Reason Why Domestic Cats Dig And Scratch In The Litter Tray

Cat in litter box
Cat in litter box. Photo in public domain.
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The old man of the cat world looking positively ancient gives his thoughts on cat digging and scratching in the litter box. Domestic cats do create hierarchies. There are dominant and subordinate domestic cats when they live in groups such as in feral cat colonies. This is what guides me in answering the query as to why cats mess around digging and scratching (covering) in the litter tray. A cat’s scent is her identity. Burying faeces is erasing identity which prevents a challenge taking place by a subordinate cat towards a dominant cat.

Jackson Galaxy calls it a Mojo mystery. But I don’t think it is a mystery (unless I am wrong of course which is possible of course). This feline behaviour is about covering faeces which must be about suppressing scent unless we conclude that it is about personal hygiene but I don’t go for that answer.

I just felt like doing a video. It is deliberately of low image quality because it has to be less than 8mb to allow WordPress to run it. If it is bigger I have to upload to YouTube and embed it and I don’t want to do that.

Please share your thoughts on this aspect of feline litter box behaviour. Jane calls them diggers and coverers. I agree, it varies tremendously. The variation comes from how the cat feels about herself in their relationship with their owner and/or other cats.

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2 thoughts on “Reason Why Domestic Cats Dig And Scratch In The Litter Tray”

  1. I found it interesting when watching the Tiger episode of the BBC America series Dynasties last night that the alpha female would back up to trees and spray to mark territory. Obviously no digging and covering up. And they were real matter of fact about showing it up close so prepare yourself if you watch. She had 3 cubs and no male traveling with them. This is in the desert in Africa in a present day sanctuary. So my theory is that whatever geologic era the first modern cat appeared they were in a part of the world with sand and minimal vegetation like a hiant litter box. We know cats were worshipped as gods in Egypt. Also it may follow that since they are small the first cats that did not get to live with Pharoah in the palace buried their business to try to mask the scent so still roaming big predators would not find them so easily. So the digging and burying of modern day cats is left over in their DNA from their ancestors as a defense mechanism. Just a theory. I recorded the Lion and Chimp episodes of this limited series because it’s really cool BTW.

  2. Some dig & cover urine too.

    I’ve wondered if hiding urine & faeces might lessen the scent for the purpose of avoiding deterring feline prey species?

    When cats eliminate outside, some dig, squat, cover. Some dig, squat then leave. Some don’t even dig, they just do it and leave.

    For females, hiding faeces/urine may deter species who would prey on a cat & her kittens.

    I think the wide variance in how kittens are raised, how cats are cared for (or not), what resources are available et al, has shaped the behaviour of every individual cat. Indoor living with a litter box has complicated & skewed instinct & behaviour dramatically.

    One of my cats, when inside, digs, squats, leaves. When outside, he digs, squats and covers faeces. But outside he sometimes digs, but never covers urine. Often, he just squats and pees, then moves on. Three basic elimination behaviours in one cat.

    I believe a lot depends on the state of the cat’s environment and it’s state of mind at the time.

    I wonder if frantic food covering (often thought to be a product of anxiety) is related to the covering of faces & urine?


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