You may notice that your dog is interested in the cat’s litter box. A little too interested. Maybe you have been lucky enough to catch your dog before they have breeched the litterbox perimeter, otherwise like most pet owners you have found out the hard way. Nothing smells like, “I know what you did”, than a grinning dog with cat poop on his teeth.
Why Is My Dog Eating Cat Litter?
So, why would a dog eat cat litter? Well, for starters dogs are extremely scent oriented. Scent scientists put dogs at 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than our paltry human noses. A better example was illustrated by dog cognition researcher, Alexandra Horowitz, how humans may notice if our coffee has a teaspoon of sugar added to it. Meanwhile a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, the volume of two Olympic sized pools.
From a dog’s perspective the world exists in scent and having such an odorous object, the litterbox, in an accessible area just invites a dog to investigate. Dogs are also scavengers and they explore opportunities. The same goes for if your pet is in the yard and finds a dead animal. Opportunity and curiosity intersect often for dogs and the outcomes can be mixed.
Can Eating Litter Be Harmful To My Dog?
Yes and no. Different types of litter add to the cornucopia of scents and for better or worse so does if the litter box contains feces and urine from the cat. Litter comes in a variety of types; newspaper pellets, corn cob granules, wooden pellets or shavings, and clay litter are just some varieties. Clumping litters typically have a clay additive like sodium bentonite that binds the large volume of cat urine to the surrounding particles of litter. While these ingredients are generally not considered toxic, they can cause issues when ingested in large amounts.
Most often though many dogs will eat cat litter and cat feces with either no ill effect or minor gastrointestinal signs like loose stool. Overwhelmingly dogs prefer to consume the feces, and smaller amounts of litter also happen to be consumed due to proximity. If you know your pet did get into the litterbox, continue to monitor their bowel movements over the next 24 hours to make sure they do not have an impaction.
If you notice your pet vomiting or arching their back in pain you should bring them to a veterinarian immediately. If your dog consumes large amounts of litter it can cause a blockage in the stomach or intestines that in the worst-case scenario can require surgery to remove the impacted litter.
Parasites can be a concern especially if your household cats do not have annual intestinal parasite screenings (fecal tests) done at the vet, or if they are not on monthly preventatives. Also, cats that go outside are more likely to have intestinal parasites and can pass them unknowingly to the dog if your pup goes into the litterbox to indulge themselves. A common misconception is that a pet parent will know when a dog or cat has parasites when they usually don’t.
Preventing Dogs From Eating Litter
The easiest and safest way to prevent your dog from eating cat litter is to physically prevent access to the litter box. It is our job as responsible pet parents to be proactive in our pet’s health and this is a doable solution for all households regardless of size.
First, assess the current locations of your cat’s litter boxes. A spare bathroom or bedroom can have a dog proof (but cat friendly!) baby gate across the doorway. Several models include a handle to swing the door open so you and your family won’t have to hop over baby gates to have access to the area. Kitty doors to basements or other dog-free zones are great for households with large dogs. Some cats are put off by the cat flap on some of these doors so start by removing the flap and create a clean and quiet place where your cat can have litterbox privacy. Remember, the cat's litterboxes should be easily accessible for them so if you are using baby gates, consider your cat needs, for example, a senior cat should not have to jump over something to get to the bathroom so you can have a baby gate with a cat door or place the gate so the cat can easily walk underneath but the dog can't.
Keep your dog busy, Your dogs may be drawn to your cat’s private business out of sheer curiosity. When they have nothing to do, they would rather eat and play with cat poop. To avoid this situation, you must keep your dogs busy with other healthier options. Keep them busy with toys and games. Give them things to do, so that they won’t get bored and start looking for weird stuff to do.
Clean the litterbox multiple times per day. Lastly, another recommendation for preventing dogs from eating litter is by keeping the litterbox clean and your cat will appreciate it too!
Managing multiple pets can take a bit of creativity but with a bit of strategy you can save yourself some peace of mind knowing that everyone is staying safe.