Many dog owners who have observed their pups stalking the cat's litter box — only to end up with mouthfuls of kitty litter pellets and, sadly, other things — have wondered aloud, "why is my dog eating cat litter?"
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It's a fair question. Dogs love to eat strange and, sometimes, unsettling things, many of which, like cat litter, are not meant to be edible.
If you've noticed that your pooch has an obsession with kitty litter or follows your cat to the restroom (seriously, what is wrong with your dog?), then read on to discover why dogs eat cat litter, whether or not eating litter is safe for dogs, and how to stop your dog from eating kitty litter.
Why dogs eat cat litter
While there are several explanations for why your dog is eating cat litter, the most common answer is also the most disappointing. So let's start with the grossest one first.
Coprophagia is the clinical term for eating poop, and it's common in dogs.
Many dogs eat kitty litter because they enjoy eating cat poop and urine, and litter is just where your cat's fecal material resides.
To give you an idea of just how much dogs enjoy eating a good poop, researchers at the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology revealed that dogs are capable of sniffing out whale poop floating on the Puget Sound from a mile away.
So, yeah, about cat poop in litter boxes — your dog is a BIG fan.
If your dog is eating from the litter box, but there is no discernible presence of cat feces or urine, then they may simply be curious about the intoxicating aroma of cat litter.
It's no secret that a dog's sense of smell is capable of picking up scents from long distances.
"For the dog, feces are a source of huge amounts of information. They tell dogs about the individual who deposited the feces, their dominance status, relatedness, sex and so on," this, according to Peter Hepper, head of the school of psychology at Queen's Universit, in a previous interview with Cuteness.
So when you find your pup is lingering around the cat's litter box for a cheeky taste — but they aren't eating poop — remember that their olfactory organ is powered by 300 million smell receptors.
Some dogs just can't resist the inviting scent of cat litter.
While it can be challenging to visualize a pack of Chihuahuas roaming the Western plains, hunting and foraging to survive and living off their wits — modern dogs were once wild before domestication.
Scavenging is part of your pup's genetic holdover, and eating cat litter may simply be an expression of that ancient behavior.
Your dog is eating cat litter because they are curious, furry scientists who are looking for as much data about a phenomenon as possible. You never know, they could discover a half eaten turkey sandwich in the cat's litter box.
Is eating cat litter safe for dogs?
Generally speaking, your dog should not eat kitty litter. However, cat litter contains no known toxins that are dangerous to dogs. But with all questions related to what our pups can and cannot eat, the answer is complicated.
Is eating kitty litter safe for your dog? Not really, but the health hazards of dogs eating cat litter is most likely minimal, and diagnosis is determined by several concerns.
- Type of litter
- Clumping litter or non-clumping litter
- Amount of litter consumed
- Amount of cat feces and urine present at time of consumption (gross, right?)
There are a variety of cat litter brands, and each has its own formula. Kitty litter comes in a few distinct "flavors" that many dogs love to taste.
- Paper litter
- Silica gel litter
- Wheat litter
- Clay litter
- Grass litter
- Pine litter
- Walnut shell litter
- Corn litter
Additionally, there are two types of litter on the menu in your cat's Litter Box Bistro: clumping litter (also known as scoopable litter) and non-clumping litter.
How kitty litter makes dogs sick
While it's not common for dogs to get sick from eating cat litter, there is the potential for illness — especially for dogs who are fixated on the litter box or who have sensitive digestive systems or allergies.
Here are typical ways dogs can get sick from eating kitty litter:
How to stop dogs from eating cat litter
There are a number of tactics pet parents can deploy to stop dogs from eating kitty litter, but perhaps the most effective are to restrict access to the litter box.
You can dog proof the area where your cat's litter box resides using a baby gate, an indoor dog gate or other makeshift fencing.
If you're concerned that your cat will not be able to jump over a dog or baby gate, consider a top-entry litter box to physically prevent access to kitty litter.
A few cat litter boxes that dogs can't get into:
Alternatives methods to stop dogs from eating cat litter:
- Use positive reinforcement training
- Keep your dog active and entertained
- Feed your dog a balanced diet high in nutrients
- Keep cat litter tray clean at all times
If you've ever found yourself wondering why your dog is eating cat litter, fear not. It's fairly commonplace behavior that can be easily corrected by making your cat's litter box dog proof, or by purchasing a litter box that physically prevents dogs from accessing the litter tray.
While it's always important for pet parents to be aware of what their dogs are eating, kitty litter is non toxic and, alone, won't make most pups sick. However, if your dog has allergies or is frequently eating cat poop — consult a veterinarian if you see upset stomach, vomiting or any other sign of gastrointestinal distress.