Why Do Cats Dig? - Cat Kingpin
Why do cats dig

Why Do Cats Dig?

While dogs are generally considered the diggers of the animal kingdom, most cat owners know that cats like to dig around a bit, too.

Whether it’s in their litter box, outside in your garden, or in your potted plants, cats like to dig!

The reasons behind this behavior are mostly evolutionary. Historically speaking, digging is very important for feline survival (except for when they do it in your potted plants… that’s just annoying).

So, we’re here to answer the question: why do cats dig?

In this article, we’ll cover the following;

  • Cats and Digging- What You Need to Know
  • Why Do Cats Dig?
  • When Do Cats Dig?
  • How to Stop Your Cat from Digging?

Cats and Digging – What You Need To Know

It’s important to remember that most feline behaviors are instinctual. That is, your cat really can’t help it!

While digging isn’t the most pleasant of kitty behaviors (it’s in the same category with marking and scratching), it is a primitive behavior that is deeply rooted in evolution.

Both kittens and adult cats will dig, and they’ll do it in a variety of places. Most cats will dig in their own litter box (and we’ll explain why later), and some cats enjoy digging outside, in plants inside your home, and even in their cat bed!

While digging can be problematic, especially if your cat is systematically killing all of your plants, the first step to curbing this instinct is understanding why your cat digs in the first place.

Why Do Cats Dig?

The most important reason why cats dig is that they are trying to hide their scent.

In the wild, leaving a scent trail is the prefect way to let a predator know where you are and where you’re headed! To avoid this, cats will often bury any “evidence” they leave behind, most commonly urine and feces.

If your cat is digging a hole in their litter, peeing in it, and then covering it up, they are trying to hide their scent. While it may seem a little silly to try and cover their tracks inside the safety of your home, your cat is reacting purely on an instinctual level.

While this can be annoying if they throw cat litter all over the place, you’re unlikely to be able to convince them to stop!

Cats will also hide their scent to disguise themselves when hunting. If a mouse can smell them from a mile away, your cat has no chance of catching one!

Cats will also dig to make themselves comfortable, like when they dig in their bed. Cats will sometime dig in their beds to create the perfect little indentation on which to sleep.

They’re definitely creatures of comfort!

Lastly, cats may dig because they are hunting (or at least pretending to hunt!) You’ve probably noticed that most cat play is actually feigned violence- they will “hunt” you, love bite, and run around like crazy. All of these behaviors are rooted in their deeply ingrained hunting instincts, and digging is no different!

If left to their own devices outside, cats are master hunters. They will dig around to find mice, snakes, and rabbits. Because their hunting instincts are so fine-tuned, they may mimic this behavior in your living room!

This cat is very enthusiastically hiding their scent:

When Do Cats Dig?

Cats generally dig right before and after they use the litter box, as well as at night. Because cats are nocturnal, they generally are most active at night when you’re asleep.

If you’ve ever woken up to find that your cat has dug up your houseplants overnight, you know what we mean!

Cats will dig in their beds when they feel especially safe and comfortable, while most other digging is either a sign that they are playing, hunting, or trying to hide their scent.

These cats found the perfect outlet for their digging instinct: the snow!

How to Stop Your Cat From Digging

We get it- digging can be an annoying behavior in cats. In many cases, it’s best to leave them alone. If your cat is sending litter flying all over the place when they dig in their litter box, your best bet is to simply put down a mat or spread newspaper on the floor around the litter box to make it easier to clean up.

Trying to punish your cat for instinctual behavior, especially regarding their toilet habits, is likely to be unsuccessful and will just confuse and distress your cat.

If your cat is digging in inappropriate places, such as digging around in your potted plants, there are a couple of things you can try:

  1. If you can them in the act, you can use a spray bottle filled with water, say “no!” and give them a quick spritz. Most cats don’t like water, so this is often a good deterrent.
  2. Cover the base of your plant with aluminum foil. While certain determined cats may try to dig anyway, most of them will be foiled by the foil (haha).
  3. Add some orange peels the potted plant. Cats don’t like the scent of citrus, so this may dissuade them.
  4. You can try sprinkling cayenne pepper at the base of your plants. Cats don’t like the smell of pepper!
  5. Spray your plants with orange oil or lemon oil– it won’t hurt your plants, and your cat will likely stay away!

These kittens aren’t digging yet…but that potted plant doesn’t seem safe!

Another cat behavoir question you may have is why cats put their ears back. Find out here!

Is your cat a dogged digger? Have you found ways to keep your cat from digging in places where they shouldn’t? We want to hear about it! Let us know in the comments.

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Amanda K.

After moving to New York City from Rome, Italy, I began working in the nonprofit world. Despite my day job, my passion has always been animals, especially dogs and cats, and writing. What better way to combine the two? I've been a pet owner for 15 years, and my menagerie includes dogs, cats, hamsters and the occasional hermit crab. My beloved cat, Mozart, who I found as a newborn kitten, sparked my love for felines and is now nearly 15 years old. I am an enthusiastic volunteer at the local ASPCA, where I enjoy spending time with the cats and cleaning up after the dogs. I've been writing about pet ownership and care for the past five years.

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