Why Do Cats Eat Things That Aren't Food?

Updated on December 17, 2019
Donna-Rayne profile image

Donna has been a cat parent and writer for the span of her lifetime. Her heart's passion is to spread her love and knowledge of cats.

Eww . . . why did I just eat that?
Eww . . . why did I just eat that? | Source

Why Do Cats Eat Non-Food Items?

Does your cat eat paper and plants or strings and plastic bags? Do you ever wonder why cats do this and if there's anything that you can do about it? Is there a chance that this behavior can be stopped? In this article, we will talk about:

  1. Symptoms and Signs of Pica
  2. Underlying Medical Conditions
  3. What Are the Signs of Coprophagia?
  4. Why Does My Cat Eat Poop?
  5. How to Stop Your Cat From Eating Non-Food Items
  6. How to Keep Your Cat Healthy and Happy

1. Symptoms and Signs of Feline Pica

The scientific name for cats that eat non-food items is feline pica. But what are the signs of feline pica and what symptoms should you look out for? The following non-food items might be eaten by a cat with pica:

  • dirt, clay, rocks
  • paper
  • string
  • hair
  • soap
  • garbage
  • feces and litter
  • blankets, socks, and jackets
  • plastic grocery bags
  • shoelaces

Did You Know?

The largest organ system that is most affected by pica-related behaviors is the gastrointestinal tract; this can lead to vomiting, loose stools, or diarrhea.

Just finishing up this stick . . .  tastes like chicken!
Just finishing up this stick . . . tastes like chicken! | Source

2. Underlying Medical Conditions

The reason your cat may be eating non-food items might have something to do with underlying medical issues such as:

  • Malnutrition—are you feeding your feline enough food?
  • Vitamin deficiency—is your cat getting enough vitamins in their meals?
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Feline diabetes
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Anemia (low iron in the blood)
  • Neurological disease
  • Thyroid disease

Mother cats eat tend to eat their kittens' feces for grooming purposes.
Mother cats eat tend to eat their kittens' feces for grooming purposes. | Source

3. What Are the Signs of Coprophagia?

The scientific name for cats (and dogs) that eat poop is coprophagia. Yes, felines can have this condition, too, but it’s more common in dogs than cats. Here are some instances when you might observe this behavior:

  • Cats: Mother cats tend to eat their kittens' feces for grooming purposes and to keep bedding nice and clean. This is normal behavior, so don’t be alarmed if your cat does this.
  • Dogs: A new mom-dog cleans her pups up the same way a mom-cat cleans her kittens by eating their poop. When the pups watch their mama do this, sometimes they will copy them and they will eat it too. Keep watch to make sure your new pup doesn’t pick up on this bad habit.

Did You Know?

Some pets chew on objects and non-food items out of stress or boredom.

4. Why Does My Cat Eat Poop?

Sometimes, your cat will eat feces if there is undigested food in their poop. Also, animals that eat poop may be doing so as a response to recent punishments/time-outs or from the addition of a new pet in the house. This leads your cat to “act out” in order to draw attention to themselves and away from the new family member. Consider the following questions:

  1. Is the underlying cause of the behavior medical or behavioral in nature?
  2. Can you limit access to non-food items in your house?
  3. Can you be more conscious of what gets dropped on the floor by little kids, teens, and family members? (If something gets dropped on the floor, your cat will try to eat it 99% of the time!)

Consider some safe alternatives for chewing like growing organic greens for your cat.
Consider some safe alternatives for chewing like growing organic greens for your cat. | Source

5. How to Stop Your Cat From Eating Non-Food Items

Here are some helpful tips to get your cat to redirect their attention and tendencies away from eating non-food items:

  • Playtime: Increase play activities with interactive toys, cat trees, scratching posts, and other forms of stimulation.
  • Window time: Place their cat tree near a window so your feline can watch activities that are going on outside.
  • Outdoor time: Consider a cattery or try leash-walking your cat. Does your feline love to play outdoors? Does he or she love to go outside? Perhaps she would like some organic sunshine to bathe in? Purchase or create a safe outdoor enclosure for your cat to run and play in. Train your cat to walk on a leash and harness or ride in a cat stroller. Get them to go outside and run off some of that extra energy!
  • Chew time: Consider some safe alternatives for chewing like growing organic greens for your cat. Rye, oat, wheatgrass, or catnip are all good options. (Stay away from the grass on your lawn because it could be treated with fertilizer and chemicals that could make your cat sick.) You can buy cat greens at your local pet store or buy an already grown square of grass from an organic health food store.

Yummy! I love paper . . . now time for some plants. (She didn't eat anything but she looks oh so full!)
Yummy! I love paper . . . now time for some plants. (She didn't eat anything but she looks oh so full!)

6. How to Keep Your Cat Healthy and Happy

Remember to keep cats (and dogs) free from boredom and to provide them with nutritionally balanced meals full of vitamins and minerals. This will likely help reduce some of the aforementioned behaviors. Keep their litter boxes clean and provide cat trees, scratching posts, and window-lounging furniture. If you have an outdoorsy feline, take them for walks and build them their own catwalk or cat space. Regardless, keep your cat busy and free from clutter and boredom!

If your pet shows any signs of medical issues, please make sure to take them into the vet clinic right away. There may be some underlying issues that need to be addressed by a veterinary professional.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2019 Donna Rayne

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    • Donna-Rayne profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Rayne 

      7 months ago from Greenwood, In

      Thank you, Flourish, wow! 21 years old, that's awesome! I've never heard of a cat living that long. My kitten is 6 months old and I got a kitten because I wanted to spend my senior years growing old with a cat! Hopefully, Sammie will live that long! :) Thank you for reading!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      7 months ago from USA

      Great article. Cats are such wonderful companions and it’s so important to keep them healthy and happy. The only cat I ever knew who ate non food items was my childhood cat who would suck on fuzzy blankets. She eventually lost the habit. She lived to 21 years old.

    • Donna-Rayne profile imageAUTHOR

      Donna Rayne 

      8 months ago from Greenwood, In

      Thank you so much Brenda, I appreciate that. I have loved cats since I was a little girl and raised my kids to love cats and animals in general. I think it teaches kids empathy and love in caring for an animal :)

      Thanks again my friend,

      Donna

    • Brenda Arledge profile image

      BRENDA ARLEDGE 

      8 months ago from Washington Court House

      Donna,

      I love your article. It is so informative.

      Cats are a special kind of critter. You seem to know them well.

      They are like little children. You must keep them occupied and constantly watch them or they will get themselves into trouble.

      But they are fun and I love them.

      Nice write.

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