Why does my cat lick plastic bags?

Cat owners have all witnessed our cats licking plastic bags, but what’s behind this strange behavior and should we be concerned?  

Licking or eating plastic falls under an eating disorder known as pica.  Pica is a term used to describe a tendency for eating non-food material.  The reasons behind the behavior are not fully understood, but pica is known to occur in humans, dogs, cats and other animals, such as pigs, goats and horses.  If your pet exhibits signs of pica, consider consulting your vet, because it may be a sign of a more serious health problem.

Plastic is a common target for our cats due to its prevalence in our daily lives, but cats have been known to nibble on anything from cardboard to wool, carpets and upholstery, wires and shoelaces, even plants, rocks, wood and kitty litter.  This desire to suckle, lick and chew random objects has led some experts to suggest that the habit is the result of kittens being weaned from their mothers too early.  Others believe that pica may be a sign of an iron or zinc deficiency.

Pica has been linked to a number of serious medical conditions, including: stomach or dental issues, diet deficiencies, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus and brain tumors.   There are also a number of psychological reasons your cat may be exhibiting these behaviors, such as stress, anxiety, a possible compulsive disorder or even boredom.   If you have any concerns or want to rule any of the more serious conditions out, we recommend having your cat tested as part of their regular veterinary examination.

Not all reasons for the behavior are scary.  If you just came home from the grocery store, there is a chance that the plastic bags have some food remnants and the bags smell or taste like food so your cat may just be enjoying a treat.  It may also be the composition of the bag itself.  Some bags are made from substances that attract cats, such as gelatin (an animal by-product) or are coated with cornstarch or stearic acid (a salt).

Your cat may just enjoy the crinkle sound the bag makes when they attack it.   The shape and movement of the plastic bag can mimic prey to your cat, particularly if your storage method is tying them in a knot.  Your cat may be feeding their instinct to hunt.  As owners of a pet supply store, even we are willing to admit that sometimes the bag that the toy comes home in is just as interesting to our cats as the toy itself.  Just be aware that chewing plastic bags and other non-food materials present a potential choking hazard and there is always the possibility of suffocation, so be careful.

Now that we have identified some possible reasons behind why your cat may be licking or chewing plastic bags (among other things), there are a number of things you can do to curb the behavior.

Store items that your cat likes to nibble on in a location they can’t get to.  Place your recycled plastic bags in a cabinet and store other non-food items that your cat enjoys chewing on, like your handbag and dress shoes, in a designated closet.

Provide your cats with plenty of toys and scratching posts to keep them stimulated and create safe spaces for your cat to reduce stress.  Cats need places to hide and they take comfort in heights, so give them places to climb.

You may want to consider an interactive feeder to entertain the hunter in your cat.  Interactive feeders are designed to fully engage your pet’s predatory nature, by forcing them to take their time and work for their crunchies.

Don’t forget treats.  Treats are typically associated with dogs, but cats love treats too.  Every night at ten o’clock is “Night-Night Time!” at our house.  You can set your watch to our George cat coming to remind us that its time for his “Night-Nights” and it’s a great way to bond with your cats and ensure that they are getting any supplements they may need.

Cats are fascinating creatures with complicated personalities and a mysterious way that endear them to us.  With that in mind, we researched this topic expecting to write a cute article about why cats like to lick and chew plastic.  Instead, we learned that this seemingly harmless behavior may be a sign of a more serious physical or psychological condition that should not be taken lightly.  It’s worth mentioning again, if your cat is exhibiting signs of pica, we recommend consulting your veterinarian to have your cat tested.

We hope you found this post informative.  Please let us know if experimenting with any of the ideas shared in this article were helpful and we’d love to hear from you if you have any additional suggestions.

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