ExcitedCats is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more.

Do Cats Eat Their Own Poop? Cat Behavior Explained

Cats are curious creatures, and we may see them sampling all sorts of non-edible things; houseplants, cardboard boxes, our toes, are just a few examples. Many animals eat their feces to digest maximum nutrients, but do cats do this too?

Cats do not normally engage in coprophagia (eating feces), but some exceptions exist. Mother cats will eat the feces of their young for around 30 days as a scent masking tactic. It’s not normal for them to eat their feces, and this behavior signals a physical or mental imbalance.

divider-catclaw1

A Biological Drive

There are only two instances where your cat eating feces is normal:
  • Ingestion of kittens wastes for scent removal
  • Kittens eating feces for gut bacteria

Mother Cat

A mother cat will stimulate her young to urinate or defecate by licking their genitals, helping them to develop regular bowel and bladder movements.

This behavior is linked to survival in the wild. Cats bury their feces away from their living space to cover their scent from nearby predators. Mother cats remove kitten feces to hide their scent while still in the den.

Kittens are particularly vulnerable, especially in the first 30 days. Cats will often leave their kittens alone for periods to go hunting, and she wants to ensure they stay hidden and safe.

Kittens

As the kittens begin to explore and wean off milk, they encounter a wide range of bacteria. Kittens must build immunity and a beneficial balance of gut bacteria to withstand the range of potentially harmful microorganisms they will ingest through their lives.

Ingesting microbes in the first few weeks of life can contribute to the healthy intestinal flora. This habitat may continue as the kittens grow, but they should naturally grow out of it within weeks.

cat paw divider

Risks of Coprophagia in Cats

Cat sniffing plants in the garden
Image Credit: miezekieze, Pixabay

If cat poop benefits cats at certain stages of their life, why don’t they eat their poop all through their life?

While rare ingestion of feces should not cause much harm to your cat, there are some health risks if a cat engages in coprophagia frequently.

For example, if the feces in question is from a medicated cat, the poop will contain remnants of these drugs. It’s rare for cats, but this is a genuine concern for dogs who eat poop more often.

Eating poop also puts your cat at a higher risk of contracting parasites or worsening a current infection. Intestinal parasites spread from animal to animal by shedding eggs through feces, which hatch in the digestive system they end up in.

Eating feces expose your cat to these parasites. If they eat their feces already infected with mild parasites, they can increase the infection load.

Why Does My Cat Eat Its Own Poop?

A cat’s poop-eating behavior may mean you have to clean the litter box less, but this “bonus” is not worth the risks. To stop this behavior, you first need to identify the cause, and this process may take some time and close observations. Contact your vet to support you in pinpointing the issue.

Nutritional Deficiency

Many animals that engage in coprophagia are herbivores that redigest dense plant matter to increase nutrient absorption.

These animals are usually hindgut fermenters, meaning the plant matter has already passed through the absorption site before it is fermented down (unlike sheep, who ferment plant matter before digesting it).

It’s not normal for cats to eat poop for nutritional reasons due to their diet and digestion type. However, eating poop may be a sign that they lack nutrients. A trip to the vet for health screening and diet adjustment can help rectify this situation.

Other signs of nutritional deficiencies include:
  • Poor skin and coat condition
  • Losing weight
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy

Parasites

Coprophagia may be a sign of an internal parasite burden. These parasites leach nutrients from the digestive tract and cause malnutrition despite adequate food consumption. Your cat may be searching to supplement their diet as they struggle to maintain their condition.

Some theories for dogs also suggest that individuals with parasites may eat their feces to prevent younger or more vulnerable members of the pack from becoming infected.

This is not substantiated, but something to think about if your cat has kittens nearby they are trying to protect.

Speak to your vet about a standard fecal egg count of your cat’s poop to test for parasites.

Other signs of parasites include:
  • Dull coat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mucus or blood in feces
  • Slight bloating

Illness or Disease

sick cat with feline disease
Image Credit: Kittima05, Shutterstock

Some diseases can cause extreme hunger in cats. With the lack of an alternative, a desperate cat may turn to anything they can find, including their poop. Common causes for extreme hunger include:

As always, contact your vet to investigate your cat’s health.

Behavioral

Abnormal fecal consumption in cats may be attributed to behavioral reasons. Undue stress or anxiety can cause such strange behaviors. Coprophagia because of stress may be due to:

  • Fear of being punished for defecation. If you have punished your cat for pooping in the house, they may feel compelled to “hide the evidence” in a similar accident.
  • Submission to another pet. Cats hide their poop to cover their scent from potential threats. In social groups, they will also do this to submit to more dominant individuals. Anxiety around other animals may cause cats to eat their poop.
  • A learned behavior. If this unfortunate behavior is formed under times of stress, even once the stressor is removed from your cat’s life, it can be hard for them to break the habit. Psychological damage is hard to reverse.

yarn ball divider

How to Stop It

cat litter box_ borzywoj, Shutterstock
Image Credit: borzywoj, Shutterstock
  • Clean the litter box often or consider investing in an automatic litter box.
  • Visit the vet regularly for health checks.
  • Ensure you’re providing a balanced diet to meet all nutritional needs.
  • Slow down their eating to optimize food digestion.
  • And most importantly, don’t punish your cat. The further emotional damage may only worsen the issue.

cat + line divider

Final Thoughts

Overall, your cat eating poop is not normal. You and your vet should investigate to decipher the root cause of the issue, whether it’s physical or mental.

However, don’t be alarmed if your mother cat or her kittens are eating poop. This behavior is an evolved survival trait for vulnerable young cats.

thematic break

Featured Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock

excitedcatssmallsfeb2022