What Causes Cats to Eat their Own Feces?
Coprophagia is the act of eating and ingesting feces. This condition is far more common in dogs, however it does appear occasionally in cats. There are times when eating feces is part of normal feline behavior. New mothers will often eat the feces of their newborn kittens as part of daily grooming routines. Sometimes, the mother’s kittens will mimic this act as they attempt to learn new behaviors. Cats may also eat their feces as a way to keep its personal area clean.
Other times, coprophagia is the result of an underlying medical condition. Some of these conditions can lead to extreme increase in appetite, and to satisfy their hunger, cats will eat what is available, including feces. Other medical conditions affect brain functions and can case a cat to engage in strange behavior. Medical causes of coprophagia include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Vitamin deficiency
- Thyroid disease
- Neurological disease
In order to determine the cause of coprophagia in a cat, a veterinarian will have to perform medical tests, including a complete blood profile. If no medical cause can be identified, the vet may work out a treatment plan that can include modifying the cat’s diet, exercise, socialization, and handling practices.
Coprophagia may also be an extreme manifestation of a mental disorder called pica, a condition in which animals are compelled to eat non-food items like fabric, plastic, electrical cords, and rubber bands. Pica is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which means that the cat cannot control its compulsion to eat strange things.
Preventing a Cat from Eating Feces
If eating feces is a result of an underlying medical condition, coprophagia often ceases once treatment begins. If the coprophagia is a result of a behavioral problem, however, owners must take proactive steps to prevent the cat from eating feces.
The simplest way to prevent a cat from eating feces is to clean and dispose of waste promptly, eliminating the animal’s access to feces. A cat’s litter box should be cleaned once per day, but when the cat is engaging in coprophagia, the box should be scooped several times a day. It can also be useful to change the location of the cat’s litter box to an area that affords the cat privacy when eliminating waste.
Regular play and exercise can help distract a cat from engaging in coprophagia. Exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety, and when a cat has enough stimulation to keep him busy throughout the day, he will be less attracted to eating non-food items. Putting a cat on an exercise schedule can be difficult, especially if the cat is not used to regular stimulation. Keep initial play sessions short – just a few minutes will do. Slowly work up to longer sessions as the cat becomes accustomed to the exercise.