Why is my cat licking the walls?

Why is my cat licking the walls?


Cats licking themselves (and occasionally each other) is normal. It’s a little less normal, but not uncommon, for cats to lick other things as well. They may lick the furniture, the woodwork, the floors — and the walls. One of my foster cats was obsessed with licking the flock wallpaper in the living room, while another seemed to prefer the plaster in the hall; he stopped once we repainted it.

Why is my cat licking the walls? It could be to address a nutritional deficiency or to obtain moisture. It might also be because the surface is covered in something that tastes or smells good to the cat, or which has an interesting texture.

You’ve arrived on this page because you have concerns and questions about your cat’s behaviour. You might be wondering what makes your cat lick the walls and if there’s any danger in doing so.

  • Could your cat have a health problem that’s making her lick the walls?
  • Could licking the wall make her sick?
  • How can you stop your cat from licking the wall?

Read on to find out more.

Why is my cat licking the walls?

The most obvious reason is that something was spilled on the wall recently: food, drink or some other substance that a cat might be attracted to. Even after you’ve cleaned up, there may be traces of the tempting substance remaining in the paintwork or wallpaper. If the cat keeps licking everything or if the cat’s interest is restricted to a particular spot, simply cleaning that area more thoroughly may get her to stop licking the wall.

If this is not the case, you will have to look for other causes. Your cat may like something about the way the wall tastes or smells. It’s not unknown for cats to take an interest in paints, varnishes and adhesives because they contain compounds that are tasty or smell good to a cat. These compounds might have no odour at all for a human but could smell just wonderful for your feline friend. Some wall-coverings are made out of plastic substances, too. Cats are often interested in plastics for a similar reason: they like the flavour or the fragrance.

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It’s also worth noting that some of the volatile compounds in your paint or wall-coverings might be interesting for your cat because they produce a psychoactive effect. Cats are very sensitive to the effects of certain chemicals, even at low concentrations. It’s actually fairly common for to cat keep licking everything in a sort of low-key kitty solvent abuse. This is why cats will sometimes want to stick their heads into plastic bags or lick and chew them: they’re getting a pleasant, intoxicating sensation from the fumes that the plastic gives off. While this won’t hurt them in small doses, it is clearly not something you want your cat to do over the long term.

Textures

Cats may lick walls and other surfaces not for the taste but for the texture. Some of the wall coverings we humans apply to our homes are very interesting for a cat: smooth glosses, nubby wood-chip or soft flock wallpapers, tactile textured paint. A cat who is under-stimulated may seek out the sensations produced when they run their tongues over the surface.

Of course, you can’t just ask a cat “do you lick walls just because you like the texture?” but you can look for supporting evidence that this is what’s driving the habit. One sure sign that it’s a tactile issue is that the cat enjoys licking other surfaces with a similar texture. A cat who licks flock wallpaper and also licks suede or velvet clothing is probably engaging in this behaviour because she really enjoys that feeling.

If your cat is pursuing a specific texture, the motivation behind her wall-licking habit is probably boredom. She isn’t getting enough stimulation from her environment and lifestyle so she’s seeking it elsewhere. If textiles feature heavily in her licking behaviour and she also sucks on wool and other materials, the issue may also be that she was removed from her mother at too early an age.

Condensation and moisture

If the wall that your cat is licking is one that tends to get damp, your cat may be seeking out moisture. This might seem unlikely since you probably provide at least one bowl full of clean, fresh water at all times. It’s a fact of kitty psychology, however, that they can’t always drink out of the bowl. Cats with visual issues such as cataracts or nystagmus often have this problem. Some cats prefer that their water bowl not be too close to their food dish. Others just struggle with standing water of any type.

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A sign that your cat is licking the walls for the moisture is that she deliberately splashes water out of her bowl onto the floor before drinking it, insists on moving the bowl to a different location, or refuses the bowl altogether and demands that you turn on the tap. A cat who isn’t getting enough water may become constipated or develop a UTI; if your cat tends to suffer from these ailments, her wall-licking may be an attempt to get the moisture she needs.

You can address this in a number of ways. Run the tap for her now and again when the sink is empty, so she can drink from it. Wash up her dish every time you refill it with fresh water. Ensure that she has a dish of clean water in every room where she likes to hang out. Changing a deep bowl for a wider, shallower one so that she can see that the water is clean more easily. I am a big fan of providing a kitty drinking fountain — these provide clean, flowing water, which is more tempting and easier for cats to drink. It’s a sad fact that all too many of our feline companions deal with chronic dehydration because they’re not comfortable with conventional water dishes. A drinking fountain can really help.

Licking the wall: pica

Pica is the name given to the regular consumption of non-food items. Most cats engage in this at one time or another, whether it’s the mischievous kitty who chews up the kitchen roll or the anxious feline who self-soothes by sucking the candlewick off your bedspread. Sometimes the consumption of non-food items is a brief episode and stops on its own. In other cases, though, you may have a cat with a long-term compulsion to eat things they really shouldn’t. I suppose my favourite example of kitty pica was a tuxedo kitty I knew who could not stop eating the handles from plastic shopping bags. They made her sick every time but she couldn’t seem to stop herself from chewing them off and swallowing them. If you’ve lived with more than one or two cats, you probably have a similar anecdote.

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Long-term pica has a number of possible causes. Sometimes the cat just likes the flavour or texture of the substance they’re eating. In other cases, though, there can be a more serious underlying problem such as a nutritional deficiency or a condition such as anaemia. If your cat is attempting to consume other non-food substances as well as licking the wall, this could be a sign that she is dealing with just such a problem. To start with you might want to try changing her food. The majority of commercial cat food is nutritionally complete but if you normally feed her a cheap brand she might not be getting everything she needs. Look for a quality grain-free cat food with high protein content. Remember that a cat’s nutritional needs may change as she gets older or if she falls pregnant, and consider adjusting her diet accordingly. If the problem persists even when you’ve done this, make sure you have your vet check her for any medical issues that might be causing pica.

How to stop your cat from licking the wall

If none of the remedies suggested above help, your cat is probably licking the wall due to boredom. You can try to break her of her bad habit by using bitter-tasting pet deterrent sprays on the walls where she usually licks, but this will tend to move the problem elsewhere. As well as preventing her from licking the wall, you also need to provide the stimulation that she’s seeking. Cats need a rich, interesting environment with plenty of things to explore and to play with. Invest in equipment such as a cat tent and cat habitat. Provide your cat with interactive toys — especially treat toys. I like the treat puzzles where a cat needs to hunt for a piece of kibble in a maze, as well as treat balls which the cat needs to push and chase around to make them dispense kibble.

You can help more directly by ensuring that your cat gets at least two fifteen-minute sessions of very active play every day. Tempt her with a teaser toy; I’m a fan of the fishing-pole variety, as they allow you to wear your cat out without having to run around too much. If you provide her with the entertainment she needs, your cat may soon forget all about licking the wall.

Barbara Read

Barbara Read - Cat owner, researcher and behavioural expert. Cats are not only fantastic pets but also wonderful and complex animals with great personalities. It takes time and effort to learn their behaviour but its completely worth it.

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