When it comes to having different kinds of pets in your home, like cats and dogs, many of us find ourselves making odd accommodations to ensure they co-exist happily and stay as healthy as possible.
When cats and dogs live together we sometimes think they won’t get along very well, but usually they’re just curious about each other and want to explore what the other is up to.
For dogs, this exploring can involve going through the litter box to dig up buried treasures – even when you’ve consistently worked on keeping the pup out of that area.
You might be wondering if getting into the litter box is really that bad for your dog, especially if they are just occasionally explore and it doesn’t seem to bother the cat. Here’s what you need to know about cat litter, the litter box, and your dog.
First of all, why?
Of all the things in your house the dog could – and probably does – explore you might find yourself wondering what, exactly, is the attraction to the litter box?
It’s filled with fecal matter and it’s kind of gross smelling sometimes so what’s the deal? Well, it’s pretty simple actually. As gross as it may sound, cat feces can be pretty tasty for dogs.
This sounds disgusting, and it is for us. However, there are some easy explanations as to why it’s so appealing. The first one is that your dog may be lacking essential nutrients that their regular diet isn’t providing, so they search for it in other places.
More often than not, though, the answer is that they do it just because it’s there and they can. Further, if you have a young dog or puppy they will likely do it as part of sampling everything – like they normally do – so this might be a very short-lived phase in the life of a young dog.
So is it toxic?
The short answer is no. Cat litter and cat feces are not actually toxic for your dog. There are a variety of cat litters sold today: non-clumping, organic, clumping, silica, clumping, or crystal litters.
All of the cat litters you can purchase today are going to be non-toxic for you dog so there won’t be any harmful chemicals in the litter.
Does that mean cat litter isn’t harmful?
Just because the litter is not toxic, doesn’t mean it won’t be harmful in its own way. Cat litter and feces could be incredibly harmful to your dog, especially if ingested over a long period of time, and here’s how.
Scents and Dyes
Since cat litter is designed to be put in a place where your cat will defecate, it is designed to also mask the associated scents and odours until you have a chance to clean it out.
In order to do this, the manufacturers will have to add some kind of perfume or dye to achieve this. The materials used, while not toxic, could cause an allergic reaction for your dog specifically and that can make them quite ill.
Constipation or Blockage
Cat litter, especially the clumping kind, is designed to absorb all the moisture in the immediately surrounding area and it will do this exact same thing no matter if it’s in the litter box or in your dog’s stomach.
In dogs, it will absorb the moisture from the gastrointestinal tract, and surrounding organs.
In small amounts, and best-case scenario, this will cause a small bout of constipation that will likely resolve itself with extra fluid intake.
If a lot of the litter has been ingested then the fluid absorption could be much more severe and the litter will clump together, forming a large intestinal blockage.
This blockage could cause severe pain, vomiting, distention of the abdominal region or even possibly organ rupture if not addressed in time.
If this happens, it is likely your dog will require surgical intervention
and should be seen by a veterinarian right away.
Damage to the Teeth
Among other things, it turns out cat litter is actually not great for your dog’s teeth. The small granules can run against your dog’s teeth, grinding them down and potentially exposing enamel or nerves.
Additionally, if there is any urine or feces in the cat litter the bacteria can cause oral infections for your dog.
Bacterial Infections or Internal Parasites
There are a number of infections and parasites that are common to both dogs and cats, even if they affect them differently. Your cat may have a bacterial infection that is only spread through sharing fluids.
So keeping your dog separate from the litter box would be sufficient to stop it from spreading. However, if your dog does go sniffing through the litter they could easily contract the infection and now they’re both suffering.
Typically, the infections that are spread are those that affect the GI tract so they can become quite serious if not treated quickly and appropriately.
How can we stop the dog?
Dogs, naturally, want to be able to explore every inch of your home. They like to check out smells, see who is coming or going, and know about anything new that might be coming into the house.
While we don’t want to stop them from exploring, we just want them to not explore the litter box. There are a few ways you can make sure your dog avoids the litter box, for the most part, by making a few simple changes to either the location of the box or how it’s accessed.
Put the box up high
Cats are much better at reaching high things than dogs are, and they quite like to climb and jump.
If you have the space in your home, and a reasonable place to do it in, it has been suggested to put your litter box a little higher up in a place your dog can’t reach that is still easily accessible to your cat.
That way, your cat can still use it but you don’t have to worry about your dog sniffing around in it.
Keep it in a closed area
If you can’t put the litter box up high, another suggestion is to put it in a closed off area that only the cat can get to. Some families have put the box in a room in the basement, and put a small hole in the door that the cat can fit through but the dog can’t.
This might not be an option if your dog and cat are around the same size, but for those families with a big dog you can easily keep the dog away from the litter with one of these doors.
Cover the litter box
If keeping it separate isn’t an option for you, perhaps if you live in an apartment or small house, then there are many options out there to cover the litter box.
The covers will have a small opening cut out of them and this will act as a door for the cat to go in an out but will be too small for your dog.
This option can also actually help with the smell if it bothers you as the cover will trap any odour from the feces until you have a chance to clean it up.
Similar to the idea of a cat door, this latch will allow a designated door to open a little bit. This crack in the door will be just enough for the cat to get through but stop the dog. Again, it may not work if your dog and cat are the same size but could be an option for larger dogs.
Keep your dog busy
Some dogs will eat cat feces out of sheer boredom, especially if you notice it’s happening while you aren’t home. If this is the case for your dog, purchasing a treat dispensing toy could keep them occupied enough to keep them out of the litter box.
You might also like to read about: Top 5 Best Non-Clumping Cat Litters 2020
What to do if your dog eats cat litter?
As much as you might try, your dog may still – somehow – get into the litter box. Your dog may either eat cat feces, or the litter, or both and you might not know what to do.
If you find your dog eating the litter, or even suspect that they have then you will want to keep an eye on your dog for a while. Make sure to watch when they go outside to go to the bathroom, and monitor their bowel movements.
If they are having regular movements and are still eating and drinking regularly then you’re likely ok. If they are having trouble with bowel movements, are vomiting, seem to be in pain or won’t eat then you need to make an appointment at your vet’s office to have your dog seen.
There isn’t any reason cats and dogs can’t live together happily, even if they are incredibly curious about each other.
Cat litter and feces will likely always be attractive to your dog and intrigue them, but with careful precautions and small changes to the location of the litter box you will likely be able to keep your dog out of the box.