Tip of the Month

2/15/2013 Unusual Cravings in Cats: Strange Things Cats Eat—Part 1

Cats With Pica

As with some humans, cats are known to eat strange things. The urge to eat “non-food items” is known as “pica,” and is common for many of our feline friends. For example, there is a behavior called “wool sucking,” which occurs in cats that are weaned too soon. The younger the kitten, the greater the urge to nurse and the more likely it will suck on wool. This means fuzzy items such as sweaters, stuffed animals, towels and fleece will fall victim to this behavior.

Causes of Pica?

Some cats might find other strange items irresistible: paper, plastic grocery bags, houseplants, carpet and even electrical cords. Usually there is nothing to worry about; however, pica can be associated with several diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency or feline leukemia. In any case, a cat needs to be examined by a veterinarian since pica can be caused by several things:

  • Genetics: Wool sucking is seen more commonly in Siamese and Birman cats (not to be confused with Burmese cats). Wool sucking could be more of a nursing behavior, which is related to kneading.

  • Dietary Deficiencies: While it is normal for cats to eat a bit of grass, eating a large amount of plant material could mean something is missing from their diet. Eating cat litter might mean the cat is anemic.

  • Medical Issues: Besides feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency (or FIV), pica can also be associated with diabetes or brain tumors.

  • Environmental Conditions: Cats can get bored and therefore might need more mental or physical stimulation. Cats might also be seeking attention, be hungry, or are attracted to scents (grocery bags that contained meats, for example). It might also be a learned behavior.

  • Compulsive Disorder: If all other possibilities, such as a medical issue, have been ruled out, pica might be a compulsive disorder.

Although it mainly shows up in younger cats, pica can also appear in older cats as well. While occasional chewing on items should not be a problem, pica could be dangerous. Chewing on power cords can be a major problem; so is ingesting foreign materials, which can cause blockage in the stomach or the intestine. Either way, it can be fatal to a cat.

By Penny Derbyshire-Baldyga, RVT

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