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Why do cats cover their pee and poop?

grey cat burying waste in litter box

Burying their waste is an instinctive behaviour for cats

© Natasha Zakharova - Shutterstock

You may have noticed that your cat likes to bury their excrements, but have you ever wondered why they do it? It’s not just because they’re clean creatures!

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

If you own a cat, you may have noticed that they like to bury their waste. Or, on the contrary, that they don’t! 

Neither behaviour is particularly abnormal; a lot of it depends on your cat’s training, their lifestyle, and their health. Here’s everything you need to know about cats burying their waste!

Do cats get embarrassed when they poop?

Many believe that cats bury their waste because they’re extremely clean creatures who are aware that a poop sitting out in the open is unsightly. This is simply not the case. Assuming that a cat feels embarrassed when they poop is personification - it’s a human behaviour, not an animal’s. So, no, embarrassment is not the reason cats bury their poop.

Why do cats bury their poop?

Cats bury their waste because it’s an instinctive behaviour that they’ve retained from their wild ancestors. Here are the main reasons why both wild and domestic cats do it:

1. To avoid detection

Indeed, in the wild, cats tend to bury their waste so as not to leave a trace behind them. Wild cats are both prey and predator, so burying their waste ensures they don’t get detected on either end of the food chain. 

2. To avoid appearing as a threat

Additionally, leaving poop out in the open is a way for cats to mark their territory and claim their dominance over other cats in the area. Non-dominant cats bury their poop to avoid conflict with others.

3. To avoid contamination

Another reason for burying waste is that it minimizes the prevalence of parasites, so it's a way for cats to avoid contracting illnesses. 

4. To please their owners

Finally, household cats have usually been trained to use the litter box and are praised when they bury their waste. This behaviour is usually passed on from mother to kittens, and is positively reinforced by the owners - which could be another reason why your cat does it so religiously.

Do cats always bury their poop?

No, cats don’t always bury their poop. In fact, even if they use the litter box, some will never bury their poop. This isn’t particularly abnormal, as preference varies from cat to cat. 

In some cases, it could be a sign of dominance - your cat is simply asserting their presence and reminding you that this is their turf too. Marking their territory in this way is also reassuring to them. This behaviour can be particularly present after a big change in your cat’s lifestyle, when your cat is particularly stressed or anxious. It’s also common in multicat households.

Alternatively, your cat may simply dislike the litter or find the litter box too constricting to bury their waste appropriately. 

If your cat is in some discomfort or pain, this could also prevent them from burying their waste. Ask your vet to check their general health condition just to be sure.

Finally, while not burying their poop may be normal, going outside of the litter box (directly on the floor of your house for example), could be a sign that something more serious is going on. All the above points could be at the root of the problem, but if you've tried everything and are at wit's end, ask your veterinarian for advice. Your cat may have some internal issues that you don't know about.

Do cats bury their poop outside?

Again, this varies from cat to cat. Though they don’t have litter outdoors, soil or sand will do the trick if they feel the need to bury their waste. 

Dominant cats won’t bury their feces - the stronger the smell, the easier it is for other cats to detect their territory. More submissive cats, on the other hand, will bury it to avoid conflict with others. But sometimes, it’s just a question of habit!

So, what are your cat’s toileting habits?

Frequently asked questions

Why do cats bury their poop and dogs don’t?

Do lions bury their poop?

Where do cats poop outside?

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