Cats and Litter Box Behavior

posted: 05/15/12
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Why Cats Run After Using the Litter Box
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Cats have many curious habits. One of the most curious (and often amusing) feline quirks is the tendency to bolt out of the litter box with lightening speed and run around for its life. Not all cats do this, but many cat owners have noticed this habit and wondered what in heaven's name the ball of fluff is doing when it runs around after using the litter box. Several theories have come up that try to explain this puzzling phenomenon.

The prevailing theory among observant cat owners seems to be that their cat simply feels better after relieving itself. People can certainly identify with this reason. As everyone knows, such relief can be a jubilant feeling. To be able to successfully alleviate a weighing discomfort can make us feel on top of the world after leaving the bathroom.

After all, why should it be any different for cats? It's not unreasonable to suppose that cats are simply experiencing a bit of euphoria and expressing their elation in a jaunt about the room. Indeed, they probably feel that a weight is lifted off them and they feel lighter in body and in mood.

But this isn't the only theory that's attempted to explain the behavior. We spoke with Dr. Ilona Rodan, a distinguished veterinarian and specialist in feline behavior, as well as Carole Wilbourn, a cat therapist and author who's been described as the "Kitty Freud." Both agree that there's something to the popular theory, but there can be more than one answer. Wilbourn connects it to how, as kittens, their mothers cleaned up waste by licking it off. Adult cats may enjoy celebrating and flaunting their grown-up independence when they take care of it themselves. Wilbourn also believes that cats like to call attention to their accomplishment, seeking acknowledgement and congratulations from their human guardian.

Additionally, Wilbourn and Dr. Rodan both suggested from personal experience that cats with digestive problems like diarrhea and constipation want to bolt out of the litter box as soon as possible, distancing themselves from the problem.

But yet another theory might satisfy those who appreciate an evolutionary explanation.

Compared to dogs, cats are pretty low maintenance when it comes to cleanliness and bathroom habits. Because of their proclivity to dig and then bury their waste, cats are usually easy to train for litter box use. But have you ever wondered why cats have the instinct to bury their waste? There are several theories about this, but most theories revolve around the idea that it's a survival tactic ingrained in them from their wild ancestors. And, in turn, the tendency of some cats to run from their waste is linked to that survival tactic, too.

To explain, let's go over the theories of why cats bury their waste. Many other animals make an effort to keep waste areas separate from living areas, which keeps themselves free from nasty germs, parasites and pathogens. It's reasonable to suppose that cats have learned to bury their feces (and run from it) as an extra precautionary measure.

But another related theory says that the behavior could also be a way to hide from predators. The sight — and more likely the smell — of a cat's poo gives them away to threatening animals in the wild. Running from the waste, therefore, could be a way of escaping any predator that has already caught wind of the excrement. Indeed, this theory takes into account the fact that not all cats bury their feces: A dominant cat who considers itself the cock of the walk often doesn't bury its waste, perhaps because it feels confident in its abilities to take on enemies.

Wilbourn believes this is another likely explanation. However, Dr. Rodan mentioned that, although it sounds plausible, she hadn't found evidence that cats run from their waste in the wild. She suggested that it would be a fascinating study to investigate feline bathroom etiquette in the wild and compare it to domesticated cats.

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