Many guardians will have noticed that after (or before – depending on the cat) their cat does a number two in the litterbox, the craziness (zoomies) begins!
Granted, not all cats do this, but most that I’ve looked after have. In fact, even now, if Max gets the zoomies at an unusual time of day (e.g. not near mealtimes), the first thing I’ll do is check the litterbox!
You may have wondered why this is. Cats have lots of quirky behaviours, many of which are highly entertaining to us, and the poop-zoomies are no exception.
First, let’s quickly discuss what the ‘zoomies’ are.
Every guardian knows the zoomies. A short (sometimes longer) period of hyper-craziness, where a cat barrels around the house at super speed, knocking things over, and just generally being, well, ‘zoomie’!
Would you believe, there’s a scientific name for the zoomies – Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or FRAPS!
The zoomies are a completely natural behaviour, and most sources appear to suggest that their purpose is to blow off excess steam. Though is that the case for the poop-zoomies?
This behaviour is a challenging one to explain. There are a bunch of different theories, but no-one really knows why it occurs.
Let’s explore the main theories going around.
For some cats, the act of going to the toilet may be a painful one, especially those that are constipated or have hard poop. Once the ‘act’ is complete, the cat will want to get away from the pain as quickly as possible.
This may account for a small minority of poop-zoomie events, but it also happens very often with cats that aren’t constipated or have other defecation issues.
Some cats may really not like something about the litterbox, whether it be the box itself, the litter, location etc. Getting away from the aversive stimulus as quickly as possible could account for some zoomies. Though, like above, I would say this is a small minority.
Not sure about this one, but it seems to be one of the prevailing theories nonetheless! Whether it’s being proud of what they’ve done by calling attention to their accomplishment, displaying independence, or signalling to you that their litter box needs cleaning, the post-poop-zoomies could simply be part of their communication repertoire!
Since we can’t actually ask a cat why they perform a certain behaviour, everything has to be theorised and inferred, especially in the absence of actual scientific behavioural testing!
Based on my affinity to explain species specific behaviours using ethology and what I call the ‘evolutionary purpose test’, I would personally suggest that the following three theories are closer to the mark.
One of the most commonly held theory amongst behaviourists for the post-poop-zoomies is one of protection. Poop smells, it unavoidable, and it probably the reason why (most) cats will bury it. This scent can attract predators and alert them to the cat’s location.
Perhaps to avoid contact with a predator, cats have a genetic ‘switch’ that innately makes them get as far away as possible from the poop-zone, in the form of high-intensity energy.
Similar to humans, cats have a vagus nerve that runs through their whole body, including the colon.
When a cat poops, the distention of the rectum causes the vagus nerve to fire, which in turn causes a drop in heart rate and blood pressure. This chain of events can result in a type of ‘high’ or euphoria for a cat. In fact, it’s known at ‘poo-phoria’!
Now, this vagus theory isn’t necessarily a standalone theory. Most web article separate it out, however I actually see it as the evolutionary mechanism supporting the predator avoidance (or other) theory. For instance, perhaps this ‘high’ (caused by the vagus nerve activation) is simply the stimulus that makes a cat get away from their poop-zone, thereby avoiding predators who may be attracted to the scent.
The last theory doesn’t seem to be written about much, but it’s one which I think has a fair amount of credence. It may just simply be timing!
One thing I’ve noticed is that cats don’t always display post-poop-zoomies. If it was purely an evolutionary quirk, then it would happen more often than not, which hasn’t always been my experience.
Consider that the (normal, not post-poop) zoomies are a completely normal behaviour, and are a way for a cat to burn off excess energy. Perhaps it’s just coincidence that the need for the toilet happens during this time. For instance, a cat who has just woken up from a refreshing nap is now full of energy and needs to poop. So she goes and poops, gets poo-phoria from the vagus nerve activation, which now adds to the post-sleep energy burst she has. What’s the result? Post-poop zoomies!
That completes a list of potential reasons why cats may display some craziness after taking care of business. Of course, even though the probability may be low, always be on the lookout for potential medical/digestive issues (e.g. constipation, hard feces etc) or litter box aversion issues that may contribute to the quick distancing from the location post poop.
Excluding medical issues, the poop-zoomies are a completely normal behaviour. Even though we may not 100% know the reason for them, we can still enjoy the wondrous behavioural quirks that our mini panthers provide us lucky guardians every day!
P.S. Looking for more cat behaviour information? Check out my cheekily-titled eBook, here. It’s the ultimate guide to keeping cats happy and healthy indoors.