Help! My cat is eating litter from the litterbox.

CatChannel veterinary expert, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, believes this abnormal behavior may be a sign of anemia.

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Q: Is there any reason why my cat would eat sand from her litterbox? Of course, since I noticed this happening, I now monitor her when she is in the litterbox to keep her from eating litter. I’ve recently noticed that she sits on the litter and stays there for some time, as if she were about to evacuate. However, sometimes nothing happens, and that worries me. She is 10 years old and is fighting against a recurring fibrosarcoma.

A: Eating clay cat litter is uncommon, but it can be a sign of anemia. In the past four years, I’ve treated two patients for severe anemia that had, as one of their primary clinical signs, ingested cat litter. In one case, the anemia was treated successfully. The owner switched from clay litter to a wheat-based litter. The cat’s condition relapsed, and the anemia returned. When that happened, the cat began to lick the silverware.

As you can see, cats can show unusual ingestive behavior when they are anemic. I recommend your cat checked for anemia as soon as possible, especially since your cat is valiantly battling cancer. Cancer is a major cause of anemia in cats.

As for the straining in the litterbox, I can’t tell, based on your description, if she’s straining to urinate or to defecate. Straining to defecate would suggest a constipation problem, and she may need to change diets or be given stool softeners. If it seems to be a constipation problem, your vet can discuss various constipation treatments.

Straining to urinate could be secondary to a urinary tract infection, crystals in her urine, a bladder stone or interstitial cystitis. Ask your veterinarian to check this out when testing for anemia. If it seems to be a urinary issue, a urinalysis, urine culture and bladder X-ray may be necessary to discern which lower urinary tract disorder is responsible for her clinical signs.

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Help! My cat is eating litter from the litterbox.

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Reader Comments

Barry    Greenwood, SC

10/24/2012 3:31:34 PM

My wife and I have three 10 mth old kittens with FeLV. Our kitten Zoe is very anemic so the vet recommended Pet-tinic which contains B vitamins, iron and folate, the building blocks of red blood cells. We're hoping that this will help Zoe with her anemia.

Qianna    Charleston, WV

3/24/2011 3:19:39 AM

Wow I just thought my cat was crazy! I am seventeen years old and my Mom and i had noticed our thirteen year old cat spitting up grey stuff and we didn't know what it was! This morning my mom found her eating her cat litter so we now know what the gret stuff is. I immediately googled why she would do that and found this article! She also had cancer when I was in the seventh grade and had her leg amputated. AND the poor girl strains in the litter box too! This has helped us so much and now we just need to know about her rapid weight loss. Thank you!

Maria    Cleveland, OH

1/25/2011 5:51:34 PM

Thank you! My cat was diagnosed as anemic, due to a combination renal failure and dealing with cancer on top of it, but it tartled me when he started eating the litter! I appreciate the insight and will work with him on some supplements through my vet.

christina    springfield, MA

11/1/2010 7:12:52 PM

I noticed two weeks ago my cat seemed to be licking his cat litter.... then he has thrown up three times in the last two weeks which included cat litter in the throw up and I realized he's been eating it. He has been diagnosed with kidney failure so that may be why. It seems to may be a cause but I am bringing him to get checked anyway this week from the vet...

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