We might love our cats, but every now and again, they do something that makes us shake our heads. One of those things is eating cat litter. It seems like a gross habit, but it can be a sign of a behavioral or health problem that needs to be solved.
We rounded up a few top tips for getting your cat to stop eating litter, as well as advice for how to get to the root of the problem. The technical term for litter-eating behavior is pica. So, before we look at solutions, let’s take a quick look at what pica is in more detail and what causes it.
What is pica?
Pica is the scientific term for when your cat eats non-food items. Besides litter, this can include dirt, plastic, fabric, and more.
It’s thought that pica in some cats is used as a comfort mechanism, like suckling. This can be especially relevant for cats that may have been abandoned by their mother. Some cats might suck on something like a plastic bag as a self-soothing mechanism. In other cats, like curious kittens, it’s simply another way for them to explore their environment. Cat litter isn’t a good choice for your cat to eat, though!
Clumping cat litter can be dangerous for cats to eat, as once it makes contact with the moisture in their digestive system, it can clump together and cause a blockage. Clay-based cat litter can also cause bentonite toxicosis if your cat eats it in large enough quantities.
1. Reduce stress
Pica can be a sign of stress, and some cats will eat non-food items in an attempt to self-soothe. If something has happened recently, like a house move or the addition of a new pet, that may have caused your cat to feel stressed and anxious. Adding a feline pheromone diffuser can help your cat feel more relaxed, but it’s also a good idea to speak to your vet.
2. Add enrichment to your cat’s environment
Eating litter can be a sign of boredom, so take a look at your cat’s home environment and consider adding enrichment. Besides multiple different toys, make sure your cat has access to scratching posts and plenty of vertical interest, like cat trees and shelves. When you’re away from home, you can use a cat camera to play with your cat, as some have integrated laser toys.
If your cat lives indoors, they might love the chance to play in the great outdoors — safely. Build them a cat enclosure, which can be as big or small as you like.
3. Switch to a different cat litter
Some plant-based cat litters can smell appealing to cats, especially if they’re looking for something natural to chew on. Litters made from paper, grass, coconut husks, walnut shells, corn, or wheat can be tempting to cats. You might want to switch to a crystal or clay-based litter that smells less enticing. Remember to make the transition to the new litter gradually, so your cat has a chance to adapt.
4. Rule out medical conditions
Eating cat litter can be a sign of certain medical conditions, including anemia, kidney disease, and leukemia. Your veterinarian will want to rule out these conditions and may recommend blood tests, radiographs, or MRIs to make sure your cat is healthy.
5. Change your cat’s diet
If your cat is eating litter, it could be an indication that their diet isn’t nutritionally complete. Speak to your vet or a cat nutritionist, and make sure your cat’s food is complete and balanced. High-quality cat foods will say on the label that they meet AAFCO standards. Make sure you choose a cat food with a high percentage of protein and with real meat as the first ingredient.
6. Offer cat grass to your cat
Some cats love to chew on something green, and if there’s no grass available, they might start looking at your houseplants or even decide to take a chew on plant-based cat litter. Cat grass is easy to grow and can offer your cat plenty of vitamins and minerals, as well as the opportunity to indulge in natural chewing behavior.
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