Have you ever looked over as you’re unpacking the groceries to see your cat innocently chewing on a plastic bag? What’s up with that? The technical term for a cat eating a non-food item is “pica,” so in this case, we’re specifically looking at plastic pica.
There may be a good reason behind your cat’s plastic pica habit, and it’s important to find out the cause of the problem.
We probably don’t need to tell you that eating plastic is bad for your cat in more ways than one. Some plastic bags contain tasty remnants of food, which can attract your cat, while others are made with animal by-products that can smell tasty too.
If you notice your cat trying to chew any type of plastic, it can be a sign that something is wrong. Let’s take a look at the main reasons that cats try to eat plastic.
First Things First
We suspect that some cats chew plastic as they like the texture and maybe even the taste of plastic, but in reality we don’t know for sure. There are few speculations into why they are interested in plastic or other inedible materials, and some of the assumptions include dietary deficiencies, stress, anxiety, underlying medical disorders such as gastroenteritis, neurological illness, boredom, compulsive disorders, early weaning, lack of socialization and many other. There may also be a genetic predisposition for pica in some breeds like Siamese and Birman cats, and these cats also have a tendency for suckling on wool.1 Further research is required to characterize pica in cats, allowing us to better understand it so we can help the cats. Let’s go through four of the most common reasons cats may be chewing plastic.
The 4 Reasons Why Cats Try to Eat Plastic
1. Their diet may be nutritionally deficient
If your cat’s regular food isn’t meeting their nutritional needs, they may be compelled to eat other items to make up the shortfall. But on the other hand, they may have just developed a bad habit. It’s impossible to know for sure. Of course, plastic doesn’t contain any nutritional benefits for your cat at all, but if it’s plastic that contains meat or other tasty foodstuffs, then your cat might give it a nibble, anyway.
2. Your cat is stressed or bored
We know that cats can come across as independent and in control, but our little furry friends are actually easily affected by changes in their environment. Something that you may not even consider stressful, like rearranging the furniture or inviting a friend over, can cause your cat to feel anxious and stressed out. This might lead them to indulge in self-soothing behavior, which in some cases, can include plastic pica. But boredom and frustration may also lead to this strange behavior.
3. Your cat is curious
Some cats, especially inquisitive kittens, love to investigate the world around them. This includes eating things that they really shouldn’t! Some cats retain their playful, kitten-like tendencies well into adulthood, and they may not be able to resist chewing on a plastic item that’s been left lying around.
4. Your cat has a medical condition
Pica can be a sign of your cat trying to self-soothe themselves. If you catch your cat chewing on plastic or any other non-food item, this may be the first sign that they’re feeling unwell. Cats are masters of hiding pain, so keeping an eye out for subtle signs like this can give you a clue that your cat might not be feeling 100%.
Keep plastic out of the reach of your cat
It’s a good habit to start putting away any plastic items that your cat might try to investigate. Plastic bags are particularly dangerous because they can become a choking or suffocation hazard if your cat does manage to swallow a piece or if they get their head stuck inside the bag.
Keep bags safely tucked away in drawers, invest in a trash can with a sturdy lid so your cat can’t reach the liner, and remove any other items that you think that your cat might decide to chew on.
If your cat happens to be chewing on the outer covering of electrical cables, this is even more dangerous. Try to make sure your cat only has access to a room without any electrical items plugged in when you’re not able to supervise them.
Giving your cat a diversion is always a good option, so offer them a variety of safe toys and enrich their environment. You can even get chew sticks for your cat to gnaw on.
Always speak to your vet if you see your cat eating something plastic. If you see them doing it once, the chances are that they’ve also tried it when you’re not watching them. It’s important to get to the bottom of why your cat is chewing on or eating plastic, so you can help your furry friend get better.
When to Take Your Cat to the Vet
If you saw your cat munching on plastic before you could react, or they have started feeling poorly, refusing their food, retching, becoming lethargic, vomiting, developing diarrhea or straining to defecate, or showing signs of a hunched and painful abdomen, this is the time to urgently see your vet. Chewing plastic can also lead to cuts inside the mouth and on the tongue that may bleed, cause pain, and need urgent attention. Pieces of plastic that cats swallow can easily cause a stomach or intestinal blockage and may need gastroscopy or even surgery for the pieces to be removed. The longer the condition is left untreated, the worse health complications may arise.
Some cats start showing interest, usually from a very young age, in eating plastic and other inedible materials. This can also occur at any stage in a cat’s life. There may be several reasons why this happens, and the most important ones explained above. They indicate that there is an underlying issue. If the cause is boredom, stress, or anxiety, you may manage it at home by improving mental, physical, and environmental stimulation. If there are medical reasons, that will require a veterinary workup. Either way, make sure you keep all plastic and other inedible materials your cat is showing interest in well out of their reach.
Featured Image Credit: Faqih03, Shutterstock