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Why Is My Cat Eating That?

Understanding odd food behavior and how to conquer strange cat cravings.
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When Cravings Become a Problem continued...

And although nibbling on a bit of paper or occasionally chewing on a plastic bag -- some of which contain gelatin, which cats can sense -- could simply be a harmless little quirk, "It’s hard to know," Plotnick says. "If your cat is eating something odd, it should first be seen by a vet."

Not every cat will progress from sucking wool to eating rubber bands, but some do. Moon-Fanelli says, "It is a concern" once they start ingesting inedible materials. That’s because indigestible items could lead to intestinal blockages, which. Moon-Fanelli says, could be extremely costly and even deadly.

What about grass? While many people think cats eat grass to stimulate vomiting and relieve hairballs, for some cats, grass-eating may eventually progress to chewing on houseplants. This habit can be dangerous because many houseplants, such as lilies, tulips, chrysanthemums, and English ivy, are poisonous to cats or can cause gastrointestinal upset.

What You Can Do

Always talk with your veterinarian first to rule out serious medical causes for cat pica.

Then discuss with your vet ways to discourage your cat from eating nonfood items. The experts at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at University of California, Davis, as well as other vets and animal behaviorists, suggest the following actions:

  • Remove targeted items. The easiest solution may be simply to hide the clothes, plants, or other items your cat loves to chew on.
  • Give your cat something else to chew. Divert your cat’s need to chew toward safer, more appropriate things like cat toys inside which you can hide an edible treat or some other appealing item made specifically for cats. To keep grass-eating cats from sampling houseplants, try growing catnip or a small pot of grass for your cat to nibble on. But keep watch. "Sometimes a cat ends up eating the potting material as well as the grass," Moon-Fanelli says. The result? Diarrhea.
  • Play with your cat. Some cats that chew are just bored or lonely. So make time for your attention-starved feline friend by giving her more mental or physical stimulation. You could train your cat to wear a harness and teach her to take walks, suggests Moon-Fanelli. Some cats enjoy outdoor enclosures where they can watch birds and other stimulating things.
  • Make appealing items unappealing. Applying strong-smelling substances like citrus air-freshener or foul-tasting things like hot sauce, Bandguard, or Bitter Apple to items like power cords can cause a cat to steer clear.
  • Get rid of dangerous plants. If your cat is attracted to houseplants, get rid of those that are considered toxic to pets. You can find out which plants are poisonous to cats at the web site of the ASPCA.
  • Talk to an animal behaviorist. If your cat continues to eat non-food items and you know it’s not a medical issue, look for a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB), suggests Moon-Fanelli. Many CAABs offer remote consultations and can work closely with your own veterinarian.
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