A common cause of dog owners’ frustration is when their pooch gets into the litter box or litter pan and eats the kitty litter. Many dogs absolutely love doing this and may even “stalk” the cat box, waiting for the cat to exit. In fact, it is so common for dogs to eat cat feces that many dog owners jokingly refer to it as a “doggie Tootsie Roll.”
Why do dogs eat litter?
You might think that dogs who eat cat waste and litter might be missing something from their diet, (a nutritional deficiency), but this is usually not the case. If a dietary problem isn’t the culprit, why do dogs get into the litter box?
The reason most dogs eat kitty litter (usually the clumping kind) is that the feline feces in the litter tastes good to them. This may sound disgusting, but it is what many dogs like. Cats are carnivores and require a higher protein diet than dogs. This means that their feces contains richer material than that of dog waste, and it can be very attractive as a snack depending on what the cat has been eating.
Coprophagia, the practice of eating poop, is common in dogs and a normal behavior in certain situations. For example, the mother dog will naturally consume their own pup’s feces to keep the nest clean. In addition, many puppies go through an oral phase when they explore everything with their mouths, sometimes ingesting a variety of non-food items, including feces. As time goes by, the majority of pups eventually learn that food tastes better than feces and stop however some dogs just like feces and will continue to eat it.
For most dogs, ingestion of the cat poop in the litter pan the goal, the ingestion of the actual cat litter is secondary.
Is eating cat litter dangerous to dogs?
The next question is usually “Does eating kitty litter make dogs sick?” Some owners have even wondered if kitty litter can kill their dog. To answer this, it’s important to understand just what your dog is snacking on.
There are many types of cat litter on the market. They include:
- Nonclumping clay litter
- Clumping or “scoopable” litter (sometimes in lightweight formulas)
- Pine-, corn-, or wheat-based litter
- Newspaper-based litter
- Silica bead or crystal litter
Based on our research, none of the ingredients in these kitty litter products are technically considered “toxic” to dogs. However, eating kitty litter can be quite dangerous to dogs in a number of ways.
How can cat litter make my dog sick?
How sick a dog can get from eating kitty litter depends on how much litter they eat, how frequently they eat it, how “digestible” the litter is, whether they have any allergies, how sensitive a dog’s stomach and gastrointestinal tract are, and finally, what perfumes and dyes are contained in the litter.
Here are a few examples of the ways that kitty litter can make dogs sick.
- Upset stomach: A great deal of a dog’s reaction to litter is determined by how sensitive their gastrointestinal tract is. Some dogs can eat just about anything and be fine, while other dogs experience vomiting and diarrhea with the smallest change in food. The dyes and perfumes in litter can cause problems for some dogs, such as gastroenteritis, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms are usually self-limiting and will get better in 8-12 hours, but can cause significant distress if they occur frequently.
- Intestinal obstruction: Many litters, especially clumping clay-based formulas, are not digestible and can cause a bowel obstruction if enough material is consumed. This means that the litter forms a clump that gets caught in the dog’s intestine and doesn’t move through the body like normal digestible food. Although uncommon, some dog will require surgery to remove the litter material.
- Constipation: Many kitty litters are very dry and it takes a lot of fluid to move them through the intestine. Ingesting large amounts of litter can cause severe constipation in dogs. Signs of problems include bowel movements that are less frequent or contain less material, straining to defecate, or a reluctance to defecate. This can resolve on its own in mild cases, but more severe incidents may require the use of enemas or laxative-type medications from your veterinarian to resolve.
- Dental problems: Consumed litter can collect around a dog’s teeth and gums, “sealing” germs around the sensitive tissues. Urine can erode the outer layers of the tooth, and chewing on litter can cause teeth to chip or break. This can result in infections, tooth decay, foul breath, and eventual tooth loss, especially if regular brushing is not part of your dog’s hygiene routine.
Because kitty litter does not contain any known toxins, however, it is unlikely that eating litter will cause toxicity damage to your dog’s major organ systems.