What to Do if Your Dog Raids the Litter Box

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By Sophia Yin, DVM, MS

R.I.P. 1966-2014

Q) We have a Boxer and a Lab. Both are 5 years old. They get into the cat litter and we can’t seem to break them of this habit. We have a covered box for the cats and keep the opening facing the wall but cannot keep them from actually turning the box and eating the poo. Definitely yucky! Do you have any suggestions?

A) Newsflash! National pet food marketing firm reports, “Next to week old fish, decaying road kill, and napkins from a woman’s monthly you know what, dogs vote cat poop favorite flavor.”

Yuck is right, because immediately after sampling this savory snack, dogs tend to engage in their other canine-specialty: the big wet kiss. Unfortunately, you don’t know the affectionate gesture’s laced with a slimy stink until it’s too late.

Why do dogs don this eclectic assortment of culinary cravings? The answer lies in studies of free-roaming, human-avoiding dogs in rural areas of other countries. These dogs don’t survive by playing the great four-legged hunter. Instead, they raid the Mother Lode of trash cans: the local dump. And with all the competition amongst rival groups, they can’t be choosy. If it smells edible, the rule is “eat first and ask questions later.”

But why do your refined city dogs engage in scavenging like these rural heathen hounds? And why your cat’s poop? Because they can and because it’s there. Some owners are lucky because their dogs haven’t figured it out. Once they do, it’s “end of story.” Dogs practically lie in wait for a chance at this secret stash. Will kitty leave them a tasty treat this time? Once the prize is placed, it stares them in the eye like a luscious brownie on the third day of your no-chocolate diet.

Needless to say, trying to break Fido of this habit is a losing cause. And scooping the litter box immediately after each of Kitty’s deposits is simply not possible for mere mortals. Luckily, we can manipulate the environment to restrict dogs’ access and get our way. For example, if your Fido is Fifi-sized, you can elevate the litter box out of pooch range. On top of a desk or cabinet could work fine. Of course, you have to be sure Kitty is comfortable jumping that high.

For large breed dogs, you can designate a room for Kitty’s litter boxes and place a baby gate in the doorway, but raise it about a foot off of the ground. A better bet in your case would be a personal passage for your cats to their private lavatory in a separate room or closet. You can either try a magnetic or electronic kitty door that will only open for pets wearing the collar key. Or you can try my personal favorite: the “Cathole,” a mouse-hole shaped entryway that you insert into a door. It’s big enough for both regular as well as plus-sized cats but keeps most dogs—and infants for that matter—out. Even with the enticement of last night’s table scraps, neither my 35 pound Australian Cattle Dog nor my 20 pound Scottie—who due to some weird act of nature has the same sized head and teeth but a smaller body than the cattle dog—could shove her way through past her chest. They just paddled and strained, their heads protruding through like mounted trophies.

The Cathole even looks pretty nice. It has an optional brush insert which grooms your cat every time she passes through, and you can stain the wood to match or complement your door’s design.

The one down side is that you do need to install it. Yes, unfortunately it’s not self-installing. That means you have to take the door off its hinges and cut a hole using a jigsaw and the included template. Luckily, the Cathole comes with instructions designed to guide even the most mechanically handicapped. The company’s web page includes pictures on how to remove your door, and the paper instructions remind you to make the hole at the bottom of the door rather than accidentally making it at the top. All-in-all, the process is pretty simple and probably worth your while. The best part is that if you place the litter box far enough away from the hole and in a location that your cat finds suitable, your pooch poop-eating problem could be solved for good.

You can find different door options at www.petdoors.com.

Adapted from an article originally appearing in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001.

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10 responses to “What to Do if Your Dog Raids the Litter Box

  1. What can we do about our 10 month old Choc.Lab/Chessapeak that eats other dogs poop. Commands when off leash at the dog park,such as “No”, “Leave it”, or “Drop it”, have no effect. In fact he grabs,runs and swollows bfore you can catch him. We even tried a muzzel, but he can still stick his nose into a pile and gets enough to cause him to have diarrhea. He has been on Flagyl several times because of the explosive diarrhea he has at times. He needs excercise, but we haven’t found a way to control this habit so we have to keep him on a leash. He doesn’t eat his own. Any suggestions? We are considering a shock collar.

    1. Walk your dog or run him on a leash. Do it other places and NOT at a dog park, or other place frequented by dogs. You can throw toys for him to catch and return to you while on a long flexi leash works great.

      Avoid dog parks and other poop riddled locations!

  2. What about a miniature pinscher who can jump high and fit in tiny cat doors? I haven’t adopted cats yet, but want to be proactive.

  3. Yes please share! We have a Min Pin who is smaller than the cat and we cannot keep him out of the litter box!! I’m really lost for answers

  4. My dox-chiwawa mini dog won’t stay out of the litter box. We have tried EVERYTHING! !! DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER IDEAS? LIKE PUTTING SOMETHING ON THE POOP THAT TASTES BAD? HELP!!

    1. I’m having the same problem I have my cats litter box n the living room never had a problem till today and I don’t wanna stress the cats out by moving their stuff of course I have had them for 7+ years and the dog a few months if you have any answer or found anything please help me also 🙂

  5. We have our box in a closet with a kitty door and then a gate at one end of the hall that’s raised up so our fat cat can go under it instead of jumping it and then a door on the other side of the hall. Impossible for our lab to get to right? Wrong. She knocks down the gate gets her good sized head in the hole in the door and then pulls the litter box through the hole cracking and destroying it on the way through and then gets litter everywhere. I’m sick of replacing litter and pans weekly. What do I do? She’s a 12 year old lab and has no other bad habits than this. I’ve owned her all her life. Most of my cats go outside to go potty but I recently had to use a box again for our new adoptee. Can’t wait til he can go outside too.

  6. I know this is an old post but I’ll comment in case anyone is looking for an answer. Coprophagia is the name for poop eating. I’ve often heard that putting “Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer without MSG” in the food of the pet who’s poop is being eaten will make it unpalatable to the poop eater. Papain is the active ingredient in Adolph’s that creates the needed effect. Papain is an enzyme made from papaya that aids in digestion & will change the smell & taste of the ingestor’s poop. That change in smell & taste is what may keep your coprohpagic pet from eating the poop.

    I’ve also heard that giving the poop eater, (the coprophagic pet), “For-Bid” may help, as well. I haven’t tried either.

  7. For a dog that gets in the litter box…I use a hooded box with the opening facing a corner. The actobatic cat can enter it and not the dog. If necessary, you can block around it with items.

  8. According to this article https://kittyexpert.com/how-to-help-your-dog-pass-cat-litter/, hairball medication can be used to help pass the cat litter through the digestive tract.

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