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Unlike dogs who will happily do their business in front of a crowd, cats are elegant private creatures who seem to regard defecation as a personal business. Cat owners are familiar with their pets’ quick dart to the litter box, the suspicious glances as they do their business, and the diligent covering of their toiletry.
Cats seem to naturally know how to dig a hole into which they defecate and then cover up the feces. Does this behavior extend to stray and stray cats, or is it limited to domestic house-bound cats who must, by necessity, learn to go to the toilet in the house?
Stray cats show the same behaviors as pet cats. They will cover up their feces if possible. Sometimes stray cats do not cover their feces. Failing of stray cats to bury their feces is influenced by social hierarchies affecting behavior or an effect of health issues altering toiletry habits.
A stray cat does not have access to a litter box and often roams large territories. With no convenient litter box or owner to clean up after them, does a stray cat keep to a domestic cat’s same toiletry habits? Or are their sensibilities not so easily offended? Does the relative domesticity or wildness of a cat impact how and when they go to the toilet? Do stray cats even care if their feces is covered or uncovered? Where do cats learn this behavior?
Why Do Cats Bury Their Feces
Cat ownership necessitates becoming familiar with a cat’s toilet behavior and, more importantly, with the unpleasant task of dealing with a litter box. Despite the nastiness of dealing with litter boxes, litter boxes are still the most viable solution for managing your domestic cats’ house training. They provide a convenient, cleanable means of allowing cats to defecate and urinate.
Natural Predators of Cats
Cats are predators, but they are not apex predators. They are small predators who are often preyed on by larger predators in either the cat family, dog family, large reptiles, or even large birds of prey. To avoid detection, stray cats sometimes wish to minimize their imprint on the environment. A cat that can become a ghost in its territory is a cat that will live a long life.
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These skills and behaviors allow stray cats to escape detection and prevent predators from following their trail easily. One of the ways stray cats minimize their environmental presence is by covering their feces.
The desire to bury their poop is a primitive instinct of stray cats. Both pet cats and stray cats demonstrate this behavior. However, its importance as a survival technique is diminished in domesticated cats.
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Cat Social Hierarchy
Cats living in a colony amongst other cats will cover their feces as a means of showing submission. The cat indicates that it has no desire to challenge the most dominant cat in the colony. The dominant cat may leave his/her feces uncovered to communicate dominance and possession of the territory. If a cat moves into the region and wishes to challenge the dominant individual, he may leave his feces uncovered.
Cat Colony Hierarchy
Stray cats often live in colonies, as it is safer to have many individuals. Typically colonies form because food sources are located in only one area. Naturally, social hierarchies will emerge, and dominant individuals will communicate their dominance by various behaviors such as leaving feces uncovered.
Pet cats may also display this behavior in multi-cat households. Cats in single-cat homes are less likely to exhibit this behavior. However, incredibly dominant cats may continue to leave feces uncovered as a dominance display towards the general household occupants.
Do Cats Bury Their Poop?
Both male and female cats cover their feces. Male cats are more likely to be influenced by social hierarchy. They are more likely to leave their feces uncovered to express dominance or a desire to challenge another cat. Females are more likely to consistently cover their feces.
Does Cat Poop Smell Bad?
Humans may think that all cat feces has the same bad smell, and it is impossible to distinguish between different cats’ feces. Cats have a much better-developed sense of smell. When a cat defecates or urinates, pheromones are released.
These pheromones convey unique information about the individual cat. These pheromones carry information about that cat. The chemical message given by the pheromones can even indicate whether an individual is sick or, in the case of a female, is ready to reproduce.
Do Wild Cats Cover Their Poop?
Lions, tigers, leopards, and other large wild cats are unlikely to cover their feces. These large cats are apex predators and do not need to hide the evidence of their presence in a specific territory. In some social situations, a weak or sick individual may cover their feces and urine as a means of escaping detection.
Smaller wild cats will cover their feces to avoid detection by larger predators. All cats, large and small, will cover their feces if they have a litter of kittens hidden away in a den. The mother cat will try to keep the den and kittens hidden.
Do Kittens Cover Their Poop?
Burying feces is an instinctual behavior in most cats. It is reinforced in kittens by the mother modeling this behavior for the kittens. Studies have shown that cats will learn quickly by observing other cats behaving in a certain way.
Kittens Learn from Their Mother
Infantile kittens between the ages of three weeks and nine weeks are sponges absorbing information and learning. Kittens orphaned at this age are less likely to learn cat social cues and are less likely to learn to cover their feces, especially if there is no Mother cat for modeling the behavior.
Some kittens may still know how to bury their feces because of instinctual responses, but this is not guaranteed. Generally, kittens begin to cover their feces and/or use a litter box at three to seven weeks.
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Cats Not Covering Poop and Pee
Stray cats may not hide their feces if there is no suitable substrate with which to do this. Stray cats living in parking garages, malls, and warehousing districts may live on artificial surfaces all the time. In such instances, the cats will not bury their feces.
Failing to cover their feces can lead to disease spread amongst the local cat population, humans, and other animals. One of the most common diseases spread to humans by cat feces is toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasmosis in Stray Cats
Stray cats often carry toxoplasma gondii and shed oocysts in their feces. Humans are easily infected by the oocysts and can develop toxoplasmosis. One of the most significant risks of toxoplasmosis in humans is the risk to an unborn child if a pregnant woman contracts toxoplasmosis.
A pregnant woman infected with toxoplasmosis can cause severe fetal birth abnormalities and abortion. Other toxoplasmosis effects range from schizophrenia to learning difficulties if infection occurs in babies and children.
Simple hygiene practices to avoid contracting toxoplasmosis include using gloves when dealing with cat feces and washing hands thoroughly before eating and drinking. All vegetables must be cleaned when preparing the vegetables for human consumption. Vegetables may be contaminated by a stray cat using the vegetable garden as their bathroom.
Cat Pooping Issues
A variety of health issues may cause abnormal toileting behavior in cats. Changes in toileting behavior may vary from defecating and urinating in inappropriate places to leaving feces uncovered.
Feline Intestinal Issues
Any intestinal issues may cause abnormal toileting behavior. Diarrhea or constipation, intestinal parasites, and intestinal infection may cause a cat to defecate in unusual places and leave feces uncovered. Impacted anal glands and rectal strictures will also be a cause for unusual defecation behavior.
Feline Urinary Tract Disease
Conditions affecting the urinary system, such as urinary tract infections, kidney or bladder stones, and cystitis, can cause cats to urinate and even defecate abnormally. The pain associated with these conditions affects not only the cat’s urination but also its defecation behavior.
Other Cat Health Issues
Some health issues will affect defecation and urination behavior even though initially they seem to have nothing to do with the elimination systems. Diabetes mellitus, central nervous system disease, fears, phobias, and anxieties can cause modified defecation behavior. Dementia and senility in cats is also another cause for behavior changes.
Cats Marking With Urine
Cats mark their territory through a variety of different means. Spraying urine to mark territory and communicate with other cats is entirely different from urinating for waste elimination purposes. When spraying urine for territorial marking purposes, cats do not cover the urine. Both male and female cats can exhibit spraying, and this is usually done against vertical surfaces.
Feline Reproductive Behavior
Spraying urine is commonly associated with reproductive behavior in both males and females. Spraying as a form of marking is reduced in neutered cats. When marking is related to sexual behavior, the cat will often simultaneously vocalize as it sprays.
Cat Spraying Anxiety
Spraying can also result from changes in the cat’s environment, which may cause the cat to feel anxious or want to assert its territory by clearly marking it.
Stray cats do bury their feces if they have the substrate to cover it. If they live on artificial surfaces, they may not bury their feces. Feces may be left unburied to mark territory and challenge other cats. Ill health and emotional distress may cause cats to have abnormal defecation behavior.
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