Why doesn’t my cat cover their feces and/or urine in the litter box? This is one of the most common questions people ask me when they find out I am a veterinarian. Some people think their cat was taken away from its mother too young and never learned how. Others think it is a sign of a mental illness or a cat that is trying to get back at their owners. Are any of these theories correct? The answer is no. In feline elimination behavior, covering and not covering are both considered “normal”.
So why do some cats cover while others do not? In my opinion, the behavior is related to dominance. Dominant cats do not cover their urine or feces because they want other cats to smell their scent. They are sending a message to all who enter; “This is my territory.” After the box is cleaned, they need to hop right in and leave a little something to mark it again.
Submissive cats are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They do not want other cats to know they are present. Some cats are so submissive that they will cover for other cats in the household. It is vital for these cats to have multiple litter boxes placed in ‘safe’ areas that provide easy access and a route of escape.
In a multiple cat household, litter box habits may change if the dominant cat is removed or new cats are added. I have seen submissive cats move up the dominance ladder and stop covering. This is especially true when kittens grow into mature cats. I have also seen a dominant cat start to cover again when he developed osteoarthritis in his spine. He stopped covering again once his owners started giving him medication for the pain.