It’s certainly totally gross for us, as humans, to imagine why in the world the family dog would want to sneak into the cat’s litter box and steal a few “munchies” but it happens in homes all around the world. Many dogs just love to eat cat poop!
Understanding the Behavior
Coprophaghia, or the eating of feces, is a common behavior in many dogs. It’s seen more in puppies but some dogs never grow out of it.
There have been many theories as to why dogs engage in this behavior and the reasons can include compulsive behavior, boredom or they may be get some nutritive value from it. The purpose of this article isn’t to delve into dog behavior, but rather, to help you create a litter box set-up that makes it more difficult for the dog to access the cat’s waste while still making the box a convenient place for kitty.
If your dog is engaging in the behavior, contact your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a nutritional issue going on and also to discuss the possibility of any behavior problem being the underlying cause (boredom, compulsive behavior, etc.), especially if your dog is eating his own feces or the feces of other dogs as well. Your veterinarian may give you a taste deterrent product and/or offer some dog training advice. Depending on the severity of the problem, you may also be referred to a dog behavior expert.
When it comes to the dog eating a cat’s feces, it could be caused by boredom, it could be a playful behavior (gross, but playful), or it could be that the cat feces holds nutritive value. Cat food is higher in protein and fat than dog food so the waste may have taste appeal.
How This Affects Your Cat
The litter box is basically a pretty sacred place from your cat’s perspective. If she approaches the box and finds shreds of feces strewn across the carpet or worse, finds the dog with his head in the box, it won’t create a comforting feeling. The litter box could also become an unsafe place as well, if the dog shoves his nose in there whenever he pleases. He may begin to follow your cat into the box in the hope of receiving a fresh snack. If you have a covered litter box set-up then the cat may feel trapped inside if the dog stands right at the entrance. Your cat may decide to find other toileting accommodations and chances are, you won’t like the places she chooses.
Create a Dog-Free Litter Box
In addition to figuring out the possible cause for the coprophagia and incorporating necessary training with the dog (teaching the dog the “leave it” command, and so on), it’s time to tweak the litter box set-up. If the dog can’t get to the cat’s poop, then he can’t eat it. Simple as that. The key though, is to make sure the box is convenient for the cat but inconvenient for the dog.
The easiest way to keep the dog out of the box is to place the litter box in an area where he can’t gain access. If the dog is bigger than the cat, place a hinged baby gate in the doorway to a room but raise it up a few inches from the floor so the cat can easily go underneath. You can also cut a little entrance in the middle of gate so the cat can slip through but the dog can’t. If using a gate with a mesh-type center, cut a square out that will easily accommodate your cat and then secure a wooden frame around it so there’s no jagged mesh exposed.
If the dog is small and could fit under the gate, then put the baby gate at normal height but place a box, stool or other object just inside the room, on the other side of the gate, so the cat can get over but will have something to land on.
If elevating the litter box is an option and the cat doesn’t have any difficulty climbing or making a small jump, then that’s another option. If you have a small dog, you may be able to simply put the box on some kind of platform.
If the litter box is elevated and you have a cat with mobility problems then place a cat tree nearby so she can easily climb up and over to reach the box. The carpeted perches on the cat tree will make it easier for her to grip. If using the option of putting a cat tree near the box, make sure you also provide an additional cat tree away from the box so she’ll have a safe elevated resting area that isn’t near her toileting spot. No one likes to sleep in the bathroom.
What NOT to Do
Don’t resort to using a covered litter box or stick the box in a closet with a pet door. Although cats do like some degree of privacy, covered boxes or ones hidden away in closets, limit escape potential. When a cat only have one way in and out of the box, it can set her up for an ambush by another companion animal. Many covered boxes also can make cats feel cramped in there when taking care of personal business.
Never rub a dog’s face in the feces. This is an inhumane and totally counter-productive attempt at training.
Need More Information?
For more information on litter box problems or how to create an appealing litter box set-up, refer to any of Pam’s books.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is the star of Psycho Kitty airing on Discovery UK. She is author of seven best-selling books on cat behavior including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. Think Like a Cat has become known as the cat bible. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. In addition to her television series and public speaking engagements, Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN. Cat Behavior Associates offers private cat behavior appointments on a limited basis. Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant.