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Does Your Cat Eat Strange Things?

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Does Your Cat Eat Strange Things?

My cat Iggy liked to eat tortilla chips–a little strange, but not nearly as odd as her taste for tape, preferably of the scotch or packing variety. Old Serena loved broccoli…but not as much as she loved licking photographs. I’ve yet to meet a cat that wasn’t a little quirky, but eating tape and photographs? Although I attributed these habits to the animal-based ingredients used to make the tape’s glue and the gelatin in developing photos–I also had a nagging suspicion that I might be justifying some obsessive behavior in my pets. Although I think it’s amusing in that special kitty kind of way I have to wonder: is it normal for cats to eat strange things?

As it turns out, just like humans can manifest a disorder called pica (whereby non-nutritive items like dirt and clay are eaten) so do cats. And it can be pretty common in our feline friends.

In addition to tape and photographs, there is an abundance of other odd items that many a cat find irresistible: shoelaces, paper, plastic grocery bags, houseplants, shower curtains, even electrical cords. Yikes. And I am sure there is a whole of host of other strange things that cats find appealing to the palate. But why? Often times it’s nothing to worry about, but it turns out that pica has been associated with a number of diseases including feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus–a veterinarian should examine any cat with unusual eating habits. Here’s what a vet will look at when presented with a cat pica case:

Dietary deficiencies. Some cats will eat their cat litter if they’re anemic. This makes sense, as in the case of human pica the cause is quite often a mineral deficiency.

Medical problems. Cat pica is also associated with feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, or it may be triggered by conditions like diabetes or brain tumors.

Genetic predisposition. For some cats, pica might just be in their genes. For example, wool sucking, sometimes a precursor to pica, is seen more frequently in Siamese and Birman cats (More on wool below.)

Environmental factors. Is the cat bored or seeking attention? Maybe he needs more mental or physical stimulation. Behavioral reasons for pica can include boredom, attention-seeking, attractive scents, hunger, and learned behavior

Compulsive disorder. Once other possibilities are ruled out, some pet behavioralists start to look into the possibility of compulsive disorder.

A related behavior that is often seen in cats is the desire to suck on wool–and although this is often lumped together under the umbrella of cat pica, it seems to me to be of a slightly different nature. Nursing on wool seems more of a nursing behavior similar to kneading. To back me up, Arnold Plotnick MS, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP of Manhattan Cat Specialists says that “Wool-sucking is a commonly described abnormal ingestive behavior in cats. Wool-sucking, however, is a compulsive, misdirected form of nursing behavior and technically should be distinguished from true cases of pica.” He continues that “the younger a cat is weaned, the stronger its drive to nurse, and the more likely the cat is to suck on wool–or its owner’s arms, earlobes, or hair. Although some cats may only suck on such fuzzy items as wool, fleece, and stuffed animals, others progress to actually eating these fabrics.”

Next: Dangers and treatment

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

257 comments

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12:00PM PST on Mar 2, 2014

My cat loves melon, she goes nuts over it :)

10:27PM PST on Jan 15, 2014

while you should always get your pets checked out if they are exhibiting 'off the book' behavior, it is usually no big deal. i've had MANY cats and dogs for 25 years, and i'd say cats have a far greater range of personality uniqueness. my cat penny would not touch anything other than 'normal' cat food- cat food, tuna, chicken, etc. while her daughter egypt wouldn't touch any normal cat food and preferred potatoes and gravy. we had to force feed her most of the time to get her protein requirements. i had another that loved chex mix and ranch dressing, another that preferred okra of all things, and some others that liked beans, various veggies, etc. etc. etc. they all went on to live long, healthy lives. cats are just badass in that way and guard their personality preferences like no other animal. get them to the vet if they are eating paste, or bleach, but if its just strange foods, its usually ok (and look up the toxic foods list for cats)

9:20PM PDT on Sep 28, 2013

I have two male cats that like to lick my hair when its got hairspray in it. just the male cats do this. the females do not.

9:19PM PDT on Sep 28, 2013

I have two male cats that like to lick my hair when its got hairspray in it. just the male cats do this. the females do not.

12:14AM PDT on Apr 25, 2013

:-P

8:43PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Celina would jump onto the table, or your shoulder and DEMAND any .."PICKLE" OR "PICKLE RELISH", THAT ANY HUMAN WAS ATTEMPTING TO EAT, when she was pregnant and nursing!!!....My Vet just shook his head,laughing, .."WHO KNOWS WHY!?!" and said, "Don't serve any pickles at any dinner partys for the next 2 weeks!!!..and we will see you and Celina in 2 weeks for her spay appointment!"

2:16AM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

We rescued two 4 month old kittens 4 yrs. ago. They chewed up rubber bands, electric cords and loved plastic bags!!

At 9 months old, our little girl kitty stopped eating and would just lay around. I took her to the vet and he said she was anemic. I told him about her chewing habits, but he siad that wouldn't cause it. He kept her for 6 days after he did a complete blood transfusion and to watch her. We almost lost her!!

I hid the rubber bands and the plastic bags and rubbed the electric cords with vicks!!

Yesterday, I bought a bag (plastic) of candy and left the room for 20 minutes. Guess who was chewing on the bag when I came back in. Yes, it was little Miss Tippy!! I guess it something she will outgrow one day, just not today!!

8:24AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

Nakki, a seal point Siamese back in the 60s used to raid corn cobs off a neighbour's plants in their garden like a raccoon, haul his prize back home and dine on the entire cob. He also enjoyed egg rolls and would wail loudly for a piece whenever a bag of Chinese food entered the house

.In 1976, Zimbabwe, a blue lynx point would tear off the rind of a cantaloupe to dine on the sweet flesh inside.

2:55PM PDT on Mar 23, 2012

My cat Jager has been licking ashtrays which I find not only disgusting but upsetting even more so. I now don't leave them any place he can access. My female, Shy Ann I found eating to eat cat litter. This I attribute to anemia since she recently had her first litter of kittens. So, if anyone can shine more light on my babies behaviors your comments are welcome!

2:53PM PST on Feb 26, 2012

I have noticed one thing one of my cats like believe it or not is white color food items.

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