Dog and litterbox

Q. Eating out of the litterbox is the most disgusting habit I can imagine, and both my dogs do it. How can we get them to stop?

A. It’s easier to manage the situation by keeping the box where the dog can’t get into it (but the cat can) than it is to teach the dog to leave the litterbox alone. That’s because dogs absolutely love feline feces (and other kinds of poop). Every time a dog sneaks a bite of it, the habit is reinforced.

So though it’s certainly possible to train your dogs to keep their noses out of the box, you’ll likely be happier if you come up with a way to keep their noses nowhere near it. Some suggestions:

  • Use a cat door. Though this strategy won’t work with small dogs, a cat door can allow your cat access to the litterbox while keeping larger dogs away. You can put the litter box on an enclosed patio or in a spare bedroom or bath. An attached garage may be a possibility as well, but use caution: The door between your attached garage may be designed to slow down a fire, and cutting a hole in it removes that measure of safety (check with local authorities for fire and building codes). Also, if you use your garage for your cars (instead of storage, as many do!) you probably don’t want your cat in there with access to fumes and fluids that can be deadly.
  • Use a baby gate. A baby gate can also be used to allow a cat access to a spare bedroom containing the litterbox. Though some dogs can get over virtually any height baby gate, you can usually find a model that will keep your dogs out. Your cat (assuming he’s not incapacitated) will have no trouble getting over the gate, however.
  • Use a chain. A short door chain can be used to allow a cat access to a bedroom or small closet by keeping the door opening small, again assuming that your dogs aren’t narrow enough to slip through the opening. Attach the chain to a hook so you can get in and out of the area to clean the box.

Covered litterboxes are often suggested as well, but they may present some problems for your cat. Large cats may not fit comfortably inside them, and other cats may feel uncomfortable in a small, enclosed space, especially if you’re not scrupulous about cleaning the box. If your cat has asthma, a covered box is not recommended.

Experiment to see what your cat will tolerate, and remember to make any change slowly, so as not to discourage litter box use by your cat.