This actions is always referred to as an indication of the fastidious tidiness of the cat. Owners of messy dogs are often regaled with this fact by cat-owners insisting on the superiorority of felines over canines. This favoired interpeetation of faeces-burying as a sign of cat hygiene does not, however, stand up to close investigation.
The truth is that cats bury their faeces as a way of damping down their odour display. Faeces burying is the act of a subordinate cat, fearful of its social standing. Proof of this was found when the social lives of feral cats were examined closely. It was discovered that dominant tom-cats, far from burying their faeces, actually placed them on little ‘advertising’ hillocks, or any other raised points in the environment where the odour could be wafted abroad to maximum effect. It was only the weaker, more subdude cats which hid their faeces. The fact that out pet cats always seem ro carry out such a careful burying routine is a measure of the extent to which they see themselves dominated by us (and also perhaps by the other cats in the neighbourhood). This is not really so surprising. We are physically stronger than they are and we completely dominate that all-important element in feline life – the food supply. Our dominance is in exsitence from the time of kittenhood onwards, and never ins erious doubt. Even big cats, such as Lions, can be kept in this subordinate role for a lifetime, by their friendly owners, so it is hardly surprising that the small domestic cat is permanently in awe of us and therefore always makes sure to bury it faeces.
Burying the faeces does not, of course, completley switch off the odour signal, but it does reduce it drastically. In this way the cat can continue to announce its presence through its scents, but not to the extent that it transmits a serious threat.