Why Do Cats Eat Plastic? (And How To Get Them To Stop)

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You might not ever expect to see your cat chewing on plastic bags, but as a veterinarian, I can report that it is not uncommon for owners to tell me that their cats eat plastic.

Quick Overview

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Some curious cats can find the texture, smell, and taste of plastic appealing.

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It's important to rule out nutritional, medical, and behavioral causes of a cat eating non-food objects like plastic (called pica).

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if your cat eats plastic, keep these items out of reach and provide your cat with plenty of acceptable playthings.

The reasons behind this odd behavior are varied and may include natural curiosity of cats for new textures and tastes, or a medical condition such as anemia or hyperthyroidism leading your cat’s interest in plastic items. Eating non-food items such as plastic grocery bags can be bad news for cat health, so it is best to prevent this habit.

Are you wondering, “Why does my cat eat plastic?” Read on to discover the causes of plastic eating, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

1. Curiosity

why do cats lick plastic?

Playing with or chewing on plastic can be interesting and fun for cats.

Cats are known for their inquisitive natures and are often attracted to new sensory experiences. Plastic items such as shopping bags have a unique crinkly texture which can be fascinating for cats, especially young, playful kittens. The way plastic items move when played with can also stimulate cats’ predatory instincts, and you may see them pouncing and biting at them as if they were a small mouse or bird.

Also Read: Why Do Cats Love Paper As Much As They Do?

2. Scent And Taste

Cats sometimes chew simply to explore what an object is.

Your cat may chew plastic out of genuine confusion as to whether it is cat food! Plastic bags are often coated in corn starch and stearates, and can be made from gelatin. Cats have an excellent sense of smell and might find the scent of the starch and gelatin appealing, and think that the plastic is worth having a chew on to see if the taste matches the odor.

Also Read: Do Cats Have A Good Sense Of Smell?

3. Anxiety

Chewing on noon-food items like plastic can sometimes be a sign of stress or anxiety.

Cat behavior can be complex, and cats who are anxious or stressed can present in unusual ways. Some cats will hide away, change their interactions with owners, become aggressive, or urinate in odd places. Others might develop symptoms of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can include repetitive and continuous chewing of non-food objects such as plastic grocery bags.

Also Read: Cat Separation Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

4. Pica

Some cat breeds have a known genetic predisposition to eating non-food items.

The condition of eating non-food items (pica) is a complicated disorder that has multiple potential causes. It can be a serious and debilitating problem, causing severe danger to cat health. Eating plastic is a fairly common presentation of pica, and can be linked to three main causes.

Breed: Some cat breeds have a known genetic predisposition to pica. Burmese and Siamese cats both appear to be prone to ingesting non-food objects, so precautions should be taken if with these breeds as to what objects are accessible to them. The condition can start from a young age.

Poor diet: If your cat’s diet is not providing all the nutrients your cat needs to thrive, this might induce pica as your cat tries to source essential nutrition from objects other than their cat food. Cats should be fed a good quality, balanced and complete cat food to prevent a nutritional health issue.

If their diet is restricted for any reason, your cat might need supplements, but this should always be discussed with a veterinarian or qualified feline nutritionist.

Medical condition: Certain health problems in cats can trigger pica, which can then lead to your cat ingesting various unsuitable things, including plastic items. Known health issues causing pica include dental disease, anemia, hyperthyroidism, and brain tumors.

It would be unusual, but not impossible, for cats with these medical conditions to have eating plastic as the sole symptom. Always monitor your cat for signs of ill health such as a change in appetite, urine, or poop, changes to their behavior and sleeping pattern, or other signs of illness.

Also Read: Why Is My Cat Not Eating? Loss Of Appetite In Cats

Why Is Eating Plastic Bad?

Eating plastic can cause an intestinal blockage and plastic bags are a suffocation hazzard.

What’s the harm in your cat having a nibble of a shopping bag or two? Well, actually, quite a lot! Plastic items can’t be digested by cats, so if they eat a certain amount of it, they might end up with an intestinal blockage. This can be a serious concern, causing lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea and potentially needing major surgery to correct.

Plastic bags are also a suffocation risk, especially for young kittens who might be able to get right inside them and become trapped. Shopping bags with handles can also get caught around cats’ necks, risking neck injuries or strangulation.

Also Read: The Complete Feeding Guide From Kittens To Seniors

How To Prevent Plastic Eating In Cats

The good news is that there are some simple modifications that cat owners can make to their cat’s environment to reduce this worrying behavior.

1. Prevention Is Better Than Cure

If your cat likes playing with bags, choose paper bags without handles to reduce risks to your cat’s saftey.

It is always a safe idea to keep plastic out of reach of cats and kittens. Store grocery bags out of sight, and never use them as a play object with your pet. It is obviously difficult to keep all plastic items away from pets, but being vigilant about loose objects such as bags is a good habit to get into.

Also Read: How To Make Your Cat Love You Even More [8 Ways]

2. Safe Chew Toys

Provide plenty of cat toys to help your cat chew safely.

Some cats just love to chew, for stress relief, as a boredom buster, or just for fun. Providing objects that are safe for your cat to chew on will fulfill this need, and hopefully, stop them from turning to unsuitable objects such as grocery bags. If your cat doesn’t seem interested in a cat chew, try rubbing some catnip on it to encourage interest. If you own an indoor cat, providing some cat grass can be great for safe chewing.

Also Read: The 5 Best Interactive Cat Toys for Bored Cats

3. Enrichment

Puzzle toys keep cats stimulated and entertained so they don’t look for plastic to chew.

Boredom and frustration can lead to undesirable behaviors in cats. Providing lots of stimulation and playtime is key for cat owners to live a peaceful life. Puzzle feeders, cat toys, cat trees, and scratching posts are all excellent for cats, but even a cardboard box will provide entertainment!

Also Read: The 10 Best Cat Slow Feeders & Puzzle Feeders

4. Bitter Sprays

If you can’t restrict access to plastic items, try bitter spray to help deter your cat.

If there are plastic items that your cat seems irresistibly attracted to chewing, and you can’t put them out of reach, consider coating it in a cat-safe spray. Bitter sprays deter cats from chewing on objects in a safe way and are useful if separation is impossible.

Also Read: Why Is My Cat Sniffing Everything All Of A Sudden?

5. Professional Help

A vet visit is recommended any time a cat is eating non-food items.

If your cat is displaying symptoms of pica, it is recommended to seek advice from a veterinarian, who can examine your cat and run any necessary tests to rule out medical causes. If your cat is deemed healthy, then a qualified feline behaviorist will be able to assess for anxiety or stress.

In Summary

Frequently trying to eat plastic is a problem for cats that should be addressed.

A curious cat having a play and a little experimental chew on a piece of plastic is fairly normal for these inquisitive pets, but eating plastic in any kind of quantity is bad news for feline health. Eating unusual things (pica) can be predisposed in some breeds, but can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies, anxiety, and certain medical complaints.

If your cat eats plastic, seek advice from a veterinarian and provide them with plenty of cat-safe alternatives to chew as well as lots of enrichment to keep them happy and healthy in mind and body.

Also Read: 8 Purrfect Games You Can Play With Your Cat

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get my cat to stop eating plastic?

Firstly, rule out nutritional, medical, and behavioral causes of pica (eating non-food objects) and place any loose plastic out of reach. Provide plenty of enrichment, such as cat trees and puzzle feeders, and cat-friendly toys and things to gnaw on, such as cat chews or cat grass.

What happens if cats eat plastic?

Cats cannot digest plastic, and it can cause digestive discomfort, inflammation, and intestinal obstruction. This may present with vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, and lethargy and can be very serious.

Should I stop my cat from eating plastic?

Yes, eating plastic is dangerous to cats. Seek veterinary advice if they are unwell or seem to eat lots of non-food items. Keep plastic out of reach and provide safe cat chews and toys as alternatives.

Why is my cat obsessed with eating plastic?

Some curious cats can find the texture, smell, and taste of plastic appealing. However, they may have pica (a condition where cats eat non-food items) which can have an underlying nutritional, behavioral, or medical cause and should be investigated by a veterinarian.

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About Lizzie Youens, BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS

Lizzie has worked in companion animal practice for over ten years, in a variety of roles from small rural branch surgeries to large hospital environments. She also enjoys reading, gardening and spending time with her young daughters.

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