How to Know if Eating Cat Litter will Hurt your Cat

The answer to if eating litter will hurt your cat:

Clumping clay-based litter will hurt your cat if they eat it in large amounts. It can cause lumps in their digestive system, and cause a blockage.

Your cat might get a stomach upset if they ingest a small amount of the bentonite clay.

Plant-based litter is harmless to your cat if they eat it.

Cats can sometimes eat weird things, including cat litter. As a cat owner, you might be worried about what on earth could make your cat eat litter, and if it’s safe for them to do so.

Cat litter can be a dangerous thing for your cat to eat, but sometimes it is harmless. It all depends on the type of litter, and the amount ingested.

In this article, I will tell you if eating cat litter will hurt your cat. Keep reading, to know how to stop them.


Clumping Litter is Dangerous If a Cat Eats It

Regardless of the reason why your cat is attracted to litter, your first concern must be for your cat’s safety.

Of course, litter is not meant to be eaten, and it is not normal behavior for a cat do so. However, we are going to see if it’s dangerous when your cat decides to munch on it.

Before I answer if cat litter is harmful to a cat when ingested, I must say the answer depends on the litter type.

Clumping litter is made from sodium bentonite clay which sticks together when mixed with urine or feces.

If the cat ingests just a little of clumping litter, they will be fine or get a little bit of stomach upset.

If however, your cat ingests more, it can create lumps in your cat’s digestive system, and cause a deadly intestinal blockage.

The clay may also strip vital minerals such as potassium and iron from the cat’s body. If the litter contains deodorizing substances such as scented crystals, these chemicals could harm your cat if they eat it.


Plant Based/Natural Litter is Harmless

However, not all litter is created equal. 

Natural litter may be made from newspaper, wood shavings, pine, corn, or wheat. If your cat eats these, it may be less dangerous.

These easily pass out of your cat’s system through the feces.


Take Your Cat to the vet After Eating Clay Based Litter

The first thing you want to do if you suspect your cat has eaten large amounts of clumping litter is to take it to the vet.

The vet will be able to rule out any medical condition. Eating litter is not normal behavior for a cat.

Most medical conditions can be treated successfully if diagnosed early. The vet might give the cat some medications to expel the litter.

In some serious cases, surgery might be needed to remove the blockage.


Cats Can Ingest Litter Accidentally

Cats can dig into the litter box when they want to poop, or just explore. While doing so, some of the litter pellets and particles get trapped under their paws.  

Unfortunately, these small particles find their way into your cat’s mouth when they are grooming themselves, or eating.

While it might not be necessary to panic each time you see this, discourage your cat from doing the behavior,  because it might be dangerous in the long run.

If your feline friend eats these small particles, they will pass out of its body through the feces.


Pica in Cats Results in Eating Strange Things

The urge to eat non-food items in cats is called pica. It shows up most frequently in young cats, although it can also appear in older cats.

Pica can cause strange cravings in a cat. They become attracted to eating all types of materials: fabric, string, plastic, dirt, and even litter.

Cat pica may be caused by many things such as:


1. Dietary deficiencies

Some cats will eat their cat litter if they are anemic. This occurs if they have decreased production of red blood cells and hemoglobin.

Anemia is a deficiency in iron vitamins, trace minerals, and essential fatty acids. It means your cat is not getting enough nutrition from its food.

Clay-based litters may contain minerals that may compensate for the deficiency.

Signs of anemia in cats you should check out for are:

  • Pale white gums
  • Little stamina or energy
  • They tire more easily
  • Blood loss through urine, vomit, or stools
  • Eating litter and other non-food items
  • Excessive sleepiness

These signs indicate the need to perform a blood test. A vet will perform a standard exam to indicate if the cat indeed has anemia.


2. Medical problems

Cat pica is associated with feline leukemia and cat immunodeficiency virus. Such problems may be triggered by diabetes, or brain tumors.

If your cat is eating litter, licking metal objects, or silverware, this could be a sign of cancer.

Feline leukemia is a type of feline cancer that is transferred from one cat to another through blood, saliva, urine, and feces.


3. Environmental factors

A cat may begin to eat litter because they are bored or seeking attention. Some cats will play with litter and end up eating it, because to them, it is just pure fun.

This is an indication that your cat lacks physical stimulation. Some cats require more play than others.


4. Curiosity

Kittens may eat litter out of curiosity. They like to explore their surroundings and will eat anything just like a human child. That’s why it’s recommended not to use clumping litter which contains harmful substances until your kitten is older.

Many felines might eat litter to experiment. Cats have different temperaments and personalities. Sometimes your pet is curious about the taste of the litter. 

Remove your kitten from the litter if you notice them eating it. Just be sure they have finished their business.  


5. Some cat litter is naturally tasty

Most litter is made from crystals or clay. Some litter, though, is made from edible and natural sources such as coconut husks, wheat, walnut shells, and corn.  

The scent of these types of litters might entice your furry friend to take a bite. They might even be tempted to come back for more because the litter has a food-like taste.


How to Stop Your Cat From Eating Litter

1. Reduce stressors in your cat’s life

Stress can lead to cats eating inedible substances such as litter. If this is the case, monitor closely what stresses your cat and reduce these.


  • Give them space

One way to diffuse stress in your cat is by giving them enough space. Cats are solitary creatures, so they don’t like their space intruded on by other cats, pets, or other family members.

When all these factors seem to be overwhelming your cat, provide them with an outlet to escape. A quiet space away from all the chaos, preferably on a high perch would be a good spot.


  • Ensure your cat has everything it needs

Ensure your cat has a clean litter tray, a bowl of food and water, and a scratching post. This helps reduce stress.

Another thing to consider is where you put these items. The litter tray should be away from eating areas, a place with lots of noise, or people.


  • Avoid handling them if they are not keen

While many cats enjoy petting and cuddling from their owners, others are happier to enjoy their own company.

Some cats are quick to tell you they are not happy with you handling them. Others are more subtle in how they behave  to indicate disapproval.

Watch out for signs that your cat has had enough. These include their tail moving rapidly back and forth and a low growling.

Make sure your cat has the freedom to move away when it wishes.


2. Provide your cat with plenty of stimulation

Boredom is another reason why your cat eats litter. Ensure that your cat gets lots of interaction, exercise and has lots of fun toys to play with to combat boredom.

Try to have a wide variety of toys that mimic the prey that cats naturally like to hunt. Toys that have erratic movements are very exciting to cats.

Allow your cat to capture the prey at the end of this hunting game session to satisfy its natural hunting instincts. This will also prevent your cat from getting frustrated.

In addition to ramping up playtime, consider incorporating food puzzle toys as part of the play. You can buy one, but there are many ways to make your own using common household items.

Puzzle toys are a fun way for your cat to work to get food, and they also distract them from undesirable behavior.


3. Upgrade your cat’s diet

Cat eating litter is often a big indication that your cat is not getting enough nutrients from its diet.

Cats are obligate carnivores which means they need to eat food containing high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a minimal amount of carbohydrates.

They also need vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. Commercially prepared cat foods have been developed to give your cat the correct balance of nutrients and calories.

Keep in mind that a cat’s nutritional requirements change through different stages of life. These stages are kittenhood, adulthood, pregnancy, and lactation.

A kitten may display a craving for eating litter but stop after it grows into adulthood. When buying cat food, ensure the nutritional claim on the label states the stage of a life cycle for which the food provides acomplete and balanced diet.

Some cat foods are formulated for all life stages. This is a good choice for you if you have multiple cats for different stages.


4. Offer your cat a pot of cat grass

Cats love nibbling on grass. Again, this is a distraction from the litter and gives your cat something to chew on.

You can grow your own and offer it fresh to your feline friend. They will love it and stop eating that litter.

Cat grass will also increase the amount of fiber which will help your cat’s digestive system. It also helps to reduce their urge to eat litter.


5. Switch the litter

If your cat continues to eat litter after these suggestions, consider switching to a different litter.

Choose a 100% bio degradable organic type of litter if possible as such as bamboo, farmed grass, or coconut.


Ingredients of Cat Litter

There are many different types of cat litters. Most are made of a mixture of clay types, whether clumping or non-clumping.

Companies tweak the various types of clays and other ingredients to create litter formulas that have different levels of absorption and odor control.

So, while these litters have the same basic ingredients, the type, mixture and ratios, and other additives determine how they work.

Essentially, most of these litters fall into three categories:


1. Clay-based litter

Traditional clay litter is preferably used because it can absorb its weight in urine and has some natural odor control as well.

The most common clays are sodium bentonite and calcium bentonite. They can swell up to 15 times their original volume which makes scooping easier.

Clumping litter is mainly made of bentonite clay, while non-clumping litter is made from other forms clay.


2. Silica cat litter

Crystalized litter is formed from a silica gel that is absorbent and also provides odor control. The silica used is similar to the desiccant found in medications, and other consumables that can be damaged by excess moisture.

Silica-based cat litters are best if you prefer non-clay litter. However, these are not good if your cat consumes them in a large quantity.

They tend to produce less dust than clay litters. Silica litter absorbs cat urine without making clumps.


3. Bio-degradable cat litter

Clay or silica-based litter is dangerous if your cat consumes it in large quantities. If you are worried about this possibility, choose bio-degradable cat litter.

Biodegradable cat litter is made from recycled paper products or plant-derived materials such as pine, corn, and wheat.

Other ingredients that may be added to cat litter are:

  • Baking soda: The natural salt is added to clay and other types of cat litter to absorb and neutralize odors.
  • Mineral oil: This ingredient is often added to control dust; so you don’t have to worry about a cloud of dust when your cat is digging , or when you have to change the litter.
  • Fragrances: Light fragrances may be added to control odor. However, cats don’t like scents and may avoid using the litter.


Eco-Friendly Cat Litter Products on the Market

As an environmentally enlightened cat owner, you want to buy cat litter made from natural products. That way, you will not compromise your health and that of your beloved cat.

Many commercially available litters contain a significant amount of silica dust which has been linked to upper respiratory issues in cats, and humans.

Cat litters coated with chemical fragrances are also toxic to cats. Sodium bentonite found in clumping litters can cause gastrointestinal distress in cats when ingested.

The clay is also derived from environmentally destructive strip mining.

But it’s a good thing that such concerns have paved the way for introducing greener options.

These are:


  • Recycled newspaper

Recycled newspaper is reportedly three times more absorbent than clay. It is non-toxic and contains no fragrances.

It is dust-free, and some come in recyclable paper packaging.


  • Wood shavings and sawdust

These also make good cat litter substrates. You can find a litter that is a blend of hardwood and cedar chips with no clay, or silica dust.  

It is inexpensive, easy to handle, and biodegradable.


  • Corn kernels

It is made from compressed corn kernels; it prevents odors when cleaned frequently and produces minimal dust.

The corn fibrous material quickly absorbs ammonia and odors without needing perfume or chemicals. Corn is edible, and will not cause harm to your cat if they ingest it.

Corn litter is ideal for kittens, infection-prone cats, and cats recovering from surgery.


  • Wheat cat litter

Wheat litter is made from naturally processed wheat, a renewable a bio-degradable material. Just like corn, it will not cause harm if your cat ingests it.


  • Pine

Pine is low dust and will not cause respiratory problems. It’s allergy-friendly and therefore friendly for cats with common grain allergies.

Choose a litter with ingredients you and your cat prefer. Pay attention to the ingredients to make sure they fit your and your cat’s preferences.  

If you choose to change your cat’s litter, remember that cats don’t like change. Slowly add the new litter to the previous one, gradually phasing out the old one.


Cat Litter Options for Cats with Health Issues

Just like humans, some cats have allergies, sensitive respiratory systems, or asthma. For these cats, experts recommend a low-or no dust litter type. It can be from clay or another ingredient.

You can go for plant-based litters or clay-based litters that are 100% dust-free.

Cats are also sensitive to fragrance. When choosing cat litters, choose the fragrance-free ones.

If your cat is diabetic or has renal issues, you may prefer a non-clumping litter. This makes it easy to monitor your cat’s urine output.

Vets recommend that cats recovering from neuter/ spay surgeries use a non-clumping or non-clay litter to keep particles away from incisions. Pellet-based litters are also ideal for kittens.

Writer: Flora Ojow

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