Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can spur a cat to instinctively try to correct the problem. Anemia, a lack of red blood cells and hemoglobin in the body, is the most common cause of litter-eating which can be in most cases determined by looking in a cat’s mouth. Paleness of the gums and tongue may signify your cat is anemic, though keep in mind some cats naturally have darker gums than others, so it is necessary to judge ‘paleness’ on an individual basis.
Anemia, in many cases, is a symptom of a far more serious condition such as cancer or kidney disease, meaning a trip to the vet is a must if you suspect your cat may be anemic. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is another disease which can cause a cat to start chowing on litter. FIP results from a viral infection which attacks white blood cells, leading to inflammation, weight loss, fever, bloating and unusual eating behaviours.
Sometimes litter eating is cause for less concern. Kittens have been known to try eating a little purely as an experiment, just like a child picking something up off the floor and putting it in its mouth. Other litter-eaters can simply be stressed or bored and manifesting unusual behaviors as an expression of this.
Even if the cause is innocent curiosity, litter eating is to be strongly discouraged. Clumping litter is usually manufactured from sodium benotite clay which makes it stick together when it comes into contact with urine. If ingested, the clumping process can occur inside the cat’s digestive tract leading to potentially fatal intestinal blockages. It may also absorb minerals such as iron and potassium from the cat’s body, decreasing their health further.
Consider switching to a natural litter made from substances such as newspaper, pine, wheat, wood chips or corn. Whilst a cat should likewise be discouraged from eating these litters, they are less likely to cause intestinal blockages and deadly results.
Your vet will be able to rule out any serious problems and suggest a course of treatment to address any issues that do emerge as the root cause of your cat’s litter eating. Always ensure your cat is being fed a complete diet rich in nutrients such as iron and potassium, which can help reduce the risk of health issues like anemia.