Have you ever caught your cat munching on houseplants or gobbling up thread from the couch?This craving for non-food items is a disorder known as pica and although it may seem like a silly, harmless habit, it can cause harm to your pet if it isn’t examined.
This guide will explain the signs of pica, reasons your cat may have a taste for non-food items and strategies to prevent and treat pica.
What Is Feline Pica?
Feline pica refers to when cats eat non-edible items or things with no nutritional value, like plastics, fabrics, rubber, plants, soil or paper. It’s common in cats of all ages, but tends to appear in younger cats. In some cases, kittens or young cats start by sucking on different materials and ingesting them in the process or they progress to chewing and swallowing them.
Pica can become a danger to your cat’s health because it can cause blockages in their intestinal tract. The disorder isn’t well understood yet, but it could be related to a number of issues, including stress and medical issues like pancreatitis and constipation. Below, we’ll touch on some common causes of pica in cats.
Environmental Causes: Stress, Boredom, or Loneliness
Boredom, loneliness and stress in your cat’s life are common culprits with pica. A lack of environmental stimulation, like enough playtime or social time, can cause cats to turn to this compulsive disorder to have fun, relieve some stress or get your attention.
Nutritional deficiencies, especially vitamin or mineral deficiencies, can also be one of the causes of pica. They can stem from many sources, like changing life stages, a health condition or a poor, imbalanced diet. Some cats will naturally turn to other items as potential food sources to try to fill this nutritional void and the cravings it creates.
Several medical issues are linked to pica. These include:
- Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV): This common disorder attacks and weakens a cat’s immune system and can give them the urge to eat inedible objects.
- Feline leukemia (FeLV): The second most common cause of death in cats, FeLV attacks the immune system and pica can be a symptom.
- Anemia: Anemia may stem from a lack of vitamins or iron, or arise from other causes, but it’s another cause of feline pica.
- Hyperthyroidism: When the thyroid is not functioning properly, your cat may feel hungry, and that can lead to eating non-food items.
- Diabetes: Diabetic cats may crave non-food items when they’re suffering blood sugar disruptions.
- Brain tumors: Brain tumors often affect a cat’s behavior because of their impact on the nervous system, which can lead to pica.
Wool sucking which is part of the pica behavior has been noted to occur more in Birman, Oriental, Tonkinese, Burmese and Siamese cats making it possible to conclude that it could be due to genetical factors.
Pica Signs And Symptoms
How can you spot pica, so you can adjust your cat’s diet and lifestyle to combat the disorder? If your cat chews compulsively things like plastic, dirt, carpeting, plants, electric cords, phone cords, wool, fabric, string, wiring or wool blankets she might have a condition known as pica.
If your cat starts vomiting and you notice non-food items in the vomit, you may have a case of pica. You can also have a cat that vomits due to an intestinal blockage caused by pica.
6 Simple Tips For Treating Pica In cats
If you notice pica in your cat, know that the behavior can be tricky to treat, but there are measures you can take to help your cat start eating healthy food and only healthy good again.
- Start By Seeing Your Veterinarian
If you suspect your cat has a medical problem or unhealthy habit, always start by consulting your veterinarian. They’ll be able to look for any underlying problems or conditions.
- Provide Your Cat With Environmental Enrichme
If you suspect boredom is the problem, add mental stimulation to your cat’s day. Doing so will keep them engaged and eliminate the desire to chew and eat items the cat shouldn’t be eating.
- Hide Or Remove Household Temptations
First, get rid of dangerous household plants. These include (but are not limited to) lilies, foxglove, philodendron, azalea and rhododendron, cyclamen, oleander, sago palm, castor bean, yew, and marijuana plants. Keep plastic bags out of reach (or better yet, switch to paper!) and don’t leave small items like rubber bands lying around.
- Play With Your Cat
Give your cat interactive playtime for at least 15 minutes a day, using toys designed like a fishing pole so you can simulate the movements of prey. When he’s alone, provide him with physical stimulation (catnip toys, puzzle feeders, cat trees, scratching posts, etc.) and mental stimulation (a window perch with a clear view of nature so he can distract himself by observing birds, squirrels, and the occasional neighborhood cat).
- Make Items Unappealing
Apply strong-smelling substances like citrus or lavender sprays to items you can’t hide or remove, such as electrical cords. Some people find success with applying foul-tasting substances like Bitter Apple, as well.
- Get the help of an animal behaviorist
If medical causes have been ruled out, you may consider engaging the services of a cat behaviorist to train your feline to find ways of managing, modifying or preventing the behaviors from repeating.