Q: Why is my older cat eating her own feces?

Original Question: "My cat who is almost 19-years-old was caught eating her own feces this morning - a first time event. The only change is that I have increased her potassium supplements in the last 5 days. She takes medication for blood pressure and the potassium to help her kidneys. Blood and urine work last week showed that she was stable. Any thoughts? Appreciate the help." - Barbara

Vet Certified Answer | Answered: June 4, 2017

Hi Barbara,

Thanks for your question.

I first have to say that I don't see this problem very often in cats. It's common in dogs but I have rarely seen it in cats and it gets me a little worried.

An abnormal appetite is classified as pica. There can be many reasons why this can happen such as a nutritional deficiency or a behavioral issue for example. In a 19-year-old cat, a new behaviour like this definitely concerns me. There are various diseases that can cause not only confusion, but also a desire to ingest inappropriate things. Whenever an abnormal behaviour develops in a geriatric pet, I'm always concerned that a disease process could be going on. So the first thing we need to do is look for an unknown medical condition that could be causing it.

You mention in your question that you recently had blood work and urine testing performed. I wonder if this was the type of blood work and urine testing that was thorough or just a focused look at the existing health concerns which would be the kidney function. If that was the case, I would recommend that you have your veterinarian perform a larger panel of testing to look for other underlying disorders that could contribute to this. At this age, there could be multiple conditions occurring. I would also suggest you perform fecal testing for parasites which can affect gastrointestinal health and contribute to a symptom like pica. Survey radiographs of the abdomen would be indicated as well to investigate whether there is any lesion in the gastrointestinal tract, such as foreign material in the stomach or a growth of some kind. Additionally, a thorough neurological exam would be a good idea to see if there are any deficiencies contributing to confusion or senility.

As much as you may be thinking that this may be a new interest that your cat has developed, we rarely see this. Abnormal appetites for behavioural reasons are usually present when they are young. When this develops at an older age, it is often caused by an ailment. I would love to recommend a few strategies to reduce the behaviour like cleaning the litter quickly, buying an automatic litter box that clears the debris when they step out, or adding a common product to the diet that makes the stool taste horrible. The problem is that if this is caused by a disease, we'll be wasting time masking it rather than addressing it properly so it doesn't advance.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

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