How to Stop Your Cat From Eating Dirt

Cat in garden

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Cats are well known for their weird, lovable antics, and eating dirt is definitely one of their more-puzzling behaviors. If you are noticing your cat eating dirt, the cause can be simply a kitten exploring and playing with dirt or due to a medical issue.

Possible Causes for Your Cat Eating Dirt

There are several possible causes of why your cat may be eating dirt from curiosity and boredom to medical issues. Below is a list of some of the most common causes of your cat eating dirt. When noticing your cat eating dirt, it is best to contact your veterinarian to first rule outer and address medical issues.

Medical Reasons

  • Anemia : In some cases, cats can eat dirt or litter when they are suffering from anemia. Anemia can be related to a lack of nutrition in the cat's diet or a symptom of a more serious disease. Anemia is symptom of another illness. It occurs when there are not enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is the main component of red blood cells and its job is to carry oxygen. When there are not enough red blood cells or hemoglobin the cells of the body cannot get enough oxygen, so they are unable to work properly. It is this lack of oxygen that causes the signs seen in the cat.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Adult cats that eat dirt may be suffering from a lack of nutrients and vitamins in their food. Consider switching to a food that offers more complete nutrition; read the label carefully so you know what ingredients it contains or ask your vet for a recommendation. It is best to feed a food that is certified to meet your cat's nutritional needs based on AAFCO food trials. This certification will be labeled on the food bag. Whichever route you go, ensure that your kitty is getting a balanced diet. Avoid giving too many treats as this can unbalance the diet. A good rule of thumb is that 90% of your cat's diet, based on calories, should come from a balanced cat food or properly formulated home cooked diet, and 10% or less should come from treats and other food. And if you change to a different brand of food, introduce it gradually so you don't upset your cat's digestion.
  • Pica:Pica is the term to describe the behavioral urge to eat nonedible materials. In cats, these items most often include fabrics, elastics such as hair binders, cardboard, paper, and plastic. Young cats are more likely to suffer from pica syndrome. The cause of pica is unknown, but experts speculate that it could be due to a number of causes such as dietary deficiencies, genetics, boredom, compulsive disorder, or stress. 

Behavioral reasons

  • Curiosity: Kitten's may eat dirt as they are discovering and exploring the environment out of curiosity. Kitten usually quickly learn to not continue to repeat this behavior.
  • Boredom : Cats are amazing, intelligent creatures. Their lifestyle reflects the predatory skills and behaviors needed to hunt food in the wild. A cat’s day includes the need to rest, stalk, chase, pounce, kill, play, eat, and groom among other things. When we don’t provide them opportunities to do these things, they get bored. Boredom can lead to a variety of problems such as destructive behaviors, aggression, anxiety, and more. 
  • Stress and Anxiety: Sometimes when cats are stressed, they will exhibit new behaviors such as eating dirt or missing the litterbox. This can happen for a variety of reasons, such as bringing a new pet or baby into the house, losing a family member, or moving to a new home.There are even times when something mundane and seemingly harmless, such as rearranging the furniture, can stress a cat out. Think about any changes—no matter how insignificant—in your household that may have taken place prior to your cat developing the dirt-eating habit.
  • Inherent behavior: In some cases, there may be no known cause influencing your cat's behavior. Dirt eating may just be an idiosyncrasy and something you'll need to accept. In these instances, removing the dirt from the equation (if possible) and providing plenty of other things for your cat to do may be as far as you can go.

The Dangers of Cats Eating Dirt 

If you see your cat eating dirt, it can causes injury to your cat so best to do what you can to prevent the behavior and make your veterinarian aware of the behavior.

Dangers include consumption of pesticides and other toxins, choking, damage to the teeth, throat, or digestive tract from ingesting rocks or sticks, and consumption of soil-dwelling parasites.

How to Prevent Your Cat from Eating Dirt

  •  Provide a distraction whenever your cat starts eating dirt. You can distract them by calmly saying their name and then offer them an appripaiute chew item or play session instead.
  • Remove indoor potted plants or place them well out of your cats's reach.
  • Make sure your dog cat gets plenty of physical activity and mental stimulation to help relieve stress and prevent them from eating dirt out of boredom.
  • Provide an enriched environment: Make sure your cat has plenty of activities and places to go so it stays occupied, engaged, and can find stress relief when needed. For instance, engage in interactive play with your cat regularly to simulate its hunting instinct and offer solo toys for when you're away. A tall scratching post, a cat tree or high perch, and a window for watching the outside world are all helpful distractions as well.
  • Address any potential causes of stress in your cat's life, such as a big change in routine or family structure.
  • Provide additional chew toys: Divert your cat's attention away from dirt with catnip or cat toys to play with. Change up your cat's toys frequently to keep things interesting.
  • Work with a certified cat behavior professional and your vet: If nothing else works, seek out a professional who can help modify the behavior.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.