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Behaviourist's Corner

Why does my cat poo that way? Toilet habits explained


Your cat's toilet habits may not be your favourite subject, but it's one you're likely to be more than familiar with. Still, do you know why your pet might like to do her business in strange places? Our expert gets to the bottom of some perplexing bathroom behaviours.


Pernickety poo-ers

Your pet's toilet habits can be confusing, and might even cause quite a stink (both figuratively and literally). Some cats insist on leaving 'gifts' for their owners, often in unwelcome spots, while others may suddenly stop burying their faeces and a certain few need the utmost privacy to go at all.

Four-year-old rescue cat Salty recently decided to swap his litter tray for a beanbag in an upstairs bedroom, leaving owner Mike Booth flummoxed. 'He's been settling in well but suddenly he's started going on the beanbag, as well as on duvets and the bathroom mat.'

Contrary to some people's beliefs, a toilet-trained cat soiling indoors (outside the litter tray) is not being deliberately naughty or sending a message. According to the experts at International Cat Care: 'This is not a dirty protest. Your cat isn't seeking revenge or making a point; something has gone wrong in her world and a certain amount of detective work is required to find out what.'

There are many reasons why this type of behaviour could be going on, explains Huw Stacey, a veterinary behaviourist and director of clinical services at Vets4Pets. 'Some cats are really pernickety. It could be that the litter tray isn't clean enough for them, or it might be that they don't like the litter - or even the tray itself.

'On the other hand, your cat might not like the location of her litter tray. If it's somewhere exposed where she might feel vulnerable, for example near the cat flap or in easy access of a dog or children, she might look for somewhere a bit quieter to do her business instead.'

In retrospect, the Booths have now realised Salty's toilet behaviour is probably down to the presence of noisy builders, who have just started remodelling the kitchen. They've now moved his litter tray upstairs. 'Noise can be an issue,' agrees Huw. 'Taking cats out of their routine, or introducing new sights and smells into your home, can cause stress and anxiety.'

The surfaces Salty chose were not random either. 'Cats have evolved to like substrates that they can dig into, such as soil or sand, to do their poos,' Huw explains. 'Materials like duvets, sleeping bags or a fabric beanbag suit that need just as well.'

Outdoor issues

What's going on outside the house can also lead to accidents within it. A recent study that followed cats via miniature cameras and GPS trackers, discovered that they intentionally foul neighbouring gardens to mark the edge of what they consider to be their territory.

'While most cats like to bury their business, a pet pooing somewhere very visible is called "middening",' says Huw. 'It sends out a territorial signal to other animals in the area. And to make that signal as effective as possible, cats choose to put it somewhere obvious.'

A new, aggressive cat marking its territory in the neighbourhood could make your pet reluctant to go outside to do her business, and she may in turn choose places such as your bed or pillow because these smell like you and are therefore comfortingly familiar.

Keep track of toileting habits

'If accidents persist, it's important to have your cat checked over by your vet,' Huw advises. 'What may look like a behavioural issue could actually be caused by an underlying medical problem. For example, if your cat has a urinary tract problem and it hurts when she pees in the tray, she may start to associate this pain with the tray and no longer want to use it.'

While cleaning up and examining your cat's poo is no one's idea of fun, it does pay to keep track of her toileting habits. If she seems to go more often, or not as often as she once used to, or if there's a change in the consistency of her poos that lasts more than two or three days, speak to your vet straight away.


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