It sometimes feels like the human definition of food differs from that of your pet cat. It can seem strange when your feline refuses their dinner, only to eat things that aren’t food. It makes you wonder if this mealtime behavior is normal for a cat, or if a medical problem is responsible.
Pica is a psychological compulsion to eat non-food items, including clothing, paper, plastic, and dirt. Many cats are predisposed to this condition, and treatment is complex.
If your cat is eating strange things, it’s not always a symptom of an underlying problem. Some cats settle for licking and sucking non-food items, and do not do themselves any harm. It’s very easy for a cat to block their digestive tract with non-food items, however, which is serious.
Why Is My Cat is Eating Strange Things?
If your cat is eating something inedible, think about how they behaved beforehand. Did they hunt and stalk the item? If so, they were fulfilling their basic instincts.
Felines live to hunt prey, and once they’ve done so, they’ll want to sample their trophy. Most cats will take one bite, then move on. They quickly realize that there are tastier options available if they meow at their owner.
Your cat may also be experiencing a burst of curiosity. When your cat sees something new, three questions run through their brain:
- Can I eat that?
- Will it want to eat me?
- Can I mate with it?
The final question only applies to pets that have not been spayed or neutered. The former queries, however, are incredibly commonplace.
Cats love to experience new sensations, and they often use their mouths for this. Once animals learn everything they can through smell and hearing, the taste is all that’s left.
Most cats will quickly learn that the item is not food. However, if the texture is pleasing, your cat may continue nibbling. This can be dangerous, potentially leading to intestinal blockages.
The psychological condition of Pica is also extremely common in cats. This psychological illness leaves your pet with inexplicable cravings for nonfood items.
Why Does My Cat Eat Paper and Cardboard?
Paper and especially cardboard have a very appealing texture to your cat. They’ll approach the items in the first place because they’re comforting. Lying on paper keeps your pet’s stomach warm, and cardboard boxes are great for hiding within.
Once they’re engaged, many cats will nibble to see if these items taste as good as they feel. Teething kittens constantly chew cardboard to ease the pain in their gums. Many adult cats will carry this behavior into adulthood. They associate it with self-soothing when stressed or anxious.
If your cat only eats a small piece of paper, it’s not a problem. The paper will turn to mush, and be passed naturally. Larger sheets, or cardboard, will not break down, however. Your cat’s body is not equipped to digest paper, and a blockage becomes likely.
Why Is My Cat Eating Clothes?
This behavior often stems from cats being weaned from their mother before they are ready. Your pet is attempting to replicate the comfort of being fed naturally. This means that they’ll suckle on wool, and other similar objects. This could take the form of cushions or clothing.
Also, your cat may look to nibble on your socks. These carry the scene of your feet, which are at nose level for most cats. This makes socks a comforting and familiar scent.
The same also applies to shoes. If you find that your cat gravitates to your footwear, watch them carefully. It will be easy for a pet to tug, chew and eat shoelaces. This can be dangerous. Any thin piece of string can wrap around a cat’s intestines.
The final garments to be wary of are gloves and scarves. These are unlikely to be large enough for a cat to eat, thankfully. They will, however, be fun and soft to play with. Scarves will also smell of a favored perfume or cologne, again reminding your pet of you.
This means that your cat may relax and snooze with these items. If that relaxing becomes biting and shredding, small pieces can be broken off and swallowed. Like paper, your cat cannot digest cloth, and ill health can quickly follow.
Why Does My Cat Eat Plastic Bags?
Cats adore plastic bags – they appeal to every feline sense. A bag fresh from grocery shopping will smell of food, and carry remnants of the taste.
Playing with a plastic bag makes a satisfying crinkling sound. They are light enough to play with, making touch appealing. Many plastic bags have a variety of colors, making them visually striking.
Cats chew on plastic bags to ease dental discomfort. They find the texture pleasing, as well as tasty. This means that cats make a beeline for a plastic bag whenever they see one.
This is far from ideal. The usual risks of eating the bag apply, as plastic does not break down. Also, suffocation is a genuine threat.
Keep your plastic bags well out of sight of your cat. Just throw them away securely. If you see your cat playing with a plastic bag, always take deterrent measures. No good can come of this habit.
Why Does My Cat Eat Garbage?
Cats can often be found rummaging around the garbage, seemingly expecting to find hidden prizes within. In truth, they may find them. What you call trash, your cat may call treasure. For a start, they may be looking for plastic bags.
Also remember that cats have an intense sense of smell, and your garbage can stinks. Just because you don’t notice it, that doesn’t mean that your pet doesn’t. There may be all kinds of food inside, which your cat will be keen to explore.
Of course, this food will be in the garbage for a reason. It’s likely soiled, or inappropriate for a pet in other ways. In the heat of the moment, your cat may not notice this.
They could end up choking on cooked bones, eating spoiled meat – or swallowing non-food items. None of this will end well, and must be avoided.
Cats can be determined, so you’ll need to be secure with your trash. Consider an electrical bin that your pet is unable to open. Alternatively, weight down the lid when it’s not in use.
Why Does My Cat Chew Electrical Cords?
Electrical cords are wrapped in plastic, making them pleasant for a cat to chew upon. Naturally, the fun comes to a stop when your pet receives an electric shock.
Electrical cord injuries in cats are plentiful and varied. These must be avoided at all costs. If your cat electrocutes themselves, it may be some time before they fully recover.
Any cat, whether living with Pica or not, may be attracted to electrical cords. It’s especially likely if they chewed them as a kitten, and never outgrew the activity. Consider covering the electrical cords in your home, denying access to your cat.
What Does My Cat Eat Artificial Plants?
Cats love to explore plants and flowers by eating them. On sight, your cat cannot tell an artificial plant from a live one. This means that they may be irresistibly drawn to eating the leaves.
Your cat’s interest will be piqued by the fact that artificial plants do not smell. When unable to rely upon their nose for information, pets rely on the next best thing. That’s their sense of taste. A quick bite will usually tell your cat all they need to know.
Unfortunately, many artificial plants contain materials that are toxic to cats. Consider rubbing an unappealing scent, such as citrus juice, on the leaves. This will ensure that your pet gives the plant a wide berth.
My Cat Keeps Eating Bugs.
When your pet eats insects, it likely leaves you feeling a little queasy. Thankfully, however, eating bugs is regular feline behavior. It’s rare that eating insects is a sign of Pica in cats.
Cats eat insects because they love to hunt. Bugs scuttling along the floor, or flying around their head, are irresistible to cats. They’ll do be keen to catch them – and may eat their trophy afterward.
It’s rare that eating bugs will have a negative impact on your pet. The only exceptions are stinging insects. Bees, wasps, and scorpions should be approached cautiously. Beyond this, the worst that is likely to happen is mild irritation to the throat.
My Cat is Eating Potting Soil
Cats often eat potting soil, directly from a plant pot. If the soil is clean, this should not do them any harm. If you have applied any treatment, however, it can be dangerous.
Sometimes, cats eat potting soil as part of a game. Most felines love to dig and play with soil. The soft texture feels great on their paws. While they’re doing so, they may also experiment with tasting the soil. It’s also possible that your cat spotted a worm or insect, and ate accordingly.
Some cats, however, eat dirt and soil due to a vitamin deficiency in their diet. Your cat is looking to replace something that is missing from their body. This is a form of Pica, and must be looked into,
Pica Disorder in Cats
Pica is a psychological illness that’s comparatively common in cats. Suckling and licking non-food items is not necessarily a sign of pica.
To be diagnosed, a pet must regularly chew and digest inedible items. If your cat does suck and chew non-food items, however, they may be stressed or anxious.
Pica most commonly manifests in wool. Many cats with this condition will suckle, and swallow, blankets and socks. As the problem takes hold, however, your cat will be driven to eat anything they come across. The items that we have previously discussed can be just the tip of the iceberg.
You can tell if your cat is dealing with pica by observing how they interact with items. Cats have natural urges to hunt and destroy inanimate objects, like they do their wild prey.
A cat tearing things apart with their claws and teeth, then walking away, is a natural behavior. The worst thing is the cleanup that follows. If they then start to eat, however, Pica is likely.
International Cat Care goes into more detail about Pica, and the impact it has on cats. Pica means that eating non-edible items becomes an addiction. Like all addictions, failing to indulge will feel like an itch that your pet cannot scratch.
If your cat eats something inappropriate, they’ll get a surge of ecstasy. This will not last, however, and the buzz will quickly wear off if they make themselves unwell. Pica must be managed carefully.
Symptoms of Pica
The primary symptom of pica is eating the inedible. In addition to this, however, there are other symptoms. These include:
- Constipation, or difficulty eliminating
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy and depression
These warning signs are very generic. They can just as easily be attributed to any number of different ailments. When in doubt, always consult a vet. It’s the only way to be sure.
My Cat Ate Something Harmful
If your cat has Pica, sooner or later they’ll eat something that will harm them. This could take the shape of toxicity, or it may cause an intestinal blockage.
Any strange feline behavior should be seen by a vet, post-haste. As cats are so adept at hiding sickness, easily identifiable symptoms should always be taken seriously. With potential poisonings, check out the Pet Poison Helpline while you wait for your appointment.
Blockages are more serious, and may not be quite as clear. When your cat swallows something they cannot digest, it wreaks havoc on their intestines.
This could be a shoelace, for example, which wraps itself around their digestive tract. A plastic bag is another likely culprit, and will see your cat unable to eat or eliminate.
Untreated intestinal blockages in cats must be treated as a matter of urgency. If your cat cannot eliminate, their bodies will be flooded with toxins. If you suspect that your cat’s digestive tract is blocked, rush them to a vet.
Once there, your vet will run tests on your cat. The most important of these are x-rays and ultrasounds. These will help a professional to understand what is inside your cat’s body. From here, treatment will follow.
If the item is small, your cat will be able to pass it with help. In such scenarios, your vet will prescribe medication that helps your cat purge their bowel. It will be messy, but it will save your cat’s life. Tinned pumpkin will have a similar effect, if you need an urgent response.
Larger items are more troublesome, and must be physically removed by a professional. Your vet will initially attempt this using an endoscope. This is a painless technique, which involves inserting a long tube into your cat’s throat.
This tube will have a camera mounted upon it, helping your vet locate the offending item. If they can grab it using the endoscope, your vet will pull the foreign object out.
If assistance with an endoscope proves impossible, your cat will need surgery. This will involve being put under general anesthetic, and your cat cutting open the abdomen.
The foreign object will then be removed, and your cat stitched up again. This will necessitate a much longer recovery time.
Medical Causes of Pica in Cats
The exact cause of pica is unknown. This is because the condition does not have a single trigger. When it comes to diagnosis, your vet will ask you to explain your pet’s recurrent behaviors.
Keeping a diary of what your cat eats, and when, will be beneficial here. Tests will also be run to assess your cat’s physical health, in case they have a vitamin deficiency.
Aside from a lack of appropriate nutrition, medical explanations for pica can include:
- Feline dementia or brain tumors
- Feline Leukemia Virus (aka FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)
- Dental problems
Other, psychological, triggers for pica can include:
- Stress and anxiety. Your cat is attempting to soothe themselves by eating, and this becomes a compulsive behavior.
- Boredom. Unlike dogs, felines rarely chew for their amusement. Your cat may eat for something to do, though.
- Attention seeking. If you stop your cat eating inedible items, they may do it provoke a response.
Additionally, be aware that some breeds of cat are more genetically predisposed to pica. Oriental cat breeds, in particular, appear to develop the condition disproportionately. Siamese cats are also more likely to show symptoms.
How is Pica in Cats Treated?
Cat pica treatment depends on what is causing the issue in the first place. If your cat is eating non-edible items due to a medical concern, this must be addressed by consulting a behaviorist.
Does your cat have a problem with its food? Change their diet, or the way that they eat. You may find that your cat is bored with their food, and seeks nourishment elsewhere. Alternatively, they may be struggling with the shape or location of their food dish.
Is your cat stressed and anxious? Ensure that they have a safe space to relax in the home, and establish a routine. Cats need to know exactly where they stand, and do not enjoy spontaneity. If you feed your pet at the same time each day, they’ll be far happier.
Does your cat feel neglected and want constant attention? Make sure you offer quality, one-on-one time. Any cat will need at least 20 minutes of interactive attention and playtime each day. Some may expect more. If you provide this, within the confines of an established routine, you’ll have a happy cat. A happy cat is less likely to eat indiscriminately.
Beyond this, you’ll need to keep temptation out of your cat’s reach. Felines are adaptable, and they’ll break habits when they stop experiencing them. This means covering up electrical cables, and keeping anything out of your cat’s reach.