Some cats have the urge to eat items that are otherwise considered inedible, a behavior problem called “pica”. Animal behaviorists view this as a compulsive disorder where affected cats seem to have an unquenchable urge to chew and sometimes swallow anything—clothing, wood, plastic, leather, etc.
There is no real threat to your pet’s health if he only sucks or chews on objects. However, there are cases when the behavior develops into an obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can certainly affect your pet cat’s quality of life. Swallowing things that they chew on can increase the risk of life-threatening problems such as the object getting stuck and causing obstruction along any part of the digestive tract, requiring expensive emergency surgery.
The specific cause of pica is unclear however there are various factors which have been identified as potential causes of this eating disorder. One important predisposing factor is premature weaning of kittens. Although most cats outgrow this behavior as they mature, it can become a lifelong habit for some. The behavior has also been linked to several health problems ranging from nutritional deficiencies, endocrine disorders, and brain tumors. Genetics, stress, and the cat’s temperament may also be important predisposing factors. Pica has been observed to be more prevalent among oriental breeds of cats.
When a cat suffering from pica is brought to the vet, there is a need to rule out any underlying medical problem with a thorough physical exam. You should be prepared to answer questions about your pet’s medical history.
If the problem has been traced to specific behavioral factors rather than an underlying medical condition, certain modifications and interventions may help address the behavior. These interventions usually include removing the objects that your kitty likes to chew on, making his favorite items unpalatable, while providing acceptable items as suitable alternatives to indulge your cat’s chewing habit.
You can also schedule a structured playtime, at least 10-15 minutes, twice a day, where your pet can engage in physical and mental activities. This is a good way to vent out excess energy. Extended play sessions in the morning and afternoon can tire him out making him less likely to chew. Cat trees and window perches also provide excellent diversions.
When your pet is engrossed with something else, he won’t have time to engage in his undesirable behavior. Even when you are around, make sure your kitty has plenty of motivational toys to keep him busy.
Since stress has been found to trigger the behavior, you should try to pinpoint the stressor and get rid of it. Cats may engage in pica in an effort to calm themselves. Any changes in the household such as the arrival of a new baby, a new pet, or moving to a new home, may pave the way for strange behaviors to set in.
Other practices which have gained some positive results include supplementing a cat’s diet with lanolin or adding some fiber in the daily ration.
This may seem strange to you, but it works :) Thanks for stopping by!