Cat litter trays should face north or south

Dogs sense the earth's magnetic field
Dogs sense the earth’s magnetic field
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Cat litter boxes should be aligned north to south. You’ll need a compass. A cat will feel more comfortable if she can make a poop or pee while facing the North or South Pole.

That is the deduction I make based on recent research carried out with dogs. But I am being flippant about the results of careful research which is interesting and important and which confirms the ability of the dog amongst several mammalian species to sense or detect the Earth’s magnetic field.

People believe that certain animals navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field when travelling long distances. A migrating bird is the best example. Cats that are lost and find their way home over long distances are another example. There are many of these cases.

The general consensus amongst the cat experts is that cats navigate by sensing the Earth’s magnetic field. They are able to feel where north, south, east and west are. The cat can probably then compare it to the direction they took in getting to where they are. The magnetic field would be a reference point allowing them to retrace their steps and get home. I am speculating but it makes good sense.

Although the research that I refer to was conducted with dogs there is good reason to believe that the same or similar conclusions would have been made with cats or some other mammals.

In the research, 70 dogs where observed defecating and urinating. The direction of the body was noted. Variables, such as the position of the sun, were taken into account and eliminated. There were 1,893 observations of defecation and 5,582 observations of urination.

The researchers were unable to come to a conclusion as to whether a dog consciously detected the magnetic field or whether it was sensed as a feeling, thereby making the dog feel more comfortable when aligned north to south. Dogs actively avoided east-west alignment when pooping and peeing.

If magnetic-field-sensing-animals feel more comfortable aligned N-S when doing certain things, it begs the question whether this knowledge should be used to improve cat caretaking. It is too early to decide that. However, I am thinking, for example of sleeping quarters. Does your cat always sleep in a certain direction? Perhaps you can’t tell because she is curled up but is she curled up in the same way each time? This a story that may throw up some new articles in the future.

One last point: can humans sense the Earth’s magnetic field? I don’t know but I believe some people can or are more able to tap into that skill. Some people are able to “get their bearings” better than others. Some drivers don’t get lost while others do. Is this something to do with sensing the Earth’s magnetic field?

Here is the summary of the research I have referred to:

Dogs sense feel or see the Earth's magnetic field
Dogs sense feel or see the Earth’s magnetic field

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12 thoughts on “Cat litter trays should face north or south”

  1. Yes, my kitty’s litter tray faces north south only because that’s the way it fits. When pooping my kitties face south, when weeing they face north. All 3 of my kitties do it.

  2. Cats have magnetoreception. For sure. I was just cuddling my kitty in my office chair, cheek to cheek, with her nose pointed due south. When I slowly rotated the chair clockwise, she ever-so-slightly pulled her cheek away from mine. When I slowly rotated the chair counter-clockwise, she slowly rotated her cheek pushed up against mine again. I wasn’t spinning the chair fast – at all. no other part of her body moved. I wasn’t moving my body at all, just rotating the chair. I thought I’d seen similar behavior in the past while holding her. She definitely preferred to point her little nose due south, whether or not that’s what she knew she was doing.

    • Alex, that is fascinating. I am pleased you stopped to make a comment. The stories of lost cats finding their way home are it appears based on the cat’s ability to sense north and south or as you say cats have “magnetoreception”. I have never heard of that term before.

      • Even creepier? I just asked Siri for a compass and checked… she definitely preferred her nose to be pointed DIRECTLY at magnetic South.

        Imagine how many other scientific discoveries we could make if we just cuddled our pets more?

        Regardless, if I can help prove the existence of magneto-perception in cats… would that make me a pussy magnet?


  3. So if you and your dog (or cat) are lost in the woods, just watch which way your pet orients himself to poop and you have a natural compass. Except you don’t know for sure between north or south– he might not orient his nose to the north. Monty’s litterbox is north south. That’s just how it fit in his room. But outside I would say nine out of ten times he orients himself north south to poop or pee. He lays down in any orientation which will best let him know if someone makes a move toward the kitchen inside and outside in whatever place conceals him from prey so he might have a chance of catching something. This often is facing west, next to the garage.

    I have a good ability to maintain a sense of direction when there is a lack of any clues. Once after a fireworks show shot off a barge and an island we got lost in the fog towing the barge back to shore. I knew where we were the whole time, but no one would listen to me. I do well getting out of the woods where there is no path. I do less well actually when you have to navigate actual roads. Never can find my car at the mall. But with no other cues to distract, like you have on a fogged in lake, I can find my way. I wish I had been more confident that night to insist that I did know where we were. But a part of me thought, ” What if I’m wrong?” Next time I’m going to be my pushy self. But hopefully there won’t be a next time.

  4. Very interesting Michael and it’s good you have brought this to notice because now I wonder how much money was spent on this seeming to me pointless research? Money which could have been spent on homeless animals, on neutering animals to prevent more unwanted, or on educating ignorant people as to the fact that animals are living, breathing, feeling creatures.
    Has every mystery of Nature to be researched by people who have nothing better to do?
    Animals, cats in particular, are far cleverer than any human being and we will never know all their secrets.

    • Thanks, Ruth AKA. I was about to write something similar.
      This (sorry to those who care) mundane research couldn’t have been carried out anywhere but the old USA! I’ll pass the word to my dog loving friends which way they must position their dog to poop.
      I wonder how may millions of dollars taxpayors shelled out for this nonsense.

    • Good point about money. I think, though, that there will be some benefits for animals because it is one more bit of information that tells people that animals have abilities that we apparently don’t. That may help some people to respect animals a bit more, which in turn should indirectly improve animal welfare.

  5. Well I’ve seen everything now! “Is nothing private?” dogs and cats might ask! Or maybe it’s April 1st already. Can’t possibly comment on which direction Walter and Jo face when answering the call of nature as they rarely do it in their trays(all of which now I’ve stopped to have a look at them are placed east to west – oh no!) only when they’re taken short during the night which is as rare as hens teeth. And to be honest I’ve never noticed either of them lying one way in particular, they’re usually constantly changing position and rolling over with warm tummies uppermost. There probably is something in the earth’s magnetism theory, lay lines or whatever but whether it influences toileting behaviour – who knows!?! πŸ™‚


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