Why Cats Dig In The Garden

cat digging

Smells are an important part of communication, and cats use , them to speak to other cats. Most cats have a natural instinct to cover their faeces. This is something done not only by Wildcats but also by domesticated cats. It is thought that this may hark back to a time when cats – all toms in those days, long before today’s modern times when male cats are usually neutered – had to cover their tracks so that other toms would not detect signs of them having been there.

cat diggingCats seem to love freshly dug patches of earth as a place to defecate – and dig. If you want to discourage your cat from digging up newly-planted bulbs and bedding, set aside a corner that it can use.

Q. My cat keeps digging my house plants out of their pots. What can I do?

Treating house plants with respect is part of basic good behaviour in a well-trained cat. Training should start from an early age and should be firm but fair. It should understand early on that it is not allowed to dig up the plants, nor to eat them. Basic behavioural rules of this kind should be established early on.

Q. We have no garden, so our cat uses a litter tray. He does so much digging and kicking that the litter sprays all over the place and makes a dreadful mess. Is there any way I can persuade him not to do this?

No. This is an instinctive thing to do and you are unlikely to be able to dissuade him from doing it. Your best bet is to buy a tray with deeper sides, or one that is completely enclosed.

Cats are discreet animals and they don’t like being watched while they are relieving themselves, but if you manage to get a peek, you will notice that they always scratch or dig the ground or litter in order to make some attempt – more or less efficiently – to cover their faeces and thus reduce the smell, though not eliminate it completely, particularly to another cat.


There are differences in this respect between the domestic cat’s wild relatives. Large Wildcats, such as lions, don’t bury their faeces, which thus serve as a territorial marker. Smaller species of Wildcat, however, do hide them as it helps to conceal their presence from larger predators.

Many domestic cats may choose to follow the example of their ancestor, by burying their faeces, but a dominant tom in particular may decide to leave obvious signs of his identity in order to lay claim to an area of territory.

The condition of the ground may also influence the cat’s response, which is why they are drawn to soft, freshly-dug soil in the first instance. If the ground is hard and dry however, they may make no attempt to bury their faeces.

  • Smells are chemical messages for many mammals, not just cats. Dogs, for example, are particularly keen depositors of smells, as are many insects and primates.
  • An entire female cat can attract a male from up to 1 km (3/5 mile) away, if the wind is in the right direction, so smell can be an incredibly potent tool.
  • We are the only species that regard our bodily smells as disgusting. As a result, we spend a fortune on disguising our own smells with perfumes.
  • Chemical communication is the most primitive method of communication there is.