Litter can mean a brood, offspring, or progeny, i.e., the young ones of an animal born at the same time or the absorbent material placed in the litter box or tray where domestic cats, rabbits or other animals to defecate or urinate on while indoors.
Although some cats may eat their litter, a phenomenon known as filial cannibalism for one or the other reasons, this discussion is not about filial cannibalism but rather cat eating their littering tray material.
Why do cats eat litter?
Is your cat eating their litter or other non-food things? While it may sound abnormal, it does happen, and it is often known as pica.
Pica is a disorder signified by animals eat things that are not typically considered as food including litter, dirt, paper, et cetera. It can be due to the following reasons.
1. Your kitty is anemic
The first possible cause is anemia which results from your cat having less red blood cells or hemoglobin.
Common symptoms of feline anemia include pale gums and other mucous membranes, lethargy, intolerance to exercise, listlessness, lack of appetite, weight loss, and black tarry stool.
Anemia can be due to deficiencies of minerals, essential fatty acids or vitamins, excessive blood loss and leukemia.
Diagnosis is by tests such as complete blood cell count, packed cell volume, red blood cell count as well as hemoglobin count.
2. Nutritional deficiencies
This disorder can also be due to diets that lack some vital nutrients. For instance, “deficiencies in Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), L-Carnitine, Magnesium, Pyruvate Kinase, Sodium, and/or Taurine may also trigger litter eating in cats,” notes The Spruce Pets.
Your kitties will be eating litter, especially those made of clay to help compensate deficiencies in any of these minerals.
Talk to your vet to identify the specific deficiencies that your felines may be having and recommend appropriate diets and/or supplements.
3. Kidney disease
As felines age, their renal function gradually declines to lead to chronic kidney disease. As Wag Walking observes, “some of the additional symptoms besides eating cat litter include vomiting, weakness, weight loss, and depression.”
Besides the physical examination, complete blood count, electrolyte chemistry profile, urinalysis, urine protein to creatine ration test, imaging, among other tests may help check if your feline friend has kidney disease.
4. Feline leukemia
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) virus results in anemia in cats and hence they may show the pica disorders. It is the second most common cause of feline deaths.
Some of the commonly noted symptoms include anorexia, anisocoria, poor coat quality, seizures, skin lesions, fatigue, weight loss, gingivitis, diarrhea, jaundice, anemia, among many others.
5. Stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder
Stress, boredom or obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a cause for this behavior. For instance, if it happens after a stressful event such as changing their environment, moving, bringing in a new pet, et cetera.
Also, it could be due to boredom if they live without any enrichments including cat toys, chews, and so on.
Finally, in the case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, your feline may be repeatedly involved in various undesirable behaviors including pica.
Why do kittens eat litter?
All the reasons above could be a cause of this behavior in kittens, i.e., it could be due to anemia, feline leukemia, nutritional deficiencies or kidney disease (rare in kittens), stress or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In addition to these reasons, it can be due to:
Because they are young and trying various tastes or just exploring, they may eat part of their litter. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid clumping ones as they may cause intestinal blockages.
Also, ensure your cat litter is non-toxic and if they seem to be eating too much of it, remove them from the littering trays once they are done urinating or defecating.
Adult felines may also eat it if you switch the type you are using especially when you go from the corn-based to wheat-based or vice versa.
2. Early separation from their mother
Since they learn from their mothers, removing their mother too soon, before 8 weeks may lead to some pica behaviors as they have not learned enough on litter box usage.
3. Improper foods
Young kittens are used to suckling their mother’s milk. When you start weaning them, you supposed to start with wet foods before going to dry ones.
However, going to dry foods directly they may be a reason why they may end up eating their litter because they don’t know the difference.
Always soak their dry foods or feed them with wet kitten foods.
What to do if your kitties eat their litter?
Begin by diagnosis to check if there are any nutritional deficiencies or diseases, we have noted that may trigger this behavior. Once it is confirmed your cat is in good health, further strategies include the following:
1. Switch to a new brand
If they always eat a certain type such as corn or wheat-based ones, consider switching to something new.
2. Go for natural ones
Go for those that are not toxic ones and are made from natural material such as paper. Also, stop using clumping litter as they are likely to cause blockages.
3. Go for high-quality cat foods
If your felines depend on homemade foods or low-quality ones, go for higher quality ones to ensure they do not end up with nutritional deficiencies.
4. Enrich their lives
Try interactive toys or those that will offer a distraction, make them play more and give them something else to chew. For instance, buy various toys, consider bringing in a second cat if you only have one, and so on
Toys such as SmartyKat Skitter Critters Catnip Toy, Rainbow cat charmer, KONG Naturals Incline Scratcher, toss a crinkle ball, happy cat standby—catnip, may prevent them from spending too much time in their littering trays, cause distraction and give them something else to chew.
6. Litter training
If your kittens have not been litter-trained, consider beginning it so as they know how to well use them.