Is Your Cat Eating Weird Things? It Could Be Pica
kkedrovsky Margaret Dinchak / myPetSmart.com
Pica is a term used to describe the consumption of non-food items. In cats, it is a rare but potentially serious compulsive condition that can have detrimental effects on a cat’s health. Common targets of cat consumption include wool, fabric, plastic, tinsel, string, phone or electrical cords, although any inedible object can be a likely target. A cat with a certain affinity for suckling on wool sweaters is not necessarily a case of pica. Comfort-seeking cats who were weaned from their mother too early can retain nursing behaviors and display them during times of stress in their adult lives. Pica can be distinguished from suckling by the actual ingestion of non-food objects. If the sweater is left to nothing more than mere strands, the cat may have pica.
Why do some cats eat weird things?
It is not fully understood why some cats exhibit this behavior. It is suspected that pica has a genetic component, since it is more commonly found in oriental breeds such as the Siamese and Burmese. In her article, “Pica: The Un-Finicky Feline”, Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM explains that “because pica has been associated with a variety of diseases including feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, a veterinarian should examine any cat with pica.” If all medical explanations are ruled out, other behavioral causes include boredom, learned behavior, anxiety, comfort and attention-seeking.
Why is pica dangerous?
Beyond the catastrophic destruction of favorite sweaters and other household items, pica can be hazardous to a cat’s health. According to PetSmart veterinarian Dr. Robyn Jaynes, “when cats ingest items like string and fabric, they can become lodged in their stomach and intestine, causing an obstruction.” Other dangers include electrocution from chewing on cords and the potential toxicity of many non-food items.
Because pica can be a sign of an underlying medical problem, it is important for cats with unusual ingestive behavior to be examined by a veterinarian. Once all medical causes are ruled out, these practical tips can help redirect this behavior:
- Keep favored non-consumables out of the cat’s reach. Store wool sweaters and blankets on shelves or in cupboards and use a cord guard to protect electrical cords.
- Provide appropriate items for the cat to chew on. For cats who indulge in indoor greenery, plant some cat-safe grass. Hide crunchy treats around the house or use a treat dispensing toy to pique the cat’s interest.
- Cure kitty boredom with added playtime. An extra 30 minutes a day of interactive play can help reduce attention-seeking pica.
- Increase dietary fiber. The addition of canned pumpkin or bran into the cat’s food helps make them feel full longer without risking weight gain.