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While sharing your home with both dogs and cats may make for an exciting and fulfilling experience, it also comes with a unique set of challenges. One such challenge is managing your dog’s insatiable curiosity, particularly when it leads them towards the cat’s litter box. It’s essential for dog owners to be aware of the potential risks that can arise from this seemingly harmless fascination, including the potential ingestion of cat litter.

Is Cat Litter Ingestion Dangerous for Dogs?

Absolutely, ingestion of cat litter is potentially hazardous to dogs. The concern is not only about the litter itself, but also the substances within it. Aside from the feline feces itself, cat litter, particularly the clumped form, can contain a variety of bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, both of which can lead to severe gastrointestinal distress and infection in dogs if ingested.

In addition to bacteria, cat litter might contain chemical additives used for clumping and odor control. Among these, the compound bentonite is of particular concern.1 This substance, when ingested, expands within a dog’s digestive system and may cause obstructions or blockages that can lead to severe health complications. Furthermore, cat litter often contains silica dust, which can irritate your dog’s respiratory system if inhaled.2

The combination of these harmful bacteria and chemical compounds makes cat litter ingestion a significant health risk for dogs. The precise impact will vary based on the volume ingested and the individual dog’s health, but in general, any ingestion of cat litter by dogs should be treated as a potential threat.

Influential Variables: How Much is Safe?

While no amount of cat litter consumption is ‘safe’ per se, the level of danger posed to your dog can be influenced by  the amount of litter consumed, the size and breed of the dog, the concentration of harmful chemicals in the litter, and the overall health of your dog. Smaller dogs or those with pre-existing health issues are more at risk of experiencing adverse effects.

As far as the size of your dog is concerned, keep in mind that for smaller breeds (under 10 pounds), even a few spoonfuls of cat litter could potentially cause an issue, as they are more susceptible to blockages and intoxication. Dogs that are between 10 to 50 pounds could potentially handle slightly more, but a cup or more of cat litter could still cause serious health problems. Breeds over 50 pounds may consume larger amounts without immediate harm, but it’s crucial to remember that any amount can still lead to bacterial or chemical-related illnesses. Moreover, consistent consumption over time can lead to chronic health issues.

Despite these general guidelines, remember that every dog is unique, and individual health conditions can significantly impact their susceptibility to cat litter poisoning.

Recognizing Cat Litter Poisoning: Symptoms to Watch For

Dog owners should be alert in spotting the signs of cat litter poisoning. Here is a detailed breakdown of the symptoms:

  • Vomiting: This is a common symptom that might indicate your dog’s body is trying to rid itself of a harmful substance. Frequent, prolonged, or violent vomiting can be particularly concerning and requires immediate veterinary attention.
  • Loss of Appetite: A dog that has consumed cat litter might lose interest in food due to nausea, a change in taste perception, or gastrointestinal distress caused by the ingested litter.
  • Lethargy: This refers to a decrease in activity or energy levels. If your dog is acting unusually tired or uninterested in their usual activities after possibly ingesting cat litter, this could be a sign of distress.
  • Diarrhea: Loose or watery stools might indicate irritation or inflammation in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, possibly due to bacteria or chemical substances in the cat litter.
  • Constipation: On the other hand, constipation could signal that the clay or other binding agents in the cat litter have created a blockage in your dog’s digestive system.
  • Abdominal Pain: You might notice your dog showing signs of discomfort, such as whimpering, restlessness, or refusal to lie down. These could indicate pain in the abdomen, possibly due to a blockage or inflammation.
  • Signs of Dehydration: These can include dry nose, sunken eyes, and excessive panting. Dehydration may result from vomiting or diarrhea, which can both occur after cat litter ingestion.
  • Straining to Defecate: Difficulty or inability to defecate might suggest a blockage in the intestines, possibly due to clumped cat litter.
  • Repeated Vomiting: In severe cases, dogs may vomit repeatedly or even bring up bile, signaling a serious health issue such as a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract.

Remember, these symptoms can vary in severity, and their presence does not necessarily confirm cat litter poisoning. However, they do warrant prompt attention and, in most cases, a visit to the vet.

What to do in Case of Cat Litter Ingestion

If you suspect that your dog has ingested cat litter, the initial step is to prevent further consumption by removing them from the source. Monitor their behavior closely for any of the above-mentioned symptoms.

If your dog exhibits any symptoms or has ingested a concerning amount of cat litter (especially for smaller dogs), it’s crucial to contact a veterinarian immediately. Depending on the situation, they may advise you to bring your dog in for a check-up or, in severe cases, might need to perform surgery to remove a blockage.

Tip: Prevention is always the best course of action, so consider strategies to keep your dog away from cat litter in the future. These might include placing the litter box in a dog-inaccessible location, using pet gates, or training your dog to stay away from the area.

What to Remember: Dogs and Cat Litter

The coexistence of dogs and cats presents unique challenges, including the risk of dogs ingesting cat litter. Ingestion can be harmful, causing bacterial infections and possible blockages, especially in smaller breeds. Key symptoms like vomiting, lethargy, or constipation warrant immediate veterinary attention. In case of suspected ingestion, remove the dog from the litter source, monitor closely, and consult with a vet if concerns arise. Above all, proactive measures like strategic litter box placement can help ensure the safety and well-being of all your pets.


  2. Small-airway lesions induced by inhalation of asbestos dust in dogs–pathological and aetiological studies, (1991).


About the Writer
Dan Greco , Dog Dad

Having been a dog dad for 5 years, I know how hard it is to make sure your dog gets the right nutrients and stays away from hazardous foods. With the help of a veterinarian who specializes in nutrition, I created this blog to help dog owners quickly access food information they need.

photo of vet holding a pup
About the Contributor
Dr. Hillary Wolfe , Veterinarian & Certified Food Therapist

Dr. Wolfe holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Kansas State University and holds nutrition certifications from the NAVC and CIVT. Her business, Tula Veterinary Nutrition, hosts online courses that teach owners how to cook for their pet for optimal health and longevity. Follow her on Instagram at @doctorwolfe.dvm for dog nutrition tips, recipes and insights.