My two cats two quite different behaviors in their litter box behaviors. The male is fastidious and spend quite a bit of time making sure everything is just so. He digs a perfect little hold for depositing his poop and pee and he buries each scrupulously.
He makes scooping the litter box seem as easy as those litter box commercials on TV! You know, the ones where everything is quite neat and tidy looking? Right.
The female, she wants to spend as little time in the litter box as possible. She does not bother to bury her poop! What do we say about a cat who does this?
We say they do not know how to use the litter box properly. We accept that most cats will know exactly what to do with a litter box. And its true. Most of the time, all you have to do is show them where the litter box is and they are good to go.
They may, from time to time, exhibit “bad behaviors” such as urinated or defecating outside the litter box, but this is usually a response to some type of environmental stress. Cats bury their poop instinctively.
Cat’s already knowing how to use a litter box without use having to train them is one of the things that makes adopting a cat so much easier than getting a puppy. You don’t have to house-train a cat.
Why Do Cats Bury Their Poop?
I said above that my male cat is quite fastidious in his litter box habits. Is that is? Is he just being a neat-freak? No.
It may surprise you to know that cats, when living in the wild, do not always bury their poop. As well, indoor/outdoor cats or “farm cats” will not always bury their poop. Wild cats will tend to bury their poop when they are within their territory. However, when they are outside the edge of their territory, perhaps in their hunting range, they may leave their poop and their urine out in the open. They will often defecate, in fact, in prominent locations.
Male cats will “mark” areas around their territory quite conspicuously, by urinating on rocks, trees, and of course, buildings, and anything else.
Why do cats bury their poop when at home, and not bury it when outside their home? Although we cannot prove why they do this, it is thought that burying the feces within the home territory is to mute the chemical scents so at to not attract predators. Whereas when the defecate freely outside their core territories, it is to serve as a warning to other cats. Basically, a keep out sign.
This makes sense if you think about it. The home territory is where the cat lives and sleeps. You don’t want to leave billboards all over your territory saying “here lives a cat, come and get me.” So they will bury their poop in sandy places or places with loose soil, and they will cover up their urine deposits.
When they are competing for territory with other cats, however, they will advertise their feces to let other cats know they are around.
The reason that cats readily take to the litter box is because it mimics the kinds of places they prefer to bury their poop. If you don’t give a cat a litter box, they will look for what they find to be an appropriate place. Say, for example, around a big potted plant, if possible. If they can’t find something like this, they will find whatever way they can to “conceal” their poop.
Are Cat’s Born Knowing to Bury their Poop?
Cats display an innate tendency to want to bury their poop. This does not mean, however, that they don’t need to learn “how to do it correctly.” Cats learn about burying their poop, or using the litter box, from their mothers, by the time they are about four weeks of age.
They simply mimic what they see mom do. Now, unlike us humans, who have to have parents explain everything to us while we ask “Why?” cats already have an instinctual urge to follow certain behaviors. So, mom does not have to threaten kitten with punishment if he fails to bury his poop. She simply needs to provide an example to prompt him to do what “nature” has primed him to want to do.
Cats who are taken away from their mother’s at too early an age, may not display the litter box behaviors we expect. A cat, when young enough, can pick up the habits of another cat, especially the female mother type, who “takes him under her wing.” But, sometimes, they may never quite get it right.
A cat who is brought into the house and does not use the litter box at all, and possibly just poops right out one the middle of the living room floor, may have been separated from its mother before it learned the proper behavior. Fortunately, again, cats have an innate tendency to want to conceal their poop, so they can be shown what to do even by humans.
When this happens, you have to teach them. There are many good resources on the web for teaching your cat to use the litter box. As well, a very good all-in-one resource for solving litter box problems is Good Cat!: A Proven Guide to Successful Litter Box Use and Problem Solving.