Dogs and Kitty Litter, What is the Risk?

If you own both a dog and a cat, you have probably walked into a room to find your pooch has been liberating some of your kitty’s poop from the cat litter box! Besides being extremely disgusting and unsanitary, does cat litter pose a health concern for your dog? What about cat feces? And, what can you do to stop this nasty habit and prevent problems? Read on to find out more about your dog and what you need to know about their unfortunate fascination with your cat's litter box.

What’s the Attraction, Anyway?

First of all, why do dogs root around in the cat litter box? The simple answer is because cat feces taste good to them, as disgusting as that may sound. It could be from a lack of nutrients in their diet that they are trying to obtain from feces, but this is rare. Usually, it is just because they want to! Cats are fellow carnivores, with high protein diets, and the material they pass contains partially digested meat substances that taste good to your dog. Also, if you have a puppy, they will basically try to sample everything, including your cat's poop, and other dogs’ too, while they are learning what is, and what is not, good to eat.

What About the Litter?

Not only is the ingestion of cat poop not good for your dog, neither is the ingestion of the cat litter that frequently goes along with it.

There are a variety of different cat litters: clumping, non-clumping, organic-based litters, newspaper-based, and silica or crystal litters. All are non-toxic and will not poison your dog; however, there are a number of ways that ingestion of cat poop and litter can harm your dog.

■ Cat litter is often scented to mask odors. Perfumes and dyes can cause allergic reactions in dogs, and if ingested, the resulting allergic reactions can make your dog quite ill.
■ Because cat litter is absorbent, especially the clumping kind, it can absorb fluids in the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in constipation. Usually, this will resolve on its own, but if severe, an enema or laxative may be required.
■ If large amounts of cat litter are ingested and fluid absorption occurs, it can cause a gastrointestinal blockage and become caught in the dog's intestine, or anywhere along the GI tract. The blockage can cause gastrointestinal distress, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea, drooling, abdominal distention, and eventually, organ ruptures if gas and foodstuffs are unable to pass and the condition is not addressed. If blockages do not dislodge on their own, or with medication, surgical intervention may be required to remove the obstruction.
■ If a blockage of cat litter occurs in the small intestine, blood flow and circulation can be impaired and cut off, which results in venous strangulation. Once circulation is impaired, tissue death from lack of oxygenation can follow and shock and death can result.
■ Cat litter is not so great for your dog's teeth, it turns out. It can cause mechanical damage, and bacteria present in cat urine and feces contribute to infections in the mouth.
■ Intestinal parasites common to both cats and dogs can be spread by your dog eating cat feces and litter.
■ Bacterial infections from cat litter and feces can be passed to your dog, and infection in their GI tract can be very serious or fatal.

The Cat Box is Best Avoided

Because several health problems can be caused by ingestion of cat feces and litter, and because it is just plain gross, steps to ensure your dog does not entertain himself with your cat's litter box are advised.

If possible, put the litter box in an area that is not accessible to your dog, such as in a room only accessible to your cat, or elevated where the dog cannot reach it. Some pet owners put cat litter boxes in the basement, if their dog does not like using the staircase, or in a room with a cat door or a baby gate which only the cat can access by jumping over. Also, covered cat litter boxes, with small entrances, may discourage your dog from accessing the litter box. Some pet owners opt to crate their dogs when they are not home to avoid such mishaps.

If your dog shows signs of gastrointestinal distress that may indicate bacterial or parasitic infection after ingesting cat litter, you should obtain veterinary care. For a suspected blockage, care is required as soon as possible, as rupture, circulatory problems, shock, and death are possible in severe cases.

Steps Worth Taking

Cat litter boxes and your dog are two things that do not go together. The unsanitary mess that your dog creates by harvesting cat feces is not something any pet owner wants to deal with, and, more seriously, several health conditions can result from ingestion of litter and feces. Bacterial and parasitic infections can easily be passed on from your cat. The litter itself can create intestinal blockages, which can result in life-threatening conditions if not addressed with emergency medical care by your veterinarian. Ensuring that your dog does not have access to your cat's litter box is well worth the trouble!

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