Why does my cat poop that way? A guide to feline toilet habits

Article expert
Approved by

Nicky Trevorrow

Cats Protection
Approved by

Brian Faulkner

Veterinary Surgeon
RCVS Registered

You’re probably more than familiar with your cat’s toilet habits, but do you understand why they go about their business the way they do? We get to the bottom of their perplexing bathroom behaviours.

Cats’ toilet habits can be quite confusing. It may seem to us that cats may occasionally leave ‘gifts’ for their owners, often in unwelcome spots. This is not what’s really going on from the cat’s perspective, however. Some cats may suddenly stop burying their poop. And a few need the utmost privacy even to go at all. 

Here, we decode three common cat toilet habits so that you can get a better understanding of why they might choose to go about their business in particular ways.

“My cat doesn’t use the litter tray”

This cat toilet habit can be very frustrating for cat owners. For some reason, their cat is refusing to use their litter tray. Instead, they are soiling the house. The cat may even wee or poop right next to the tray, but refuse to use the actual tray itself. If this is happening with your cat, stay calm, remember it’s not personal and there is always a reason for your cat’s behaviour (which is logical for your cat). The trick is to figure out what that reason is.

There could be several possible reasons. Perhaps your cat dislikes where the litter tray has been placed or dislikes either the litter or the tray itself.

Just like people, cats like to feel safe when they go to the toilet. So, avoid putting the litter tray anywhere where your cat might feel vulnerable – for example, near the cat flap, in busy or overlooked areas, or in easy access of a dog or children. Try to place it somewhere that is quiet, accessible and private. Also, make sure the litter tray is clean. Some cats won’t use a litter tray if they don’t perceive it as being clean enough. If you think about it, people are generally very clean, too, and most flush every time!

Finally, if you are using an enclosed litter tray, you could try swapping it for an open litter tray. Some cats steer clear of enclosed litter trays because they don’t like being confined to a small space. Others may benefit from an open tray being placed inside a cardboard box, which is open at the top and then has two holes cut into adjacent sides for entry and exit. This is the best of both worlds, since it allows the cat to feel safe and hidden, but doesn’t trap in the smell like covered litter trays can.

Cats may also stop using their litter tray for health-related reasons. Conditions such as arthritis, cystitis, diabetes and urinary tract infections can affect their litter tray use, resulting in either fewer visits or increased, frequent use. If you suspect that your cat may be ill or in pain, then book an appointment for them with the vet straight away.

“My cat buries their poop”

Unlike dogs, who will happily leave their owners to clear up their mess, cats have a natural instinct to bury their poop. It’s not just down to their innate sense of cleanliness, either. This toilet habit is linked to cats’ desire to protect themselves and avoid attracting the unwanted attention of predators. Even though you might see your home as a safe environment for your cat, cats still retain their natural instinct to bury their waste in their litter.

When a cat that has previously buried its poop stops doing so, this can be a sign that it is marking its territory. Yet their behaviour can also indicate a health issue – your cat could be stressed or in pain. If they are an older cat, they may potentially be suffering from arthritis, for example. Conversely, excessive digging can be a sign of anxiety. So, if your cat’s burying behaviour changes, it is a good idea to take them for a veterinary check-up.

“My cat meows before going to the toilet”

Some cats meow before using their litter tray. Why is this? The first reason is that they might be in pain when they defecate or urinate as a result of constipation, a urinary tract infection or some other condition. Straining is also a sign that your cat could be constipated. Contact the vet straight away if you suspect that your cat is suffering or in pain.

Alternatively, your cat may feel vulnerable about using the litter tray on their own and their meowing is their way of asking you to come and be near them, to ward off any potential threats. In some cases, if your cat is elderly, the meowing might be a sign that your cat is feeling confused, possibly as a result of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).

Cat toilet habits and healthy cat poop

Your cat’s toilet habits can help to give you a better awareness of their overall state of health. But as well as monitoring their toilet habits, it’s important to keep an eye on their poop. If you see anything abnormal in their faeces, be sure to take them to the vet to get checked out.

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