Friday, January 30, 2015

Pica: When Your cat Feasts on Fabric

It's thought that some kittens engage in wool sucking when they are weaned too soon or too abruptly.  Some kitties grow out of this behavior while others engage in wool sucking for life.  Wool sucking isn't usually dangerous unless the behavior progresses into pica - the eating of non-food items.  According to Pam Johnson-Bennett, while wool is the most common material associated with pica, cats with this condition may also eat plastic, paper, rubber, wood, leather, litter, and just about anything else.  Unlike wool sucking, pica can become very dangerous by causing intestinal blockages or obstructions.

Causes and Diagnosis of Pica

Pica can be caused by a number of things, such as dietary deficiencies, medical conditions, genetics, and stress.

Dietary Deficiencies: According to Pam Johnson-Bennett, some behavior experts and veterinarians believe that an inadequate amount of fiber or fat in a cat's diet can lead her to seek these nutrients from non-food items.  Some cats with anemia have been known to eat their litter, for instance. 

Medical Problems: According to WebMD, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus are associated with pica.  Pica can also be triggered by a brain tumor or diabetes. 

Genetic Predisposition: Some Oriental breeds, such as the Siamese and Burmese are genetically predisposed to wool sucking, which is sometimes a precursor to pica.

Boredom: Cats who aren't getting enough physical or mental stimulation living indoors may eat inedible items for something to do.

Stress: Some kitties try to soothe themselves by eating inedible things when they reside in a stressful environment.

If your kitty is eating non-food items, please take him to the veterinarian for an examination.  Your veterinarian will be able to determine the cause of your cat's pica.  Your veterinarian will also be able to help you treat a medical condition or make dietary adjustments, if necessary.  If no medical problem or dietary deficiency is found, you and your vet can discuss what steps to take to help your cat cope with pica.

Coping with Pica

There are several things you can do to help a kitty who has pica.  

Remove Temptation: If your cat likes chomping on sweaters, be sure to keep all of your clothes in closets, dressers, and hampers with lids.  If your kitty likes to munch on paper, keep all papers in filing cabinets or file boxes so that your cat cannot access them.  Keep whatever inedible item your cat likes to eat out of her reach.

If you cannot keep your cat's desired objects out of her reach, spray them with a taste deterrent, such as Bitter Apple or Veterinarian's Best Bitter Cherry Spray. 



Provide Safe Alternatives: Many kitties enjoy eating cat grass.  You can find cat grass kits at your local pet store that you can grow at home.  Cat grass will provide your kitty with something to munch on that won't hurt him.  Pam Johnson-Bennett reminds cat parents not to give their furry friends grass from the yard because it is often treated with harmful chemicals.  

Environmental Enrichment: An indoor-only cat can become bored if she isn't given enough stimulation in her environment.  Provide your companion with scratching posts, cat trees, toys, and puzzle feeders to keep her physically and mentally stimulated.  Place a cat tree by a window so your kitty can watch bird and squirrel TV.  Putting a bird feeder outside the window will attract birds for your cat to watch.  Your cat might also enjoy watching fish swim around in a fish tank. 

Some kitties find cat DVDs entertaining.  Milita loves watching Meerkat Manor, for instance.  If you don't have a cat DVD, Netflix has some nature shows your cat might find entertaining.  Milita really liked a nature show about birds I put on for her one day, for example.

Spend time with your cat in interactive play sessions twice a day.  Not only do interactive play sessions decrease boredom, they help you build a stronger bond with your companion.  

Reduce Stress: Determine what's causing your kitty stress.  This might take a little detective work.  Are there any loud noises in his environment?  Are there any cats outside causing him stress?  Have you made any recent changes to your home?  Has your cat's routine changed recently?  Any stressor, no matter how big or small, can affect your furry friend.  

If you can, eliminate the source of your cat's stress.  Of course, this won't always be possible.  When it's not possible to eliminate the source of the stress, make your kitty's environment more secure by providing him with cozy spots to curl up and nap in, elevated places to watch the world from, and safe locations for his food and litter box.

Comfort Zone diffusers or calming collars are effective at reducing anxiety as well.  I've used both the Comfort Zone diffusers and Sentry calming collars on Carmine and Milita, and they both help tremendously when stressful situations arise, such as when we moved and when we lost our precious Jewel.

Attention Seeking: According to the ASPCA, some cats engage in compulsive behaviors to get attention.  Don't give your cat any extra attention when she's eating things she shouldn't; otherwise, she may learn that chomping on paper gets you to pay more attention to her, which reinforces the behavior.  Instead, if you see your kitty chewing or eating something she shouldn't, simply take it away from her.  

Medication: In severe cases of pica where anxiety is the root cause of the problem, medication may be needed.  Many veterinarians use psychotropic medication as a last resort due to possible side effects.

Reducing or stopping pica behavior may be difficult.  If you've seen your vet, determined the cause of the behavior, and tried these solutions, and your cat is still eating inedible things, it may be time to consult a certified behavior specialist.

Have you ever had a cat who ate inedible items?  How did you help him or her?

36 comments:

  1. I like to chew on plastic stuff...though I don't actually eat it. The mom tries to divert my attention when she sees me doing this. And she tries to keep all plastic stuff put away. ~Wally

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  2. Great information! Truffles does lick her blankies a lot but I think she's just scent marking them :) No eating yet, thankfully!

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  3. Rags went through the bad noms stage, but I spritzed things with a 8/1 water/sweet orange oil mix and he lost interest. Plus it makes your house smell pretty good.
    ~Vicat

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  4. We have never had anyone in over 40 years that ate uneatable items. I think probably since most of my cats lived outside so they were happy cats. Course you can't keep cats outside if you live close to roads etc.

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  5. Anya tries to eat plastic sometimes. Nico did too. Renato would suck on my earlobes, but he was just a kitten. Star and Saphira never do this.

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  6. Great info! That stuff can be real bad news!

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  7. Great info! With my behavior clients, I most commonly come across wool sucking with Siamese cats.There is a study linking pica to the breed.

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  8. Chevy has pica. He was a small foundling that came to us when he should have still been with his mama/littermates (who were no where to be found). We syringe fed him, let him eat and grow, and unfortunately he is turning out to be one of those kitties that will eat anything that isn't nailed down. So we have to hide everything. Taste deterrent really doesn't stop him..it just slows him down a bit. We are gradually adding more fat and fiber to his diet in order to get him to stop; hopefully we will find the correct levels of each, soon.

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  9. Pipo bites/chews on plastic shrink wrap...doesn't eat it though, Minko likes to chomp on cardboard and rip it up...as well as wires, OMC:( 'Phooey' works purrty good...)

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  10. Pica sounds like a pretty scary thing. Gracie likes to lick the curtain, and plastic bags, but thankfully, she never tries to eat them.

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  11. Our brother Quint has Pica and he loves to chew holes in blankets and fabrics. He's been thoroughly tested and the determination was genetic with his Oriental background. That means you'll find no fabrics anywhere but in the big bedroom where he's not allowed to go. Ever. Sheets and blankets are expensive to replace, apparently.

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  12. I don't have pica, but I do chew on paper plates and bowls if I am being served cat food in them! I'm the only cat my human has had with this habit. The moment I start chewing on one, she snatches the bowl away from me!

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  13. Great info! With my behavior clients, I most commonly come across wool sucking with Siamese cats.There is a study linking pica to the breed.

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  14. Gweat posty. Weez not eat anyfin' but noms, but me can tear up a lot of fings wiff meez kneadin' and slobberin'. MOL

    Luv ya'

    Dezi and Lexi

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  15. Great post, very good information ! We share ! Purrs

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  16. This is one of the best posts on Pica I have ever seen. Excellent info and particularly well written. Thanks. XOCK, Kitties Blue

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  17. The peeps used to call autumn a goat cos she’d pick lint off the carpet and eat it. MOL!

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  18. Great post and such important info!
    Have a great weekend...

    Noodle and crew

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  19. Boids is fun to watch on the teevee! :)

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  20. Thanks for this very informative & fascinating post! I didn't realize eating inedible items was that common and that it had a name - Pica. My cat used to eat tinsel off the Xmas tree so we had to stop using it. I find bitter spray works well as a deterrent but you have to use it continually at first to stop the behavior.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Cathy, Isis & Phoebe
    www.dogsluvusandweluvthem.blogspot.com

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  21. Great post! I've heard of cats seeking alternative 'suckling' objects but didn't know it's technical term. I also love the suggestions you provide for distraction - Netflix is definitely a distraction.

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  22. Wow! I never knew cats would do this. I have 4 cats and I think since they have access to the outside they are stimulated well from their environment so they are never bored. Our last I found when she only weighed a pound, and we have no problems with her. But I now know this could be something to watch out for in future cats :) Thanks.

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  23. I have never had a kitty who suffered from Pica but have read of kitties that do. I know it can be very bad.

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  24. Wow - I had no idea kitties do this! Thanks for posting and I'll share with my kitty loving pals!

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  25. Good to know! My cat Tonka is quite the little fleece blanket sucker! Fortunately he hasn't eaten any fabric but it's good to know about this

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  26. What an important topic! I've never heard of Pica before...thank you so much for the comprehensive info and advice! I'm going to really be watching Katie...she has been known to eat some things she shouldn't. Not as dramatically as what you're describing, and we've sought medical attention from our vet. I've "Katie-proofed" the house as best I can. I think some of the other enrichment suggestions would be very helpful for her.

    : )

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  27. We have to watch Athena around anything that looks like string. She can't seem to help herself, so we do just what you suggest: remove temptation!

    --Purrs (and wags) from Life with Dogs and Cats.

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  28. Great post and advice. Max likes to suck blankets for comfort, and has done since he was a kitten.

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  29. Interesting information. I've never had a cat that eats inedible items.

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  30. I've only ever had one pica kitty and his thing is socks, woolens and toilet paper. We use Feliway and foraging toys and various nutriceuticals that calm. He is now on a flower essence and we'll see how that works. He was returned to me because of his problem and now lives with another family and they are working hard to make him happy!

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  31. Mai sisfur, Ivanna, was a rescue from an abusive and starvation environment. She eats paper when she thinks she is not getting enough food. Mum has to keep all paper and mail out of her reach. She often finds it any way.

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  32. What great information. It has been a really long time since I had a completely indoor only cat (aside from foster kittens) but this is great information to have in case we foster fail at some point. I know Davinia would like us to Foster fail she loves her kitties and I am not sure I would know what to think if I found one suckling on non food items.

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  33. Good article about an important topic! When I was raising kittens I discovered that cheap scented hairspray works great to deter chewing on electrical cords! They hate the taste and smell of it! some cats will chew on raw chicken necks to satisfy their urge to chew. If you feed raw bony bits, supervise them and only feed chunks large enough not to swallow.

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