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Why Is My Cat Eating Kitty Litter?

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Cats eat litter for a variety of reasons, ranging from dietary problems to stress. If the behavior does not happen often, then the cat may just be tasting it because it is curious. Many cases of litter consumption indicate that your cat has a health problem and needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. The most likely health-related reason for eating kitty litter is a vitamin or mineral deficiency, which the substances in the litter might help compensate for. Nutritional deficits are often caused by an underlying condition, such as anemia.

Physical Health Issues

Any health problem that prevents your cat's body from absorbing all the vitamins and minerals it needs can lead to many different side effects, including kitty litter consumption. Many of these conditions are not limited to cats but can also cause similar behavior in other animals that use litter, like rabbits. In many cases, the underlying cause is anemia, a condition in which the body doesn't make enough red blood cells or those cells don't work as well as they should. Anemic animals also become deficient in iron.

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The most visible sign of anemia in a cat or kitten — other than eating kitty litter — is paleness. You can check for this by lifting the cat's lips and looking at the gums and tongue, which should have a healthy pink color. Some cats have very dark pigment in their gums, which is normal, but you may still be able to tell if they are paler than usual. If your cat’s gums are white or bluish, you should consider a trip to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Anemia in cats is often, but not always, a symptom of a more serious illness such as cancer or kidney disease. While cancer symptoms vary greatly, some additional warning signs include fatigue, appetite loss, bloody feces or urine, or noticeable changes in appearance. When a cat's kidneys are damaged, harmful substances can accumulate in the body; symptoms of this can include vomiting and loss of appetite.

Two other fairly serious but rare conditions that can cause a cat to eat unusual things are feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and feline pica. FIP is believed to be caused by a virus that invades the immune system's white blood cells, leading to inflammation, abnormal eating behaviors, weight loss, fever, and bloating. Feline pica, on the other hand, is believed to result from mineral deficiencies, some diseases, or simply boredom. If your cat eats or chews on other non-food items in addition to kitty litter, this may be the problem.

Other Issues

Many cats occasionally eat litter just as an experiment. Animals have different temperaments and personalities, and sometimes your pet simply may be curious about the taste. If the behavior occurs once in a while but not often, then it may not be a cause for concern. Kittens in particular are very curious and will eat many things, much like a human child.

Keep your pet's diet in mind as well. Cats are natural meat-eaters, so felines who do not get enough meat may develop nutritional deficiencies that they attempt to correct by eating kitty litter. Make sure that the foods your cat eats contain lots of natural ingredients and nutrients like iron and potassium. It's often best to avoid artificial ingredients and preservatives.

Sometimes, cats may even develop psychological issues just like their human counterparts. Strange eating behaviors may indicate a compulsion, for example. If the cat is adjusting to a major change, such as the sudden departure of a loved owner or another pet, it may be stressed and depressed, which can result in unusual behaviors.

Results of Consumption

Whatever the cause, you should pay attention to what your cat is eating. Some of the ingredients in kitty litter can be dangerous for the cat, although it depends on what type of litter is used. Clumping litter, often made from sodium benotite clay, sticks together when mixed with urine or feces. If eaten, it can create clumps in the cat's digestive system and create a potentially deadly intestinal blockage. The clay may also strip minerals such as iron and potassium from the cat's body. Deodorizing substances like scented crystals also contain chemicals that could hurt the cat if eaten.

Natural litters may be made from newspaper, pine, wheat, wood chips, or corn. It may be less dangerous if a cat eats one of these materials, since they may be less likely to create an internal blockage. In addition, if the pet is eating one of these substances, it's probably less likely that it has a more serious underlying problem.

What You Can Do

If you are concerned about your cat's eating habits, the best thing to do is take the cat to a vet. Be sure to mention that the cat is eating kitty litter, and how often, as well as any other unusual behavior. The vet will typically perform a physical evaluation and blood tests to look for any potential health problems.

Once diagnosed, your pet may be prescribed antibiotics or other medications to treat any condition that's causing the behavior. Alternately, a change in diet or activity may be all that's required. If the litter is blocking the cat's intestinal tract — or has the potential to do so — surgery may be required to remove it.

You may also take proactive steps yourself, including watching what your pet eats. Changing to a different type of litter may help stop the behavior, as can removing any toys or plants that the cat tries to chew on. You can try to train the cat not to eat non-food items by getting its attention with a loud clap and a firm "no" when you see the behavior and/or moving the cat away from the item. If the cat is eating kitty litter out of boredom or to get your attention, playing with it more frequently and giving it more productive toys can help keep it entertained.

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anon252179
Post 30

I ended up on this site after looking up cat eating cat litter and thought I would add my comments.

My beloved two year old Birman was diagnosed less than a week ago of suspected dry FIP (FIP can't ever be 100 percent diagnosed until after death).

The first sign I had of his illness was about two and a half weeks ago when he had a seizure/fit, and that awful stooping of the head from side to side and flickering of eyes. I immediately rushed him to the vets who diagnosed severe anaemia.

His blood tests show non-regenerative anaemia and has a total protein count of >120 (norm 50).

Since his first visit due to the seizure, his weight went down from 4kg to 3.2kg, by which time FIP was suspected and he can still be unsteady on his feet as if a little bit drunk.

Anyhow, although FIP is incurable, he's now being 'treated' with steroids and antibiotics and seems to be putting weight back on (will know for sure in two days at his next visit) and is much brighter in himself and has started eating again.

However, for the first time, today he's been picking at his litter tray (catsan) hence me ending up here.

I don't know how my baby will go on, but at least I now know that this behaviour is not uncommon in cats with anaemia.

anon132366
Post 29

Dear Post #27: I had a very similar problem last year with our cat. She was a stray, already declawed and spayed. She was found about 4 1/2 years ago and outside for a month.

We adopted her then last year she became seriously ill with anemia. The vet said while she was a stray, she was probably bitten by fleas. She was close to dying with a RBC of 5 and 5 pounds, down from 11. I opted for the blood transfusion and feeding tube and lots of antibiotics. We had ups and downs at first but now a year later she is 11.8 oz, loves Whiskas Kitty Milk, Natural Balance Salmon canned food and dry kitten food. However, over the weekend, she urinated on the two dog beds and started eating the kitty litter.

Vet said to put a second litter box near where she sleeps, gave her a shot of antibiotics, hope this issue doesn't continue.

anon115391
Post 28

My cat had used clumping clay litter for years until after her surgery, she immediately started wanting to eat it. It was removed immediately and switched with a clay non-clumping litter. Although it best to switch over adding 10 percent of the new litter at a time, we had to do an immediate change.

She is now using Yesterday's News (composed of paper), although after her last surgery, she did try to eat it, at least it won't cause her harm. With the exception of that incident, this has worked. I would encourage people to have their vet diagnose the problem and try different litters.

There are many great alternative litters out there. In my case, it appears that my cat was not happy having surgery and was her way of acting out. By the way, never get mad at kitty for eating litter, as negative reinforcement may encourage the behaviour if he/she is seeking attention, try to say no, and then distract him/her with a toy, etc.

anon107169
Post 27

My cat went to the vet, his PCV (blood count) was 7, vet said the normal number should be around 34-50. This scared me. I could not afford to get him to an emergency vet for a blood transfusion. I have kept him in a pet carrier for about a week now. I don't want him exerting any energy. He needs rest.

He has pulled through thus far, but I am keeping my eye on him. When I took him home from the vet I kept hot packs around him while he slept and covered him up with towels and blankets. He was freezing cold and in shock and hypothermia. This was all caused from anemia, which was caused by fleas. I had no idea he was infested with the fleas.

The vet gave him a Capstar and I have been feeding him ever since that day, cat food with liver in it. His favorite is Friskies. Since it is canned, it gives him some water that he otherwise does not want to drink on a daily basis.

I have also given him half of an iron pill and half of a B12 each day. The first few days I gave him droppers of liver juice from a store bought container of chicken liver (which is the blood). He did not enjoy this but I was doing everything I could do to bring him out of this. I was pretty positive he was going to die.

Now I let him out of the carrier a few times a day to stretch and go to the bathroom. He eats the cat litter. I stop him each time, but I am now fearful that he might end up having a blockage from this.

He eats often, several times a day. I give him small cat treats and wet food. He has a good appetite. He is also drinking more water. He is still weak but does not wobble like he did before. His body is warm and he is alert.

If you notice your cat acting lethargic, if his body becomes cold, if he howls loudly, take him to the vet. The vet let me know his body temp needed to be increased and I made sure when I took him home I would do everything I possibly could to take care of my little baby.

A blood transfusion is not cheap at all, but it might be a good idea if your cat is severely anemic like mine is. I am pretty sure that he does not have an underlying condition causing it. I will know this for sure when I return to the vet.

Make sure your pets have doctor approved iron or other vitamins. Let them drink as much fresh water and food as possible. If you have to force them to eat with a dropper, do so. I have spent lots of time and effort trying to let my little guy build up strength, and it is hard, but it can happen.

Bless you all, and I hope that you learn something from this. I ran out of hope thinking my baby was going to die. I know he is still not out of the woods but I am going to do everything I possibly can to help him.

anon95968
Post 26

We just took a stray kitten in some days ago. He's about 10-12 weeks old. We took him to the vet and he said he was healthy besides fleas which we took care of immediately. Because I didn't know better I bought the clumping clay litter and found that he ate that. Now I tried changing the litter but whichever one I try he doesn't like any of them and doesn't use his litter box. He was using it very well before; the only problem was his eating.

I'm not really sure what to do. Any suggestions?

anon94271
Post 25

We had an 8 week old kitten die from eating kitty litter. It isn't the clumping litter, so I'm not sure if that was the cause of death. I don't know how to make our other kittens stop eating litter, especially one of them who doesn't potty in the litterbox, but she'll eat it. Any advice on how to make her stop eating it and using it?

anon93759
Post 24

my cat is almost two years old and I just caught him eating some litter. i use the non clumping kind that has all natural gravel but i think when he threw it up a piece must have been stuck somewhere. he is bleeding from his nose and i have no money to take him to the vet.

i hate to just watch my kitty die but i don't have a choice. the kitty litter i used is ever best kitty litter 3.00 for a 20 pound bag. please don't buy that litter. your cat may die. all i can do is pray for ziggy to overcome this.

amypollick
Post 23

@Anon89901: It could be the litter. Perhaps the fragrance irritates him or something. I don't know how old he is, but if he's older than 8 or so, you might want to have his thyroid checked. Cats are prone to overactive thyroid, and this can lead to aggressive behavior. There are many treatment options for it, if he does have it.

anon89901
Post 22

Can a cats behavior change if you suddenly change to a different brand of litter when you have only bought the same brand in the past? For the past two weeks my cat has been having mean attacks. He is normally a very loving cat and will not get defensive unless we are playing rough. The only thing that has change since he started this behavior is when I changed his litter brand. Anyone?

anon87600
Post 21

I have a cat who we've just noticed is eating his litter. He's always been an overeater and a stress eater who would sometimes eat until he threw up and then go eat some more. We would ration the food out through the day but we are afraid the other two cats would not get enough once he finished.

Our vet knows this and agrees that there is no simple solution as the cats are of the same litter and will not stand to be separated for feeding time because they are very attached to each other.

He's a little tubby but he's mostly just big, twice the height and length of his sister who is a fairly normal sized house cat. It seems that he's been having greater incidence of vomiting and hair balls lately, in spite of receiving hair ball meds and brushing on a regular basis. Otherwise he does not act sick in any way. But after reading this article I guess I ought to take him to the vet anyway, just to be sure.

anon87591
Post 20

My wonderful companion cat, "Muffin", is 15 years old, diagnosed with kidney failure two months ago. The vet tells us it could be two weeks or two years, depending on her "quality of life". We are administering subcutaneous fluids at home (my husband is the "injector"}, daily.

now that we have figured the most effective way to get it done it takes a few minutes to get one half ML under her skin. Of course she gets treats afterward! Anyway, I have noticed her eating her litter on occasion. Anemia is a symptom of renal failure so we are not that concerned.

As long as her life quality is happy we will fight the fight to keep her with us. She is my friend and I hers. She will let us know when she has had enough and expires her nine lives.

anon76877
Post 19

My cat is almost two. She started dropping weight and is 1/2 the size of a normal adult cat. we have had a covered litter box since we adopted her when she was four months and have recently noticed she's eating her litter. we rushed to switch to non clumping but it didn't help. we now have bought "feline pine" little pine pellets for the box (100 percent natural), and it worked.

she no longer eats it and if she did, it breaks up very easily, but she hasn't pooped in 36 hours.

we rushed her to the emergency clinic last night and they said she looks to be anemic, or it could be other things like hook or tapeworm, but her vital signs suggest that its not (anemia). she will be going to the vet tomorrow morning as soon as they open so hopefully they can make her poop. But one thing I'm confused about is she is hanging her head very low, as if she has no muscles.

i stand up in front of her and say her name, she'll meow and attempt to look up. she's really shaky about it and has no balance because she can't look up when she walks. she tries but it's like maybe there's a pinched nerve and she kind of jerks her head around. this is what really scares me. the emergency vet didn't even know what was wrong with her.

i can tell she's miserable and it's killing me to see her hurt. She's like my child and has been there on the bad days to make me feel better. I wish i knew what was wrong.

anon75387
Post 18

Thank you for this article. My 5 month old kitten died in my boyfriend's arms at 5:30am and we are now looking for the many possible causes.

She had been to the vet only three days before her death and the vet had said she was very healthy for a cat with feline leukemia and that she should have another few months with us.

We noticed she began eating her kitty litter and even her own feces and became very worried.

Knowing that anemia is one of the main causes for a cat to eat their kitty litter and that it ties in with feline leukemia is a huge relief but it does not bring her back.

anon74910
Post 17

my cat is two years old. i just started noticing two months ago he was eating his litter.

i rushed him to the vet and found out he was anemic. he has been in and out of the vet for the last month and is on six diff meds a day.

He isn't doing so well and we just found out he has cancer and might not live another year. It's so depressing because this is my child and i can't believe it happened to him.

i love him. just watch your pets closely because anything can happen suddenly. --Biggiesmom

amypollick
Post 16

@ anon72597: I understand how you feel about your tabby. I love my cats and the times I've had to make that decision just about killed me. I cried for days.

But you have to remember that along with the joy of being a pet owner also comes that responsibility to do the right thing when the time comes. If your cat is suffering, it is not right to keep him alive just for your wife. Please understand it's like a child. The cat knows he feels poorly but doesn't understand why. He just knows that he feels bad all the time. This is not fair or right to your cat, who has given you many years of joy and love. He deserves to end his days in peace and without unnecessary pain.

Please do the right thing for your cat, even though it hurts.

anon72597
Post 15

I have a 10 year old Tabby, who last month in February, was seen by his Come to our house vet, and we were told he was in great shape (Yearly Exam).

A few days ago, our cat quit eating and drinking water and looked bad so we called the house vet and she said she had no idea what was going on, to take him to a vet hospital.

We did and found out he has a massive tumor wrapped around his small intestine, and the start of kidney problems. We got him to eat some but now all he wants is his litter. We want to keep him and can't put him down -- it's too hard.

My wife has high blood pressure and this is our only baby, to put him to sleep will kill her.

anon66896
Post 14

My cat was 11. He had Chronic Renal failure, over the last 2 years. She was only given Instin for blood pressure and Fortekor, Ranalzine paste in her food for the kidneys and Doxion a supplement. He has been rapidly losing weight and over the last 2 weeks seriously. Back legs were going and recently started to eat the cat litter. The vet said they do this when they're anemic. He was put to sleep at the weekend and I have cried ever since. I was told his time had come and he would not get better; he may have a seizure and it would happen in a matter of days. I am still questioning all this. He was very poorly but then ulcerated gums, so I did what I thought the kindest thing for him, but certainly not for me. Maybe I should have had another opinion, but after death always comes someone to blame and anger. I can only pray that what I did for my cat was for him.

anon66797
Post 13

My cat was diagnosed with pneumonia and anemia 2 days ago. He is on meds and iron. I noticed he also has taken a bit of cat litter. I am having to prompt him to eat and drink water. He's very lethargic. And he hasn't had but 1 small BM today.

MinrsMom
Post 12

In the last two weeks my until recently very healthy Maine Coon cat has been very ill. I took him to the emergency vet where they diagnosed him as anemic. They gave me prednisone and doxycycline and told me to follow up with a vet in two days.

He had no improvement over the two days and the vet did another PCV test and said the red blood cells only increased 1 percent and suggested we keep administering the medications and re-check in a week. They also said he had tapeworms and gave him pills for that in the office.

When we got home I let him out of his carrier and he immediately went to his liter box and started eating liter. This is a new behavior and I read it's a sign of anemia but why did he start doing this six days after? I'm concerned there might be a more serious underlying issue like leukemia, cancer or Feline Aids.

I'm so worried about my buddy and don't want him to die but I just can't afford the additional tests on top of the emergency vet, the vet and all the medications they currently have him on. Does anyone have any positive suggestions?

anon62419
Post 11

I wanted to thank everyone who wrote in. I changed my cat to newspaper right away and she seems to be ok. Your comments helped me to take quick action before my cat got really sick.

anon59350
Post 10

My cat drastically lost half his body weight within a month, and was drinking a lot of water. The vet concluded it was his kidneys that were the problem (common for his breed: Siamese/Persian) and also noticed that he was anemic by the paleness of the inside of his ears. Within the last couple of days, I noticed that he is starting to lick his litter also. I now go with him every time that he goes into the bathroom to make sure that he doesn't lick it before and after he does his business (of course, once he starts to go, I give him his privacy, till I hear him bury it). I am aware that he will not live forever, but the vet says we can make the remainder of his life more comfortable for him. Vet gave him two weeks (two weeks ago)and he has improved and has become more affectionate and active since we started the treatments. I hope my story can help others, as the other stories have helped me. Thanks and best wishes to all.

anon55580
Post 9

my cat began eating catsan a few weeks ago and was not well; what was the cause I do not know. I asked the vet, who said she had never heard of it but that the litter must be safe or they would not be allowed to sell it for animal usage.

I eventually changed to Bob Martins, he stopped eating it and he seemed to get better for a week or so. But then I noticed he was eating it again on Friday. He was put to sleep yesterday -- too poorly to be saved.

If your cat eats the stuff, take it away just in case. Chubbykins

anon52531
Post 8

My cat started doing this about a week ago and we weren't sure what the cause was. She died yesterday evening! I wish i had found this site sooner and acted quicker. R.I.P. --Betty

anon51789
Post 7

My cat recently started doing this after we moved. She has been extremely scared (shaking and everything) and when I put her in the litter box to show her where it is in our new place, she started eating the litter. I know she's had fleas lately, so anemia could be the explanation, but I'm hoping since she isn't near my grandmother's giant bag of fleas anymore, she'll be okay.

anon50456
Post 6

My cat is 1 and a half; and right now he's very sick. The vet did a scan and found something we conclude was cat litter in his intestines. He's on serum and has had to have a blood transfusion. I'm very worried he won't make it. The vet says that unless he eats and defecates the litter he will die and i've being crying my eyes out since this afternoon. If your cat's eating litter, get to a vet soon, before it gets too late.

anon48394
Post 5

My cat just started doing this and I think it is because of anemia. However I think it is related to fleas and not any illness. He has been flea free for most of his life and just this summer we started feeding a feral cat and probably brought fleas into the house from her. So, he has been treated for fleas and I expect this behavior to subside. I would recommend feeding a high quality food and wet food for a while to see if your cat gets better.

anon43360
Post 4

I recently had a cat become very ill and ended up having to have him put to sleep. His X-rays showed cat litter in his intestines causing blockage. He was given an enema to pass the cat litter but, it was too late. He was already poisoned by the litter. The litter is very toxic. I didn't know this until I lost my cat over it. He was eating the cat litter and licking clay. If your cat is doing this, please get to a vet quickly. I would hate to see you have to go through what I am going through over losing my special baby. Also, please switch your cat litter.

anon31733
Post 3

anon16775:

If this condition is continuing or progressively getting worse then you might want to test her for Feline Intestinal Peritonitis. It's difficult to detect. She may have pleurisy as a side effect. Check if her breathing rate is overly fast.

kittykins
Post 2

Our cat eats kitty litter in the middle of the night and then throws it up. It is a frantic rush to get him to the tile before he throws up on the carpet. he was diagnosed with cancer (mast cell tumor) more than 2 years ago and the vet said he would be lucky to make it for 6 months. We give him prednisone once per day and zantac twice. he is a very happy guy and we treasure every day with him. Two questions: what are the chances that our other two cats may pick up this behavior? and is there any vitamin that i could give him to prevent this. Thanks for any help that you can provide.

anon16775
Post 1

My cat is 2 and she eats cat litter, licks clay pots and when we let her out on the balcony she licks the pavement. This all started after we had her fixed when she was 9 months. Since then we have been to countless vets and run several tests, there is nothing wrong with her, except for the fact that she has never gotten any bigger from when she was 9 months and that she still licks or eats anything that is clay. Sometimes she looks very sick and then in a few hours or days she is back to normal active and misbehaving. Is there something I am missing with the clay thing?

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