A friend’s cat has what his veterinarian politely refers to as "a history of dietary indiscretions." In one recent exploit, he found himself at the emergency vet clinic after eating the two-foot-long fleece end of one of his teaser toys. He also has a thing for plastic bags ÔÇô- but only certain kinds!
While habits such as chewing and sucking on fabric are relatively common in cats, compulsively eating inedible things is not. The cause of this syndrome, referred to as feline pica, is a mystery even to most vets. But if your cat is a freaky eater, here are some things you can do to ease the symptoms and keep her safe until she gets over the compulsion.
Any behavior issues should be addressed with your veterinarian, because behavior changes can indicate a health problem. Make sure your cat isn’t eating non-food items in an effort to get nutrients she needs or because an illness is triggering the disorder. Your vet might also be able to give you some advice on how to manage the behavior.
Highly stressed or anxious cats might use chewing behavior as a self-soothing technique. If there has been a change in your life recently — moving to a different house, a new schedule, new roommate, outdoor construction — your cat might be acting out because of anxiety. Begin by addressing the cause of the stress (do a web search for "stressed cat" and you’ll find lots of advice on how to do that) and spending time with your cat to help her adapt.
Feline pica is also pretty common in bored or lonely cats. You can ease a cat’s boredom by providing environmental enrichment. Give him puzzle toys including things such as rolling treat balls to keep him busy while you’re away at work. When you’re home, give him lots of interactive play time. Teaser toys are great for exercise and mental stimulation, and a tired cat is a nondestructive cat. When you’re done, put the teaser toy away where your cat can’t reach it.
Use cord guards to keep electrical wires away from your cat’s teeth. Keep your cell phone charger, headphones, USB cords, and the like in a plastic storage container with a tight-closing lid. If there are places where you can’t hide wires, a nontoxic deterrent spray such as bitter apple might make exposed cords taste gross enough to stop your cat from chewing. Be sure to put Venetian-blind cords safely out of your cat’s reach, too.
A cat behaviorist might be able to work with you and your cat. Check the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants websites to find one in your area. A short course of anti-anxiety medication can jump-start the process, but that’s best left to the discretion of your vet or the behaviorist you choose to work with.
If your cat’s feline pica is behavioral in origin, it will take time to get her out of the habit of chewing nonfood items. Your cat didn’t become a freaky eater overnight, so don’t give up if you don’t see results right away.