Unlike dogs, cats aren't known to eat anything and everything and picky eaters. So what drives a cat to eat their feces? And is it okay for a cat to eat poop? Read on to find out!
Why do cats eat poop?
There are several possible reasons why cats eat their own poop. Known scientifically as coprophagia, eating feces is relatively common amongst kittens.
Kittens lack microorganisms in their gastrointestinal tract and may eat poop containing microorganisms to help balance their digestive system. Mother cats will also eat their kittens' poop as a part of normal grooming behavior.
Some cats don't stop eating poop after kittenhood. This is usually caused by behavioral issues like anxiety and stress. Being confined in a crate for too long, environmental changes, and even boredom can trigger this behavior. Once a cat starts eating feces due to behavioral issues, it often becomes compulsive, making it a difficult behavior to break.
Eating poop is most likely caused by a medical issue. Malnutrition can cause a cat to eat poop to get more vitamins and minerals. However, a poor diet isn't commonly the cause of cats eating poop, as high-quality cat foods are designed to contain all the nutrients a cat needs.
Some diseases cause polyphagia, a condition that causes cats to continue to eat even though they're not hungry. Polyphagia can often lead a cat to eat feces. Several diseases can cause polyphagia, including Cushing's disease, certain bowel disorders, some intestinal cancers, diabetes mellitus, and thyroid disease.
Pica, a disorder that causes cats to chew and eat inedible objects, could also cause a cat to eat poop. Again, pica is usually caused by other underlying health problems, like anemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, liver disease, and hyperthyroidism.
Is it okay for cats to eat poop?
It's considered relatively normal for a young kitten to eat their poop, and it shouldn't be a cause for concern. You shouldn't be concerned if a cat eats a small amount of poop that's stuck to their fur during grooming, as this is normal behavior.
However, eating poop can be potentially harmful to adult cats. Eating poop can result in gastroenteritis or an upset stomach, causing vomiting and diarrhea. Cats that eat poop are also at risk of ingesting harmful bacteria like salmonella and E. Coli. Cats that eat poop are also more likely to have parasitic infections such as toxoplasmosis.
You should also be wary of interacting with your cat after they eat poop. A cat's saliva can pass on parasitic infections like toxoplasmosis to humans. So avoid letting your cat lick you, and wash your hands thoroughly after touching your cat.
How do I stop my cat from eating poop?
What are some ways to stop your cat from eating poop and prevent them from doing it again in the future? Try these methods!
Clean their litter tray regularly
You can start by cleaning your cat's litter tray diligently — ideally, after every time they go to the bathroom. Consider investing in a self-cleaning litter tray if your cat is home alone for long periods.
Train your outdoor cat to use a leash
You might have a problem stopping your outdoor cat from eating poop found in your garden or around the neighborhood. Consider leash training your cat so you can take them on walks instead of letting them roam freely.
Give your cat proper stimulation
Try playing with your cat more and keeping them active in case their coprophagia is simply due to boredom. Cats like variety, so try different activities, like puzzle toys or even smartphone games made for cats, to provide mental and physical stimulation.
Try a different food bowl
Your cat may be eating too fast, which could lead to digestive problems and improper nutrient absorption. Try purchasing a slow-feeding bowl or automatic feeder to see if this resolves the problem.
Avoid punishing your cat for eating poop
Cats don't respond well to negative reinforcement. Punishment, like yelling or hitting your cat, may only exacerbate the problem, especially if behavioral issues like stress or anxiety are causing your cat to eat poop.
Talk to your vet
An underlying health concern is the most common reason cats eat poop. You should take your cat to the vet if you notice them eating poop regularly.
Your vet will likely give your cat blood tests to see what's causing them to eat feces. Your vet can also advise you on whether the cause is behavioral, such as an environmental changes.
Choose a high-quality cat food
Always ensure your cat's food is high quality and appropriate for their age range and health. Not sure how to choose the right food for your cat? Check out Wag!'s guide to reading cat food labels.
Coprophagia in cats can occur for many reasons, ranging from serious health concerns like thyroid disease to behavioral issues like anxiety. While it's normal for a young kitten to eat their poop, adult cats eating poop is a cause for concern.
If you've just moved house or your cat seems under stress, consider altering their environment to see if it resolves the problem. Take your cat to the vet if you're unsure of the reason why your cat is eating poop, as an underlying medical concern is the most likely explanation.
You can try to stop your cat from eating poop by cleaning their litter tray more frequently, slowing down their eating, and monitoring their outdoor activity. Additionally, ensure your cat is fed a well-balanced diet.
Coprophagia is potentially harmful to cats and can cause gastroenteritis and parasitic infections. Avoid coming into contact with your cat's saliva if they've been eating poop, as they could pass on a parasitic infection to you.
Got more questions about your cat’s behavior? Chat with a veterinary expert to get answers about your pet’s quirks, health and more!
By Adam Lee-Smith
Published: 10/03/2022, edited: 10/03/2022