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Ask Amy: Pica - Chewing Plastic

Why Does Cat Chew On Plastic?

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Kitten Chewing

Kittens that teeth chew all sorts of objects. Adult cats that lick and chew, or swallow, inedible objects may suffer from pica.

Photo Credit: © Amy Shojai, CABC

Question: "Why does my cat chew plastic bags?"

Doris and Dave's cat Toby loves to chew on plastic bags. "The vet had not seen that before," says Doris.

Amy's Answer

Every cat has a different personality, and some are quite unique. Chewing behavior isn't a common problem in cats. Veterinarians and behavior specialists look at the cat's physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct to help figure out what's going on and find solutions. Think of this as the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers.

H=Health

Chewing or eating inedible objects is called pica. For unknown reasons, some cats simply decide they want to chew or swallow nonfood objects. Wool sucking (chewing fabric) is the most common manifestation and Oriental type cats have the highest incidence. Cats that indulge in this behavior also can be anemic, so a health check is encouraged.

I=Instinct

Kittens paw and mouth all kinds of objects and these youngsters are particularly enticed by movement or smell, such a biting electric cords. So a plastic bag that rattles and moves in fun ways can turn into a great kitty toy. Objects that smell yummy such as nipples from baby bottles scented with formula can become targets. My cat Seren adores clawing and playing with rubber bands. Of course, eating such objects can prove dangerous or even deadly.

S=Stress

Stress has odd effects at times. The bored or upset cat could become compulsive about licking or chewing objects to help relieve stress, in the same way people bite their nails. Stress nearly always is a component of pica.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

Chewing and licking plastic bags actually is a common behavior of cats. It could be that initially the motion attracts them. But many plastic bags are made from petroleum based products. In other words, this oil-derived material tastes good to cats! So when your cat decides to graze on plastic, we must in turn become much better house keepers and pick up and dispose of the dangerous sacks before kitty can get a taste.

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