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Why Do Cats Eat Things That Aren't Food?

Donna has been a cat parent and writer for many years, and her passion is to share her love for cats with others.

Do you ever wonder why cats eat inedible things and if there's anything you can do about it?

Do you ever wonder why cats eat inedible things and if there's anything you can do about it?

Why Do Cats Eat Non-Food Items?

Does your cat devour paper, plants or strings, and plastic bags? Do you ever wonder why cats do this and if there's anything you can do about it? Is there anything that you can do to stop this type of behavior?

In this article, we explore what you can do to help stop your cat from eating everything in sight:

  • Symptoms and Signs of Pica
  • Underlying Medical Conditions
  • What Are the Signs of Coprophagia?
  • Why Does My Cat Eat Poop?
  • How to Stop Your Cat from Eating Non-Food Items
  • How to Keep Your Cat Healthy and Happy

Did You Know?

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

Symptoms and Signs of Feline Pica

The scientific name for cats that eat non-food items is feline pica. What are the signs and symptoms of feline pica?

A cat might eat non-food items with pica:

  • dirt, clay, rocks
  • paper
  • string
  • hair
  • soap
  • garbage
  • feces and litter
  • blankets, socks, and jackets
  • plastic grocery bags
  • shoelaces
Just finishing up this stick . . .  tastes like chicken!

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

Possible 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

What Are the Signs of Coprophagia?

The scientific name for cats (and dogs) that eat poop is coprophagia. Cats can have this condition, too, but it's more common in dogs than cats. ,

Here are some behaviors associated with coprophagia:

  • Cats: Mother cats tend to eat their kittens' feces. For grooming purposes and to keep the bedding nice and clean.
  • Dogs: A new mom dog cleans her pups up like a mom cat cleans her kittens by eating feces. When the puppies watch their mama do this, sometimes they will copy them and will eat them too. Keep watch to ensure your new pup doesn't replicate this bad habit.

Did You Know?

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

Why Does My Cat Eat Feces?

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 adding a new pet to the house.

A new pet might lead your cat to “act out” 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?
  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.

How to Discourage Your Cat from Eating Non-Food Items

Here are some helpful tips for redirecting their attention from eating non-food items:

  • Playtime: Increase play activities with interactive toys, cat trees, scratching posts, and other forms of stimulation.
  • Move items out of reach. Cut off access to the things your cat loves to chew or eats the most. Move plants to high shelves, hide wires and cords, and keep laundry tucked away in drawers or closets.
  • Window time: Place their cat tree near a window to watch activities going on outside.
  • Outdoor time: Consider a cattery or try leash-walking your cat. 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 your cat outside and run off some of that extra energy!
  • Chew time: Consider safe alternatives for chewing, such as growing organic greens for your cat. Rye, oat, wheatgrass, or catnip are all excellent options. (Stay away from the grass on the lawn treated with fertilizer and chemicals that could make your cat sick.) cat greens are available at your local pet store.
  • Discourage your cat with a bad-tasting spray. To keep your cat from chewing non-food items, spray the items with a bitter-tasting deterrent spray made specifically for pets. These non-toxic sprays have an unpleasant flavor that will make non-food items unappealing to your cat. Purchase a bitter spray online or at a pet store.

Pica in Cats | Wag!

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!)

How to Keep Your Cat Healthy and Happy

Remember to keep cats (and dogs) free from boredom and provide them with nutritionally balanced meals full of vitamins and minerals. This will help reduce some of the 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 their catwalk or space.

Regardless, keep your cat busy and free from clutter and boredom!

If your pet shows any signs of medical issues, consult your veterinarian to help with any underlying issues that need to be addressed by a veterinary professional.

Sources

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

Comments

Donna Rayne (author) from Sparks, NV on December 21, 2019:

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 from USA on December 21, 2019:

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 (author) from Sparks, NV on December 13, 2019:

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 from Washington Court House on December 13, 2019:

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.