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Cats have a reputation for being finicky eaters, but if that's true, then why do cats eat litter?
You might notice your feline friend visiting their litter box for reasons other than taking care of business. Could there be something wrong with your kitty? There are a few reasons why your cat might be eating their litter or the contents of their litter box.
Is It Normal for Cats to Eat Litter and/or Feces?
Animals with the disorder called pica compulsively eat non-food items, like plastic, dirt and/or wool. Cats with pica may eat litter. Pica can start early and last into adulthood.
The act of eating feces, on the other hand, is called coprophagia. Although it might be unpleasant to see, it's actually a natural behavior for many animals. While coprophagia is most commonly associated with dogs, cats can engage in the behavior too. In fact, eating feces is pretty common when cats are young. Kittens are born without any microorganisms in their gastrointestinal tracts. Ingesting microbes via feces in the first few weeks of life may help kitties establish a balanced gastrointestinal ecosystem, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Most cats grow out of coprophagia as they're weaned and potty trained, but sometimes the behavior lingers into adulthood.
Why Is My Cat Eating Litter?
There are several factors that could be causing your cat to eat litter or feces.
Why do cats eat litter or litter box contents when they're past the newborn stage? Emotional conditions like anxiety can contribute to poop-eating, explains Veterinary Partner — particularly when a daily routine is disrupted. Once the behavior starts, it can easily become compulsive. The stress of being confined for long periods of time early in life, such as in a carrier or crate, can also spur cats to eat their litter and its contents.
Your kitty might also just be bored and need some stimulation.
If your cat is eating litter, it could be a sign that they have an underlying health issue. Petful points out that eating litter can be a sign of anemia, a vitamin or mineral deficiency or a neurological disorder — all conditions that require diagnosis by a veterinarian.
Older cats with cognitive disorders might have issues using the litter box (doing their business outside of the box, for example) and try to hide the evidence by eating it.
If your cat is eating from the litter box, make sure you're scooping at least once a day — especially if you have multiple cats — and remove any litter that they've kicked outside the box.
If you use clumping clay-based litter, International Cat Care suggests switching to one made from a biodegradable material. If your cat eats clumping litter, they could experience respiratory and/or digestive complications.
Since vitamin and mineral deficiencies can provoke coprophagia, be sure that you're feeding your furry friend a high-quality, balanced commercial cat food.
Because there's a risk of contracting salmonella or E.coli from eating feces, bring your cat to the vet for a wellness check, including a physical exam, blood tests and urinalysis. And if you notice that your cat's poop is soft, hard or light-colored, bring a stool sample to the vet for testing, too. Healthy cat poop is typically dark brown and malleable, like clay.
Solving your cat's litter-eating habit comes down to getting a proper diagnosis from the vet and addressing the root cause.
Christine Brovelli-O'Brien is a writer, researcher, educator, and devoted cat parent. She holds a Ph.D. in English and is professional member of the Cat Writers' Association (CWA). Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien