw diet. You will be surprised at the change in her stool. The stool of cats who are fed a raw diet barely smells at all.

      Reply
      • Tommy
        August 26, 2014 at 3:28 am (2 years ago)

        Ingrid you genius! Her poo had never smelt better and she’s covering up! Thank you.

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          August 26, 2014 at 6:37 am (2 years ago)

          I’m so glad it worked!

          Reply
        • Maha
          November 16, 2014 at 9:47 am (2 years ago)

          Hi can I know what did you switch your cat to. I don’t know what raw diet is. I’ve been using royal Canin sensitivity control because my cat throws up from anything else. If you don’t mind sharing what you feed ur cat, might help me with the smell issue. My cat just started to not cover his pee, still covers the Poop but still smells

          Reply
          • Tommy
            November 16, 2014 at 6:30 pm (2 years ago)

            Hi Maha

            I bought Hills Science Diet Adult Grain-Free for my car and it instantly stopped the smell and soft stools.

          • Ingrid
            November 16, 2014 at 6:43 pm (2 years ago)

            I do not recommend any of the Hill’s diets. These diets contain by-products and fillers that are not bio-appropriate for an obligate carnivore.

          • whisperingsage
            December 19, 2014 at 6:12 pm (2 years ago)

            In response to Tommy
            Agreed- Science diet is corn based and costs a mint for corn based. We feed lamb and rice dog food actually so the dog don’t crave cat food because they are all getting a good high pro meat based food. In addition we feed raw livers and raw organs when we slaughter (we are a small hobby farm). Raw livers are like giving them a regular vitamin Pill.

  12. Molly
    July 11, 2014 at 9:33 pm (2 years ago)

    I just don’t understand why my cat does not cover his poop when he uses the litter bix, but when he is outside, he goes on & on & on & on burying it.
    When he poops in the litter box, immediately afterwards he just bolts, like the devil himself is after him.
    Bizarre
    >^..^<

    Reply
    • De De
      July 12, 2014 at 11:57 am (2 years ago)

      It could be a few things. (1) A show of dominance. But it sounds like (2) your kitty hates the scent or texture of his litter. Could it be that covering things in the litter box kicks up tons of perfumes or dust? Have you tried changing litters? Recently, Jackson Galaxy put like five boxes down with five different types of litter in one person’s home. The kitty picked which one it liked by using it the most. Another thought is (3) he may not feel safe in the litter box. Is it located near a window, where things (real or imagined) can move by it? Is it someplace in a high traffic area and he can be startled? Maybe you have one more than one kitty, and you need more than one box?

      Reply
  13. JJ
    May 1, 2014 at 5:57 am (2 years ago)

    I have had my ragdoll for more than seven years. Two months ago, I got a Persian kitten. My cat did not take to him very well, but now she plays with him at times. I have noticed that my cat for a while now, has not been covering her stool in the litre tray at night. The stool looks healthy and my cat eats well, but I am wondering could the behaviour be something else.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 1, 2014 at 8:20 am (2 years ago)

      Your cat may be marking her territory by not covering her stool, JJ. Do you have more than one litter box? With two cats, you should have at least two litter box, ideally, you should have three (the rule of thumb is the number of cats plus one).

      Reply
  14. holly Golightly
    April 19, 2014 at 11:42 am (2 years ago)

    I didn’t know it was a problem- I just thought Prince Pangur was proud of his achievement and wanted his artwork viewed.

    Reply
  15. Marty
    April 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm (2 years ago)

    Stick ups or any scent device is sufficient in our home until one of the other cats decides to bury it !!

    Reply
  16. Elines Acevedo
    December 31, 2013 at 1:46 pm (2 years ago)

    My girl Romy doesnt do a very good job covering her poo with litter. She really tries but, instead of moving the litter from inside the box she tries to dig from outside the box. Sometimes she will even bring small towels or objects and bring them into the box to cover her poop. At first i thought that she needed a bigger box so we got her one that was big enough for her to turn around and stretch in every direction and with higher walls, didnt help. Then we got her a closed box. Wont use it. Ah well, now we just try not to leave anything thrown around that she might drag into the litter box and we try to scoop asap.

    Reply
    • elena
      January 8, 2015 at 5:41 am (1 year ago)

      Hi My Belinda does exactly the same than Romy and I have tried also same changes than you did. She tries hard but never covers her wastes even she trays with what ever she can find around, papers, rugs but without avail. Luckily I’m at home most of the time and as son as hear her leaving the box I run and clean it up…what a pain… I don’t know her ‘backgrounds’ because she ‘adopted me’ years ago. I was then leaving in a place where she could go out during the day but I always had a box indoor for nights and raining days. Well, she has never cover hers waste but she used to cover her food whit towels…papers…etc. once she didn’t want any more…what a estrange creature! still, I love her…She is a cat!!! after all

      Reply
  17. Joanna
    December 31, 2013 at 4:11 am (2 years ago)

    Wonder if its the name.. Only kitty I’ve ever had that didn’t cover is also named “Amber”.. and she’s almost 23 now..

    Like you said, as long as its in the box (and it always is), doesn’t really matter.

    Reply
  18. Kim
    October 24, 2013 at 11:43 am (3 years ago)

    I have 2 cats. Mr Boots and Ms Puss. 4 and 6 yrs old. Both are rescue cats. Puss is special needs. Boots tends to be somewhat of a bully so I think he doesn’t cover his waste up just because hes making a statement that he is the “top dog” in this house!

    Reply

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