If you own a cat, there’s a good chance you’ve found them licking a plastic bag on more than one occasion. It’s a common enough occurrence, but let’s face it – it’s weird. When a cat that usually refuses to eat anything but the choicest chunks of chicken breast suddenly decides that a sandwich baggie makes a tempting treat, it can set off alarm bells. But why exactly do they do it? And should you be worried when they do? Here’s what you need to know.
Why Does My Cat Eat Plastic?
As joewongcomedy.com explains, cats who eat plastic are displaying signs of a condition called pica, which refers to the propensity for chewing on or eating non-food items. Only a small minority of cats like to lick, chew or eat plastic, but if your cat does, they’re certainly not alone. So, why exactly do cats eat plastic? Ultimately, the answer is pretty straightforward – they do it because they like it. Whereas nibbling on plastic might seem a pretty pointless activity to us, there’s something about it that appeals to your cat. It could be that they like the taste (either of the plastic itself or the food it once contained), the smell, the way it crinkles, or the way it feels against their tongue and paws. In many cases, the root cause is harmless enough. Most plastic bags are coated in substances like cornstarch and stearates or are made of animal by-products such as gelatin, all of which are extremely tempting to cats. Occasionally, however, a cat’s plastic habit might point to something a little more sinister. In these cases, a propensity for plastic could indicate:
Cats might like to give the impression that nothing ever fazes them, but they’re actually sensitive little creatures that can easily become stressed. If something happens to push them out of their comfort zone (this could be a house move, a new addition to the family, a loss of a family member or kitty friend, or even just a change in your work routine), they might become stressed and anxious enough to start displaying unusual behaviors. In these cases, plastic chewing works as an outlet for their anxiety – think of it as being something similar to nail-biting in humans.
Although it’s rare for a nutritional deficiency to give rise to pica, severe malnutrition or nutritional imbalances can sometimes result in some very unusual food-based habits.
If your cat is suffering from a health problem such as dental disease, diabetes, brain tumors, gastrointestinal issues, hyperthyroidism, or anemia, they may develop pica as a result.
Thought only people could suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Think again. Although rare, severe stress can sometimes lead to OCD, which in turn can make your cat obsessively seek out and devour any piece of plastic they can get their paws on.
Is it Safe For Cats To Eat Plastic?
So, now you know why your cat might be a plastic addict, it’s on to the next big question – is it safe? Simply put, no. Per hillspet.com, cats and plastic bags are a potentially dangerous combination for a few reasons. If they ingest the plastic, either by accident or design, it may obstruct their airwaves or cause intestinal distress. Even if they don’t swallow it, it could still be a concern. For example, if they’re getting a little too friendly with a plastic bag, they might get their head stuck or cut off their breathing by getting their neck tangled in the handles. Either way, it’s not a habit you should either encourage or allow to continue. Before anything else, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They’ll be able to assess whether the condition is caused by an underlying health condition and formulate a plan of action if it is. If they give your cat a clean bill of health, there are plenty of things you can do to tackle the problem.
How to Stop a Cat Eating Plastic
The best and safest way to stop your cat from having a plastic-related accident is to simply keep any plastic objects out of their reach. Stash any spare bags in a drawer, avoid using plastic to line their litter tray, and if you use bags to line your garbage can, move it to a room they can’t access or switch it for a lidded can that lets you tuck the bag safely inside. Once you’ve removed the immediate risk, you can start tackling the reasons they might be eating plastic with the following tips.
Put an End to Boredom
As cathealth.com notes, boredom can play a role in many feline behaviors such as plastic-chewing. Make sure to spend plenty of time interacting with your cat to keep boredom at bay and reduce their tendency towards unwanted behaviors.
Invest in Some Scratching Posts
Scratching acts as a natural stress reliever for cats. It’s also a great form of exercise that can help lessen boredom and allow them to indulge their natural instincts. If your cat has turned to plastic as an outlet for stress, investing in a few scratching posts of varying sizes and heights can make a big difference.
Stimulate Their Senses
If your cat is licking plastic for the sheer love of it, give them a new way to get their thrills by investing in some food puzzles, ball mazes, and prey mimicking toys. The more ways you can find to stimulate their senses, the less likely they are to chow down on things they shouldn’t. If you’re away from home for long stretches of the day, keep them out of mischief by leaving a few food dispensing toys and puzzles scattered around.
Try Some Behavior Modification
Each time you catch your cat enjoying a little plastic action, redirect their attention by throwing a treat or a toy to the other side of the room. When they leave the plastic to retrieve the toy/treat, praise them. Keep repeating the exercise – it may take some time, but with patience, consistency, and plenty of positive reinforcement, your cat will eventually get the message that it pays more to ignore a plastic bag than it does to chew it.