Why does my cat eat plastic?

Behavior & Training
grey cat eating ribbon

Many cats find joy in non-toy objects. We have all heard that cats love to play in paper bags curl up in cardboard boxes. A bit less predictable is a feline patient of mine who’s obsessed with something a little more out of the ordinary: eating plastic.

This particular kitty goes after plastic of any kind – plastic grocery bags, bread bags, plastic cups, and larger plastic objects. This unusual habit has required three exploratory surgeries to remove intestinal obstructions caused by the plastic foreign bodies. The client has to cage her cat and she feeds him a good quality diet. Still, the moment he is out of the cage, he faithfully hunts down plastic and eats it with renewed fervor – I have seen the videos.

This kitty is not alone. While eating plastic is one of the stranger things I have encountered as a veterinarian, there are a number of pet parents who confess to having cats that love plastic. The real danger here is many of these cats ended up eating the plastic and getting blocked along their GI tract, requiring surgery. If your cat eats any plastic, I recommend taking this behavior seriously and addressing it quickly.

The drive for plastic: a compulsive disorder?

Pica is a medical term for eating non-food objects. It is believed the pet is attempting to fill a nutritional void, but in cases where the pet relentlessly seeks one particular type of object, it may be an obsession rather than a nutrition deficit.

Pica in cats can be caused by a number of conditions and should be addressed with your vet right away. These conditions include:

  • Gut disease

  • FeLV/FIV

  • Anemia

  • ·obsessive compulsive disorder

  • Dental disease

  • Hyperthyroidism

Some cats just seem to like the way the plastic tastes or feels more than that it being a "need" to eat plastic, so it doesn’t automatically qualify as a compulsive behavior. For this reason, jumping to behavior-modifying drugs is not typically recommended for cats who seem to be strongly driven to explore and chew specific tastes and textures.

If your veterinarian believes your cat’s plastic eating points to a compulsive disorder, behavior modifying drugs such as fluoxetine (generic Prozac) may be considered.

Non-medical Therapy

You can provide other stimulating opportunities for your cat to distract from plastic eating including games, cat manipulation toys with food stuffed inside for foraging and eating, feeding both canned food and unique orally stimulating food, and offering dog chew toys as an alternative.

Chew items such as rawhides, Nylabones, cat grass, and softer dead animal parts that are available as chews for dogs (e.g. lambs' ears) can help. Make sure that there is also adequate aerobic play to keep the inquisitive cat busy and reward-based training to help satiate intelligent cats.

Ultimately, if the problem continues, the most extremely affected plastic-seeking cats may need to be confined or housed in a cat-proofed room at times when supervision is not possible to protect them from foreign object ingestion.

Some cats just like to eat plastic. Cats have certainly liked stranger things like bleach, new shoes, and even your hair.