Friday, April 23, 2010
By Julia Williams
I have a “foodie” cat that likes corn, beans, peas, pasta, Cheetos, popcorn, scrambled eggs – pretty much any food that doesn’t eat him first. As a responsible pet owner I don’t give him these things, except for a small morsel once in a great while; I’m just saying he would eat them if he could. Although Rocky’s obsession with food is not exactly typical for a feline, it’s far less worrisome than the eating disorder known as pica.
Pica (pronounced “PIE-kuh”) is the voluntary ingestion of non-food items. While more common in cats, pica can occur in dogs and people too, especially children. Cats who have pica will eat things like yarn, tape, plastic bags, wool and other fabrics, electrical cords, plants, kitty litter, shoelaces and paper.
Why do cats eat weird things?
Although the exact cause of why some cats have a penchant for eating non-food items is not fully understood, a genetic component is suspected since the disorder is more commonly found in oriental breeds like Siamese and Burmese. According to Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, pica has also been linked to a variety of diseases, including feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Other suspected causes of pica include mineral deficiencies, diabetes, brain tumors and other illnesses. If all medical causes have been ruled out, pica may be a manifestation of behavioral or psychological issues such as boredom, anxiety, attention-seeking, comfort, compulsive urges, and learned behavior.
Cat pica is sometimes associated with wool-sucking, although the two are not really the same thing. Wool sucking is generally believed to be a compulsive, misdirected form of nursing behavior, caused perhaps by abrupt early weaning of kittens. Additionally, cats who engage in wool sucking usually do not progress to the stage of actually eating the blankets, sweaters, stuffed animals and other “objects of their affection.” You can read more about wool sucking in cats here.
Is pica dangerous for your cat?
Beyond the obvious perils of chewing on power cords, ingesting plants that are poisonous for pets, or consuming potentially toxic non-food items, pica is dangerous because the items could become lodged in their stomach or intestine. This blockage can be fatal since it prevents the passage of food and may cut off blood supply to the organs. If your cat regularly eats non-food items and becomes lethargic, vomits or displays erratic behavior, see your veterinarian immediately.
Treatments for cat pica
Because pica may be a sign of an underlying health problem, any cat who shows an interest in consuming unusual non-food items should be examined by a vet. If no medical issues can be found, treatment may include:
● Keeping the targeted items (blankets, tape, cords, plastic bags etc.) out of your cat’s reach.
● Redirecting their impulse to more appropriate and safer items, such as food-dispensing toys or durable cat toys. For felines who like to snack on plants, you could try growing some catnip or cat grass just for them.
● A copious amount of interactive playtime can help if the cause of your cat’s pica is related to boredom.
● Increasing the fiber in your cat’s diet (but please consult your vet before making any changes to their diet).
● Deterring the chewing by applying hot sauce, Bitter Apple or other aversive substances to the objects they favor.
If your cat eats weird things, it might be pica, or it might not be. It’s crucial to have them examined by their vet to determine if there are any underlying medical issues. This quirky behavior might seem cute, but it’s really not. And since it could be harmful to them, it’s something you will certainly want professional help with, so your kitty can live a long and healthy life.
Read more articles by Julia Williams