Cats are fascinated by plastic bags. The moment you get home from the grocery store, your cat will greet you. Left unattended, a cat will begin chewing on the plastic bags that contain your shopping.
Plastic bags smell of food, which appeals to cats. The taste and texture are also pleasant to a cat. The crinkle of a plastic bag mimics the sound of prey in the leaves. Some cats also live with medical issues, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or pica.
Chewing on bags made of plastic may look like harmless fun, but this is not the case. There are many dangers, so offer your cat safer alternatives.
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Are Plastic Bags Safe for Cats?
Plastic bags are not safe for cats. Unfortunately, many cats are compelled to chew on these everyday items. Doing so leaves your cat at risk of:
- Intestinal blockages
It’s advisable to keep your cat away from plastic bags and provide alternative entertainment.
Why Do Cats Like Biting Plastic Bags?
It’s a common sight to find a cat biting plastic bags after you’ve been grocery shopping. No matter how many toys and other entertainments you provide, bags never lose their appeal.
Explanations for a cat’s fascination with plastic bags include:
- Taste and texture
- Dental Pain
- Obsessive-compulsive Disorder
Whatever the explanation for your cat’s behavior, do not condone the chewing of plastic bags.
The immediate appeal of a plastic bag is the smell. If you bring home a plastic bag from the grocery store, it will smell like food.
Cats have over 200 million scent receptors in their nose. This means the bag will smell like a banquet of different foods.
It is not only a bag containing meat or cat food that will appeal. Cats enjoy the smell of certain foods they would never/rarely eat. Strawberries, for example, are among a cat’s favorite scents.
Plastic bags contain materials called stearates. These reduce friction in the bag, ensuring it can be opened. Many stearates are made from animal fat. The scent of these stearates will capture your cat’s imagination.
Scent is how a cat decides if something will be good to eat. This is why a cat often escalates from smelling a plastic bag to chewing it. If you find your cat sniffing a plastic bag, remove it before chewing becomes an option.
Cats have poor close-up vision. Once your cat smells food in the bag, it will start to chew. As the cat cannot see that the bag is empty, it will continue to do so. The cat is convinced that, if it displays enough patience, it will reach the food within.
Smelling a plastic bag is dangerous, even if the cat does not chew. The bag could constrict while the cat’s head is buried within it. This leaves the cat at risk of suffocation. If the bag’s handles cross over, the cat can be strangled.
Taste and Texture
In addition to the scent of food, plastic bags also taste appealing to cats. The main reason for this is the stearates. The bag will carry remnants of an animal fat taste.
Some manufacturers use corn starch as a stearate. This is an environmentally friendly alternative to animal fat. Unfortunately, this ingredient still appeals to a cat’s palate.
In addition to the taste, cats also enjoy the texture and temperature of a plastic bag. The bag will be warm and smooth on the tongue. As cats explore the world with their mouths, this will merit further investigation.
Cats should never be left to chew on a plastic bag, no matter how much they enjoy it. The chewing will inevitably lead to small pieces of the bag being swallowed. Even biodegradable plastic bags are not digestible for cats.
Pieces of plastic could get trapped in the cat’s throat, restricting breathing or eating. If swallowed, the plastic can cause intestinal blockages. This will leave a cat unable to digest food. As a result, it can quickly become fatal.
The sound of crinkling plastic is not appealing to human ears. Cats can happily spend hours chewing on a plastic bag to hear this sound, though. This is because crinkling plastic sounds like rustling leaves or grass. This excites a cat, as it reminds them of hunting prey outside.
Most cats will not settle for just listening to a plastic bag. Eventually, they will start chewing. This will become especially likely if instinct takes over. The cat would sink its teeth into prey, so it does the same to a bag.
Remove the bag from your cat and offer a squeaky toy instead. These are designed to safely mimic prey. If the cat has no interest in toys, try a paper bag instead. This is still not ideal. Paper is safer to chew and accidentally consume in small quantities than plastic, though.
Some cats willfully behave in ways that owners will not approve of. Sometimes, it is just a cat being dominant or stubborn. More often, the cat is trying to gain an owner’s attention. If you react every time your cat chews on a plastic bag, it will notice.
A cat that is looking for an owner’s attention is typically lonely or bored. Cats are largely self-sufficient and capable of amusing themselves. Your cat will crave your attention and company on occasion, though.
Do not let your cat believe that the only way to get your attention is to act out. Learn your cat’s subtle signals that it wants to be acknowledged. These usually involve:
- Walking in circles around you
- Scratching or nibbling
All of this can be avoided through routine. If your cat knows it will be attended to at a particular time, it will relax. This will also minimize stress and boredom. This, in turn, makes your cat less likely to chew on plastic bags for a reaction.
It is no secret that teething kittens find chewing soothing. The same applies to cats of any age that experience dental pain. As cats grow older, they become increasingly susceptible to oral pain and discomfort. Just like bones, the teeth of a senior cat age and weaken.
Chewing on a plastic bag can be a source of great comfort for a cat with a toothache. The bag will not be solid, so it will not hurt. The tastes and smells found within will also distract from the pain.
If your cat has developed a sudden interest in chewing plastic bags, check its teeth. If the cat refuses to let you touch its mouth, it invariably has a dental issue. Stained or discolored teeth or gums are also signs of periodontal disease.
All cats experience dental issues at one stage of their life. When this happens, swift action becomes necessary. The cat will be constant discomfort, and a disease that begins in the gums can spread. Your cat must undertake a professional tooth cleaning and scraping.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association confirms that cats can experience OCD. In a sample study, it appeared that female cats are more likely to develop this condition.
OCD in cats displays similar symptoms to that of humans. The cat will feel compelled to enact a range of odd behaviors. One of these may be the chewing of plastic bags. The cat will draw comfort from this action.
Feline OCD is believed to stem from extreme stress. This makes sense, as chewing is soothing for cats. Cats enjoy the smell and taste of plastic bags. Chewing on these items will thus be seen as a pacifying activity.
You must remove access to plastic bags from a cat with OCD. The symptoms will only magnify over time. This will cause the cat significant distress, though. Provide an alternative item to chew. In the meantime, investigate the root cause of the stress.
If you conquer your cat’s stress, you will conquer your cat’s OCD. If you cannot manage this though lifestyle changes alone, see a vet. Medication may be required, though this will often be considered a last resort.
Pica is a compulsion to eat non-food items. Pica can manifest as a desire to eat dirt, fabric, cardboard, or plastic bags. While a cat that chews on plastic bags does not necessarily have pica, it is worth investigating.
According to Applied Animal Behavior Science, oriental breeds are more genetically predisposed to pica.
The condition is comparatively rare in senior cats, usually being identified before the age of 4. Some diseases list pica as a symptom, though.
The only real symptom of pica is the desire to eat the inedible. Doing so can cause a range of health complaints with differing symptoms, though. This makes it essential to learn the difference between curious exploration of new items and pica.
Pica is usually caused by a stressful life event. This is the likeliest cause for a senior cat to develop the habit. Many rehomed cats suffer from pica, at least for a short while. Other explanations for the behavior include:
- Weaning too early as a kitten
- Dietary deficiencies (most notably protein)
- Brain tumors
- Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV)
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
The first sign of pica is usually suckling on fabric. If your cat sucks on your clothing or soft furnishings, keep it away from plastic bags. It will invariably start to chew on these.
Pica can often be treated with lifestyle changes. Keep your cat happy and occupied. Old habits are hard to break, though. You will need to be patient with your cat and restrict access to anything consumable.
Consider whether your cat is simply imitating your relationship with plastic bags. Cats are natural mimics and will often impersonate their owners.
Obviously, you do not come home from the store and start to chew a plastic bag. Your cat may see you extract an item from the bag and eat it, though. It’s possible that the cat misunderstands this. As the bag smells so strongly of food, your cat believes that it is the source of nutrition.
This is especially likely in geriatric cats, aged over 15 years. At this stage of a cat’s life, cognitive dysfunction becomes increasingly likely. This condition leaves cats confused and bewildered.
If your cat is growing older, take particular care to avoid such mistakes. Try to keep the cat in a separate room while unpacking groceries. Wherever possible, use fabric bags that will not harm the cat if chewed.
Cats love to chew on plastic bags. Unfortunately, it’s not a behavior that should be encouraged. Never leave a cat unattended with a bag. The cat will love the sensory stimulation it provides, but the health risks are too great.