Why does a cat bury its feces? Well the answer is that they don’t always bury their feces. The question was posed by the well known zoologist Desmond Morris because by and large most domestic cats do bury their feces in the litter box. Mine doesn’t, however, neither does any wild cat that patrols its home range.
“..OK, OK I’m just figuring out how I’m goin’ to bury it….”
Wild cats use scent marking as a sign that the place marked is part of their home range, their territory. They use all manner of ways to convey this to other cats and that includes brut force sometimes. Urine spraying is another method that we all know about. It is all about scent as cats have a great sense of smell and depend on it much more than we do. One small to medium sized wild cat, the Ocelot, creates toilet areas where it does its business more than once. This maximises the scent. There are probably other wild cats that do likewise.
In fact tom cats will do the same sort of thing. My cat always sits in the same place in the garden. The grass is browner there as visible proof. The ground will carry her scent. A tom cat regularly deposits feces right bang in the middle of this area. It is almost a visual slap in the face saying clear off! The level of scent, due to the age of the scat (scientific name for it) also tells other cats when the cat had been there, which allows for overlapping ranges while avoiding each other.
Cats that do not bury feces wish it to be smelled, to give the signal and to make themselves visible even when they can’t be seen. Cats that bury it want to hide the smell, to reduce their impact on the area, to in fact become less visible and therefore less threatening.
Domestic cats do this because we, the cat’s “owner” (keeper is a better word) are the boss cat and the sole provider of food (usually). We dominate our cats by our sheer presence (one reason why we need to always be gentle and non-threatening). In burying its feces the scent is much reduced presenting less of a threat to the boss cat – us!
Now, my cat does not bury hers because she is the boss! She knows that I don’t threaten her and that we are equal. This comes through in her behaviour with me as created by my behaviour towards her. A cat that is less in awe of its human companion is likely to be more expressive in other areas too.
See Wild Cat Species. Each cat is covered and means of communication is dealt with in these pages.