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Clumping Cat Litter Can Kill a Dog

September 15, 2010
basset hound

Fact: Dogs Love to Eat Cat Feces

Dogs love eating cat feces like beer and pizza go together on football Sundays.  There is nothing wrong with your dog is he or she imbibes in the feces snack.  Feces-eating is a culturally normal canine activity.

VirtuaVet does not condone dogs’ feces eating past time.  It is disgusting, bad-smelling, possibly full of parasites, and generally makes dog kisses smell awful.  Plus, if your cat likes the clay or clumping litter, your dog’s nostril linings can become clogged with a light crusted coating of kitty litter:  Looks kind of like peanut bits on top of a chocolate coated ice cream bar.  Only not.

Chihuahua welcomes Doc Truli home,”Hi mommy!  Kiss me! Guess what I did today?”

“Why, my darling pookums Chihuahua, you ate cat crap today.”

“However did you know?”

“You have kitty litter jammed up inside your nostrils, that’s how.  Plus, anyway, I know you, you’re smaller than the cat, so I can’t keep you out of the litter pan.”

“Oh, mommy, you’re so smart!  But somehow you still have a smelly, disgusting cat-poop-eater sleeping next to your pillow every night.”

“*Sigh*,” says Doc Truli.  Chihuahua – 1.  Human – 0.

Bassett Hound Takes the Cat Poop Eating Too Far

An ultrasonographer and a veterinarian with 45 years experience bet Doc Truli that it is not possible for a dog to die from clumping cat litter.

While Doc did not see the dog die, the surgery to save the greedy Bassett Hound’s life was invasive and extensive.

If you’ve lived with a dog and a cat for more than one week, you probably figured out by now that dogs love to eat cat crap.  I mean dookie.  I mean feces.  Bowel movements, turds, sh*t, you-know-what-I-mean.  Dogs believe cat feces snacks will make everything better.  It seems like a religious, cultural endeavor for the dog to seek out the cat crap and eat it lustily.  Kitty logs from the garden under the shrubs, from the cat litter pan, and sometimes, unfortunately, the dog gets carried away!

In the pet emergency room one fateful Friday evening:

“Doc, Fred ate clumping cat litter about 3 days ago, and we have not seen him eat or poop since,” said the Bassett Hound’s parents.

A 4-year-old male neutered 65 pound red and white Bassett Hound stood quietly and moped behind the chair leg in the emergency examination room.

Thinking someone could not possibly eat enough cat litter to create a blockage, Doc Truli asked for more information.

“Any vomiting, strange food, food changes, history of problems, travel outside the area, new treats, missing toys or toy parts,” asked the Doc.  You know, typical questions to narrow down the search for the problem.

“Just the litter.  He ate a lot of it,” said dad.

“Let’s see what x-rays show, and we’ll go from there,” said Doc Truli. (I wish I had this x-ray to show you, but this happened years ago, before I carried a camera everywhere with me.)

Imagine this: dog x-ray.  Head facing left, tail facing right.  Big, tubular white thing through the center of the abdomen.  Sort of facing from mouth to anus.  Big white thing = clumping cat litter hardened to the consistency of cement.  Lots and lots of it.  How shocking!  How disgusting!  Doc Truli could not imagine the motivation it took for this dog to eat that much dry, disgusting cat litter.  Must’ve been some amazing cat poo in there!

Massive Surgery Needed to Remove the Cat Litter Blockage

The only surgery Doc Truli has performed in which more sand-filled impacted intestine was removed was a horse at New Bolton Center that needed surgery to remove a sand impaction. (Horses grazing on inadequate or low-quality forage often ingest too much sand, which accumulates in their system and impacts them horribly.)  This Bassett Hound’s intestine was second fiddle only to a horse’s intestine in size and hardness!

The kitty litter travelled to Fred’s mid-range area, in the extensive curls and folds of the jejunum.  Normally, the jejunum is about 17 feet long and absorbs nutrients as part of the digestive process.  Instead, Fred has 2 solid feet and about 5-6 inches across of tubes of hard sand.  The clumping quality made the litter dry out the walls of the intestine and they stuck firmly to the litter.  There was no way to remove the sand from the intestines.

Instead, the intestines had to be removed from Fred.  Several feet of intestines.  Luckily, a dog, or a person, can survive without many feet of the jejunum.  Once resected, the healthy ends of the intestine were matched together and Fred needed to spend about 2 weeks healing from his misadventure.

So, an ultrasound technician and a veterinarian owe Doc Truli a bet!

Bottom Line: do not allow your dog access to kitty litter!

Next Time on VirtuaVet: Tips to Keep the Dog Out of the Cat Litter!

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. Ashley permalink
    July 14, 2014 12:33 am

    I have a 1 1/2 year old shiranian. Her nose was full of kitty liter from her crawling into the kitty box and laying in it and she started not eating or drinking. It got to the point I had to force her to drink. She got so weak she was wetting herself. And sadly she passed away today. I was wondering if the kitty liter could have had something to do with it.

  2. Lori permalink
    March 9, 2014 11:59 pm

    My dog is losing weight like crazy, will not eat her regular dry food, eats very little wet food, had diarrhea and was vomiting. She is now vomiting piles that look like poop. We just found evidence she may have been eating from the cat litter box. Could this cause her to lose weight, lose the desire to eat, and throw up what she does eat? We brought her to vet who did poop test (no parasites) and now suggests changing food and see what happens. We mentioned possible litter box feedings to vet and didn’t think to be a major factor.

  3. Angie permalink
    February 23, 2014 9:27 pm

    First off I am waiting on vet to respond back I left a message. My daughter puppy is very sick and i noticed that she has been sneaking in the cats litter box what are the systems she can suffer from eating cat poo covered with clumping litter. Like throw up loose appetite weak diarrhea ect…

    • February 24, 2014 10:50 pm

      Intestinal parasites are very common in puppies. Ingesting tons of clumping litter is not.

      -Doc Truli

      • Diana permalink
        February 25, 2014 11:24 am

        we did not change our cat litter…we just relocated the box (which has a cover) to a corner so that it is very difficult for my dog to get into. bad news for dogs because it does NOT digest!!!

      • February 25, 2014 11:27 am

        Dear Diana,
        As you know, the kitty poo is much more interesting to dogs than the litter. I even treated a dog for food allergies with special kangaroo protein food and the dog was still bad. The we changed the cat to kangaroo and the dog’s allergies finally got better. He was eating protein that made him break out in the cat poo!
        Yours,
        Doc Truli

  4. mary1956 permalink
    February 23, 2014 6:56 am

    I brought my 9 year old golden to vet yesterday afraid that she may have bloat. After initial exam, vet thought so too. But after X-rays he said she had a lot of gas and food in her and her stomach was 3 times the size it should be. I can’t find where she could have got into any food. However, it just dawned on me she had access to clumping cat litter. I’m know wonder if that is what the vet may have seen in xray. Would it appear different then food? She had one bowel movement yesterday at around noon when we got home from vet but nothing since. I did not feed her last night. Her stomach still feels hard and is making normal digestive sounds. What do you think? It’s Sunday and vet is closed. Also, I’m out of town so this was not my regular vet. Thank you

    • February 24, 2014 10:52 pm

      Cat litter doesn’t look like “food” on x-rays!

  5. Betsey permalink
    May 12, 2013 11:57 am

    I understand that clumping and clay cat litter is bad from the discussion above. My dog does not eat from the box but only seeks out a very few individual specks off the floor. I changed to corn based litter and I know there are other types from pine to wheat to recycled paper pellets. Is there any safe litter that can be ingested in very tiny amounts? He is a poodle mix. Age 12. I have 10 cats so isolating the dog from the boxes is possible but the tracking still continues when the cats jump the gate. Thank You

    • May 12, 2013 4:14 pm

      Betsey,

      Thank you for reading VirtuaVet. I think a little poodle that eats a crumb of cat litter here and there does not require the 10 cats changing their lifestyle. I think you are paying attention to your pets 100x more than the average person that lets their dog get sick on cat litter. You are doing an awesome job! Go fix something else!

      Yours,
      -Doc Truli

    • June 30, 2013 8:29 am

      Tiny amounts will not cause the damage. The dog I treated just ate and ate until he become a cement block of clumping cat litter. Just use common sense and your little Poodle should be fine.
      -Doc Truli

  6. JoAnn Dibeler permalink
    April 28, 2013 2:45 am

    I have done 2 things to solve the dog-in-the-catbox problem, depending the accomodations of my house. One was to clear off a bureau and put the catbox up on it – the bureau was large enough for the cat to have room to jump onto it and then enter the box. It also made it much easier on me to clean the box. In another house there was a double sliding door closet that I could sacrifice. Learning from the bureau experience regarding ease of cleaning I built a stepped stand for the cat to climb up to the litter box and cut a small hole in the wall of the hallway for the cat to enter the closet. I opened the closet door to clean and refill the box.

  7. Lisa permalink
    February 8, 2013 9:18 pm

    My 5 month old Chocolate lab just got into my cats litter box and ate a bunch. Should I be worried since this is the first time it’s happen? Should I call the vet? She had a clump that had harden at the roof of her mouth like cement and we were able to get that out. I am worried because if that’s what it does just in her mouth what can it be doing to her tummy. I realize that she has tummy acid and other things going on in her tummy that helps break down food but this stuff turns hard!!!! Anyway she is acting fine at the moment and it only happened about an hour ago… but she is only 5 months old. So like a new mommy I worry about her. I guess I am wondering if we should be worried after one snack down in the kitty litter box or not.

    New lock going on the kitty litter room door tomorrow!!!

    • February 9, 2013 12:45 am

      The cat litter does not break down with stomach acid. Nor does the body digest it. If your pup ate too much, it can clump and obstruct her intestines. Please call your local veterinarian for advice. Perhaps they can help you prevent an emergency surgery.

    • jaime permalink
      April 1, 2013 8:25 pm

      so what happened?

      • April 3, 2013 1:06 pm

        Fred had surgery to remove the section of his intestines that had the litter clumped in it. That surgery is called an intestinal resection and anastamosis. He did fine.

  8. PittyMomma permalink
    December 10, 2012 5:23 am

    Are there any specific symptoms to look for? My 1yr old pit has been acting odd for the past few weeks…he has been incessantly licking and itching (i thought it was the colder weather, because he has so little fur, and thought at first it could possibly be dry skin) and he is even causing his fur to thin in some areas. Additionally, he is licking his lips and “clearing his throat” alot almost as if his mouth is sticky and dry. He did throw up once last week, I only justtoday caught him eating litter,…he has done it before but we put a baby gate up and thought it was solved. Turns out, he can get around it!! Must be some GOOOOOD poo. Well, I thought maybe the closet-litter-eating and the dry mouth-itchy skin-lickathon could be related?? Any thoughts?

    • December 10, 2012 9:50 pm

      X-rays show cat litter really well. 1 x-ray and a physical exam should it.

  9. August 13, 2012 2:02 pm

    My 3 month old kitten huffs litter. He likes to put his nose right down next to it and sniff to make sure it smells right. Well, his nostrils are half closed with dried clumping cat litter, the kind made from wheat. I attempted to get that stuff out, but it is very attached. Other than squirting his nose full of water, do you have any recommendations for removing it?

    • August 13, 2012 8:43 pm

      Clumping cat litter is not recommended for kittens. They can die from clogged nostrils. To clean it, try saline and a nasal bulb aspirator used for babies. And change to different litter until he grows up.

  10. March 2, 2012 11:44 am

    Very good source for education on animal care.

  11. Diana Fraiser permalink
    February 18, 2012 12:59 pm

    I have a 7 year old Red Healer who has apparently found yet another way to get into the litter box while we are out of the house.
    He has put on so much weight the last several months that it is concerning me quite a bit now. We have changed the dog food to a weight control formula and just recently he has not been eating that too much.
    He loves to eat anything and everything he can get into his mouth.
    We discovered that the cat box has been turned and it was void of turds.
    Do you suggest an xray to determine if he too is clogged like the Bassett Hound?

    • February 26, 2012 12:13 pm

      I do not know if your Healer needs an x-ray. However, I can tell you the Bassett was mighty, I mean mighty sick!

  12. Courtney Hawkinson permalink
    May 7, 2011 11:42 am

    My 10 yr. old dog EATS cat litter clumps! On May 7th at 10:30ish i noticed a buldge on the right side of his neck! Could it be a tumor or something linked to him eatting cat litter clumps?

    Is there a stop to him eatting cat litter clumps? If so please email me at the address provided at the top.

    pLease, My family needs your help pronto. If you have any advice please let me or my mom know.

    • May 8, 2011 11:53 am

      Have the lump checked by your veterinarian. I’m doubtful it’s from eating cat litter.

      Dogs love cat litter clumps. You can try getting Firbid brand powder from the vet and putting it in the cat’s food–it will make the cat poo taste bitter. It is actually meat tenderizer (mostly MSG), so that works, too (about 1/2-1 teaspoon per meal, depending the size of the meal. The idea is the bad taste will train the dog not to eat the poo. If you miss a meal, the “good” tasting poo will encourage your dog to keep trying. Plus, trying to modify ancestral, biologically species-specific “normal” behavior – like poo eating in dogs – often fails. The biological drive may be just too strong. In that case, block access to the poo for the dog.

      On a personal note- if you are a youngster as your comment indicates, you should not be on the internet making personal pleas and giving out home email addresses. It could be dangerous for your family (that’s why I erased that part of your comment.) Be careful about the info you give out on the internet.

      –Doc Truli

      • Melissa permalink
        December 22, 2012 3:37 am

        My dog is sick from eating cat poop from the cat litter .. I want to know is there any Medicine for her to get better.

      • December 22, 2012 4:02 pm

        If your dog feels sick, please call and make an appointment with our local veterinarian. You need a veterinarian to assess your dog’s health and prescribe treatment. Good luck!

  13. October 1, 2010 3:07 pm

    Amazing post! When I have kittens, I always use one of the corn or wheat based litters, for just that fear, knowing that the clumping clay litter can turn into cement and kittens tend to lick litter when they are investigating it for the first few weeks. In fact, one of my cats vomited next to the litterbox one time and the litter scatter that had worked it’s way to the base of the carpeting turned into what I can only compare to Play-Doh and it took me repeated attempts to get it all out of the carpet fibers…

    • October 3, 2010 1:55 am

      Good tip, Teri. The kittens certainly like to put everything in their mouths — just like human babies do too!

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