A senior cat that no longer buries its waste creates an unhospitable living environment. The smell alone will be strong, and the cat risks making itself ill. This sudden change in toilet behavior needs to be better understood.
Older cats don’t always bury their waste because the experience is painful due to arthritic joints. Some cats grow insecure and stop burying their waste to mark territory. Your cat may be uncomfortable in its litter box and want to leave quickly. Some cats are just being lazy.
If your elderly cat is no longer covering its waste with litter, you need to find out why. This can be achieved by monitoring your cat when using its litter box and trying to determine the reason for this behavior.
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Why is My Older Cat Not Covering Poop Anymore?
Elderly felines sometimes stop covering up the waste in their litter box, seemingly for no reason. This creates two notable problems.
Firstly, older cats have weaker immunity and should not be exposed to their own urine or feces. Secondly, not covering up poop and pee creates a really bad smell in your home. Reasons for not covering up waste include:
- Expressions of territoriality and dominance
- The litter box is already dirty
- Too much litter in the box
- The cat dislikes the litter being used
- The cat no longer fits in the litter box
- The cat is in heat and attempting to attract a mate
- The cat finds digging painful
- The cat is going blind
- The cat prefers outdoor elimination
- The cat is getting lazy
Monitor your cat’s bathroom habits and identify the cause of this behavior. You can then adopt the necessary training to correct the problem.
1/ Territoriality and Dominance
Your cat may feel vulnerable as its physical presence and health deteriorate. By not burying waste, your cat is demonstrating that it will not give up its territory to a younger, stronger feline rival.
This behavior is due to insecurity. This anxiety will be magnified if you have brought another cat into your home. The cat will be guarding its litter box. The unburied waste is a reminder who the litter box belongs to.
Help the cat understand that there is nothing to fear. Maintain a strict routine with the cat, providing one-on-one attention. Add another litter tray for the second cat, and ensure that both cats have their own territory.
Wait for your cat to use the bathroom. Give the cat a little privacy while it attends to its needs. Many cats will not eliminate if they’re been watched.
Do not let your cat leave the litter tray with its waste unburied. Encourage your cat to stay put with soothing words. Put on a pair of rubber gloves and bury the waste yourself. Ensure that your cat watches you do this. Repeat this step a number of times until the cat adjusts its behavior.
As Science explains, cats learn through observation. Your cat may repeat your action of its own volition. If so, treat the cat to encourage the improved toilet behavior.
If your cat does not bury its own waste, step up the training. Take the cat’s front paws and complete the digging motion with them. Obviously, this shouldn’t be performed if your cat has stiff and painful legs due to arthritis.
3/ Problems with Litter
Cats are very fastidious about their litter boxes. This is especially so with senior cats. The older a cat is, the more entrenched it will be in its routine.
Consider if you have changed anything about your cat’s litter box. If you are using a new litter, the cat may be reluctant to touch it due to the texture or odor. If the box contains more or less litter than usual, your cat will notice.
Ensure that you scoop the litter at least once a day. Cats like a clean litter box. Cats are also not subtle about sending a message. If the litter is dirty, your cat will leave waste for you to see as a reminder to clean it up.
4/ Litter Box Size Issues
Obese cats will struggle to fit into a litter box that was previously a perfect fit. Older, overweight cats will also likely struggle with arthritis pain. The extra weight is placing additional pressure on the rear legs.
This will make using the litter box awkward. The cat will struggle to get in/out, and will feel cramped in the box. The cat will stop burying waste.
If your cat scratches the floor after elimination, it may be attempting to bury its waste. Unfortunately, it is feeling confused. The litter box is now too small. The cat does not know where the box ends and the floor begins. This problem should not be confused with the symptoms of feline dementia.
Provide a senior cat with a litter box with at least one low side. This entry point should be no higher than three inches.
The box should accommodate the full length of your cat while lying down. The width of the box must comfortably host your cat’s entire mass.
Buying a new litter box may solve the problem. Encouraging your cat to lose weight remains advisable, though. This will minimize arthritic pressure on the cat’s back legs and make burying waste easier. There are other healthcare concerns to consider, too.
According to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, diabetes is almost four times likelier in obese cats. Excess weight also places stress on a cat’s heart.
5/ Cats in Heat
Unspayed female cats can enter estrus at any age. Cats do not have a biological clock when it comes to fertility. A cat in heat will do whatever she can to attract male attention.
A big part of this is scenting. A cat seeking a mate will leave her scent everywhere. Cat urine is one of the strongest aromas of all due to the presence of ammonia. If your cat wants to announce her presence, she will not cover her urine.
The only resolution to this is spaying your cat or waiting for the estrus to pass. No training will register with a cat in heat.
Hormones will dictate your cat’s behavior, not thought. You will need to cover the waste yourself, ideally when the cat is not looking.
6/ Pain Management
Another common explanation for a cat not burying waste is pain. You may not realize that your cat is in pain until they stop burying waste.
Cats are adept at hiding physical symptoms until they can no longer do so. Three ailments that often affect senior cats are:
- Urinary tract infections
- Sore paws
Urinary tract infections become increasingly common in older cats. Unspayed females are most at risk. If your cat has a UTI, everything to do with urinating will hurt. This may leave your cat reluctant to risk burying her waste. It will associate the release of urine with pain.
Arthritis is another bane of elderly cats. As cats age, their joints become less supple. This will make the act of burying waste difficult and uncomfortable. Your cat will lack the mobility required to dig and bury.
Digging will also be painful for a cat with sore paws. Check for signs of feline plasma cell pododermatitis. As Veterinary Dermatology explains, this inflammatory disease manifests as swollen, ulcerated foot pads. These leave a cat’s feet feeling tender. Digging will be painful.
All of these ailments will require medical attention. UTIs are treated with antibiotics. You should also investigate any causes to prevent reinfection. Arthritis is managed with painkillers, massage, and diet.
Feline plasma cell pododermatitis can be treated with antibiotics. It’s often a symptom of an immunodeficiency, though. An old cat will have a weakened immune system than it did 5-10 years earlier.
7/ Issues with Eyesight
Cat eyes start to degenerate over time. It may also be due to a medical condition. If your cat engages in odd habits, such as keeping one eye closed, check for the signs of an infection.
If your cat is blind, it may not bury waste. Even a cat’s superior sense of smell cannot pinpoint waste in the litter with 100% accuracy. You will need to bury the waste for your blind cat.
This superior sense of smell, coupled with its long whiskers, is how blind cats negotiate the terrain. If a cat is newly blind, unburied waste makes the litter box easier to find.
Eventually, the cat will memorize the floorplan of your home. When this happens, you can start burying its waste.
If your cat is permitted to wander outside, it may start eliminating outdoors. Your cat may feel that it has more privacy outside.
Some cats still bury their waste outdoors. This is an instinct carried over from a cat’s wild ancestors. The cat knows that its waste carries a strong scent. This smell may attract predators. Many cats like to disguise their presence in the spirit of safety.
On the other hand, outdoor elimination is also a way for a cat to claim territory. Older cats will value this opportunity. It sends a message to neighborhood rivals that the cat is still dominant.
If your cat does bury waste outdoors, this will become the norm. The cat will bring the habit into the home. You cannot ignore this. A cat with such a relaxed attitude to elimination may stop using a litter box completely. This could lead to accidents.
You must reinstate litter training in your cat, which will be a gradual process. Don’t lock your cat indoors for hours. This will cause the cat distress. Guide the cat to the litter tray and begin the training schedule.
Unfortunately, some senior cats are just lazy. A cat may have reached a point of complacency and comfort.
This can leave the cat reluctant to maintain personal hygiene. If your cat is not grooming, this is more likely.
Get your senior cat checked for health concerns. Ensure that the problem does not stem from the inability to cover waste, not inability.
If your cat has a clean bill of health, you will need to reinstate litter tray training. If you give a lazy cat an inch, it will take a mile.