Cats have all kinds of odd habits. There’s the kitty who finds it necessary to meow loudly at nothing in the small hours of the morning, the eccentric feline who likes to steal your socks, the cat who insists on climbing into the dryer… and the cat who likes to lick or chew on plastic bags and other plastic items.
Why do cats eat plastic? Plastic grocery bags may carry the smell and taste of food. Some bags are coated with cornstarch or other substances that your cat finds pleasant to lick. Your cat may also be experiencing a slight “high” from the solvents present in certain plastics.
You’ve found your way here because your cat is exhibiting this worrying behaviour and you have questions.
- What makes cats lick or chew plastic? What happens when cats eat plastic?
- Can my cat die from eating plastic?
- How do I get my cat to stop chewing on plastic?
Read on, because we’ve got the answers to these and other questions. In this article, we’ll look at the possible reasons for this kind of activity and how you can stop it. Stay tuned!
Cats and plastic: what you need to know
Plastic seems to have an unhealthy fascination for some cats. Whether it’s a polythene bag, the plastic caps or fastenings from bottles of milk or juice, or plastic toys, some cats just can’t resist trying to eat them. The reasons a cat may start licking, chewing or eating plastic are complicated.
Some cats seem to have an interest in other non-food substances, while others are fixated on plastic. Some cats may be content with licking or sucking plastic while others go so far as to bite off pieces and swallow them. For some cats, the texture may be pleasant.
Others are attracted by the lingering smell of food from a bag used to carry groceries etc. and will ignore bags used to transport non-food items. Some plastics give off an odour that cats find attractive. There may also be a coating on some plastic items, especially bags, which contains cornstarch and other food-related ingredients that cats find enjoyable to lick. This coating makes the items easier to handle but also makes them an attractive nuisance where pets are concerned.
Another factor is the solvents used in plastics manufacture; while the amounts are far too small to affect humans, a cat may become quite intoxicated by the fumes from some plastic bags. I lived with one ginger tom who used to climb headfirst into any plastic bag he could find and sit there until someone took the bag away. The explanation given by his vet was that the cat was “huffing” the fumes from the plastic like a glue-sniffer. Since solvent abuse isn’t any healthier for cats than it is for humans, shopping bags were hastily unpacked and then carefully disposed of or stored where he couldn’t get them.
Another reason that cats chew plastic, especially hard plastics, is that they have dental issues. Chewing on plastics can relieve their symptoms temporarily, rather like a teething baby. Sometimes it’s very hard to deduce what’s behind a particular cat’s plastic habit.
There are a few cats who seem to be more attracted to something about the texture of plastic than anything else. Another cat of my acquaintance was addicted to eating the handles from plastic bags — just the handles, not the rest of the bag. As with the feline solvent abuser, the situation was resolved by making sure she couldn’t get hold of bag handles anymore.
Removing access to items like bags or plastic trash is actually very important to do if you have a plastic-addicted cat. Chewing and eating plastic is very unhealthy, as we shall see.
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Can my cat die from eating plastic?
It’s unlikely that your cat will die solely from consuming plastic but it’s certainly possible. Cats really should not be allowed to consume plastics as the effect on their systems can be very unpleasant. At best the cat is apt to regurgitate the material, which is unpleasant for both owner and pet.
At worst, the cat may be sickened by toxins in the plastic or may develop an intestinal blockage that requires surgery to rectify. None of these outcomes are especially desirable. In extreme cases, plastic could choke your cat (either during consumption or when your cat brings the material up again).
Plastic can also build up in your cat’s digestive tract until a blockage is created; such a blockage might ultimately prove fatal if not addressed. Small pieces of harder plastics can break off and do serious damage to your cat’s mouth and digestive tract, causing cuts and abrasions, becoming lodged in delicate tissues and causing infections. As previously mentioned, plastic may contain toxic substances that can build up in your pet’s system and make her sick.
Plastics may also have been in contact with substances that can make a cat ill, such as wrappings used on foods that are unhealthy for cats or containers used for medicines or supplements. For these reasons, it’s important to try and remedy your cat’s plastic habit and try to get her to stop licking or eating it. In the following sections of this article, we’ll take a look at some solutions.
How can I stop my cat from eating plastic?
The first line of defence is to make sure she doesn’t have any plastic to eat. If plastic shopping bags are the issue, remove them as soon as you’ve unpacked your shopping. Either take them out and recycle them right away or place them in a cupboard she can’t get into (for very plastic-fixated cats you may need to use a cupboard with a child-proof catch, as they can become quite obsessive about getting their next plastic bag “fix”.
An ordinary cupboard may be no match for a truly determined cat). If the issue is smaller pieces of plastic trash like bottle caps, make sure that these are carefully placed in the bin before your cat has a chance to get hold of them. You may need to change your rubbish bin for one with a lid that can be secured, as cats are very clever about discovering forbidden items in the trash. Remember that rubbish bins with exposed liners can also become a target for a plastic fiend and ensure your bin allows them to be tucked in out of the way.
Make sure everyone in the house understands that the cat has a problem and is on board with her recovery, doing their bit to ensure that trash is kept out of her reach and plastic bags aren’t left lying around where she can get at them. Even small items such as sweet wrappers can be an issue.
If you don’t already, you may want to begin keeping your cat indoors so she can’t run off to eat discarded plastic rubbish off the street. (This can be especially dangerous — if she chokes, gets her head stuck in a bag or other receptacle or suffers some other ill-effect, you won’t be around to help her.)
Breaking the plastic habit
Once you’ve removed the next step is to replace plastic with something healthier. If you think your cat might be chewing plastic to cope with dental health problems, have your vet check her out and rectify these; adopt a programme of careful tooth-brushing and offer dental sticks as a replacement for plastic.
If your cat mostly chews plastic when you’re out at work or otherwise occupied, she may simply be bored and looking for stimulation. Make time to play with her more frequently and ensure that she receives enough mental stimulation. In the case of smarter cats, you could try and teach her simple games or tricks. Many people clicker-train their cats to give them a high-five or a handshake. Playing games like fetch can be fun for many cats.
If your cat is rather orally fixated generally, you could try getting her a small puppy chew-toy with a similar texture to her favourite type of plastic. Cats sometimes enjoy chewing on plastic bones more than dogs do. (Avoid rawhide bones — they’re unhealthy for cats and not great for dogs either.) A forage toy or treat toy can also be a good alternative to chewing plastic. These are balls or cylinders into which you can place small pieces of dry kibble; the cat must then roll and push the toy around to make the kibble fall out.
This will keep your cat entertained and occupied without letting her overeat. In general, work on enriching your cat’s environment and making sure her mind is stimulated. Cats are often smarter than they’re given credit for, with a lot of problem behaviours simply being down to boredom. They’re not trainable in quite the same way as dogs but they can learn, and often benefit greatly from having a little additional mental stimulation. With sufficient distractions, plastic eating may lose its appeal for good.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.