I’ll happily be the first to admit that my cats have some of the weirdest habits and quirks. Kalista, for example, has a huge obsession with cardboard and will often be found shredding our cardboard boxes to pieces. Beau, on the other hand, will chew on just about anything and everything if he’s in the mood for it.
When we first adopted Beau I found it fairly difficult to keep him away from chewing on things he shouldn’t have been chewing on. He chewed on plastics, rubber, cloth, metal, honestly anything he could get his little mouth on. We actually bought him an adorable mouse teaser which he absolutely loved. Well, Beau loved this toy so much that one morning I woke up to it completely gnawed on… actually gnawed is the wrong word for it… Beau ripped off the face of the mouse and it was nowhere to be seen.
At first, we thought that this behaviour was because Beau was a stray and recognized the shape of the mouse, making it victim to his ravenous bite, but it soon became blatantly apparent that something else was going on with Beau.
As mentioned, Beau made his way through a number of objects in the first year that we had him and we thought that this behaviour was going to continue for the rest of his life until we did some extra research to see why he was chewing/eating things that could harm him. So, let me share some of the information I’ve learned over the years about why cats chew on things like plastics, the concerns regarding cats who chew on things like plastics and what you can do to help get them to stop.
I SMELL FOOD
The most common reason a cat may choose to ingest materials such as plastic bags is due to the bag’s scent. Unlike humans, cats have a very acute sense of smell, making plastic bags that were once filled with meats a tasty treat. My sister‘s cat, Avery, was notorious for this when she first took him in.
Some cats may even be interested in unused plastic bags as they are often made from gelatin (made from animal by-product), cornstarch or even stearates.
Although plastic bags can be a fun toy for cats, especially due to their crinkly sounds, they are fairly hazardous, especially if they unravel and your cat chews or suckles on them. It is best to supervise your cat if you allow them to play with plastic bags and never leave them out for casual play. Make sure you either dispose of the plastic bag after use or lock them away in a cabinet your cat cannot reach, as they may try to break in to get their favourite toy.
PICA (OFTEN BOREDOM INDUCED)
Pica is a weird condition that many people haven’t heard of unless your cat suffers from it. Honestly, out of the 4 cats in my life, only Beau experiences a form of Pica which is derived from boredom and stress.
Often cats who suffer from Pica will suckle on soft materials such as cloth or wool. Some cat may even chew on plastics or litter, as Beau would do.
Pica can be caused by an underlying ailment such as malnutrition, brain tumours, diabetes, or anemia and will require a vet visit to confirm whether or not the cause of eating foreign objects is due to boredom or something more serious.
To read more about Pica, I strongly recommend you check out my more in-depth article which covers our adventure diagnosing Pica and how we got Beau to stop chewing on foreign objects.
MY GUMS HURT!
Statistics show that 50% of cats over the age of 3 experience dental problems. These dental problems range from typical tartar and plaque to extreme conditions such as acute gingivitis.
Cats who experience dental disease may choose to chew on plastics, cloths, or other mailable materials to help “floss their teeth” and reduce the aches and pains derived by unclean teeth.
Although dental diseases are extremely common, they are preventable with a diet change, regular cleanings (brushing and a vet cleaning), some water additives, and/or dental toys. That being said, effectiveness will differ from cat to cat, especially if your cat has any other dental problems such as overcrowded teeth.
Dental disease is easily diagnosed by the yellowing of a cat’s teeth as well as by the reddening of the gums. If gums are healthy they will be pink. That being said, sometimes dental diseases can be hard to spot because your cat won’t allow you to look into their mouth and will require a vet to diagnose.
All forms of dental disease should be treated as they can lead to teeth decay/rot, teeth falling out, infections (which can begin to affect major organs in the body including, but not limited to the kidneys, heart and liver.)
This all being said, dental disease isn’t the only reason why a cat’s gums may be hurting. Similar to humans, kittens lose baby teeth and gain adult teeth, which will require lots of chewing to soothe. If your cat is young and is in the process of losing their teeth, I strongly recommend buying some durable chews that you can toss into the freezer for maximum soothing!
WHAT’S THIS? WHAT’S THIS!?
Cats are curious beings. It’s why we sometimes have difficulty with our youngest one running into our apartment hallway. Cats love to sniff things, scent things, play with things… cats just love things!!
Do you know those moments where your cat is standing on the table and slowly knocking down an object? Well, this is your cat’s way of testing to see if the object can be used to play with (as prey.) Don’t be surprised if your cat headbutts or bunts new objects or toys in your home… even if they are plastic bags! This can especially be said about crinkly objects.
YOU’RE NOT PLAYING WITH ME ENOUGH
While cats are adorable, loving little creatures, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t also psycho killing machines. What do I mean by that? Well, all cats are going to want to hunt and kill prey based on their primal instincts.
Similar to why some cats tear apart cardboard boxes, cats can exhibit destructive behaviours as a form of burning off energy. Cats will use materials such as plastics as “fill-in prey” and in the process may digest the material. Cats who exhibit this behaviour may also be seen darting around the house, knocking over objects and may be more vocal than the average cat.
In situations like these, I recommend scheduling play sessions with your cat (between 15-30 minutes minimum) using teaser toys, or in situations where a teaser toy is not an option, it would be a good idea to invest in a passive/automatic toy.
Some of my cats’ favourite toys include springs, plastic mice (make sure they are durable and remove if they ever unravel), kitty scratchers, and compressed catnip balls. Passive toys tend to be good enough for the average cat, however, if your cat has a little bit more energy (such as our cat Kalista) you’re going to have to make sure you spend some extra time with them.
I WAS WEANED TOO EARLY!
Something that most pet parents don’t know is that some cats are weaned too early. Oftentimes we trust shelters or rescues to offer the best care for our little ones before we adopt them, but some things are just out of their hands!
Cats who are weaned off too early tend to suckle or chew on plastics as a way to “destress” and these cats should be provided with chew toys that they can sink their teeth into. Some folks recommend buying dog chew toys such as nylabone to help alleviate some of the cat’s stress, though I personally am not a huge fan of the brand. Many (if not all) nylabone products contain synthetic elements which can be harmful to a cat if ingested, so make sure you talk to your vet before purchasing a product from the company just to see if they have extra insight. I mostly say this as a precaution, as I have personally never had a bad first-hand experience with this line.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
There is a great deal of concern for cats who chew on materials they shouldn’t be chewing on simply due to the fact that these materials may obstruct the cat’s digestive tract. Oftentimes cats will pass things like plastics or small strings, however, it isn’t uncommon for cats to choke, suffocate, become obstructed (unable to poo), or even get internal cuts which may lead to further complications.
Obstructions and internal bleeding tend to be the scariest turnouts from a cat who chews on plastics as they may be difficult to diagnose and will require a vet to either intervene and even perform surgery.
HOW A CAT IS DIAGNOSED FOR OBSTRUCTION
All cases of assumed obstruction will require tests, such as X-Rays, endoscopies (a tube with a tiny camera which is lead through the mouth to the stomach), or ultrasounds to ensure that an alien object is not lodged in the cat’s’ stomach or digestive tract. Some vets may run a urine analysis to confirm that the perceived symptoms aren’t things like urinary tract infections or liver disease, however, it is highly recommended that you check for obstruction in the other means if you know for a fact that your cat chews on and/or swallows foreign objects.
Note: tests may also differ based on the equipment that is accessible to your vet. I highly recommend calling your vet before arriving on-site to ensure that they have the equipment required to examine your cat. If your vet does not have the equipment required they may recommend a nearby facility or a local emergency clinic which tend to have more equipment at their disposal.
SYMPTOMS OF OBSTRUCTION
Symptoms for obstruction are vomiting, dehydration or loss of fluids, gastric secretions, the inability to poo, lethargy or lack of energy, weight loss, and blood in fecal matter. That being said not all of these symptoms may appear and it is a good idea to keep a close eye on your cat to ensure that they are not acting any different or are experiencing any pain.
FINAL THOUGHTS & EXTRA TIPS FOR PLASTIC CHEWERS
At the end of the day, I strongly recommend discouraging your cat from chewing on plastics, especially bags. It’s important to ensure that your cat is safe at all times, and while you may be able to catch them while you’re around, you truly don’t know what they get up to when you’re out of the house.
Make sure you do not scold your cat by hitting or yelling at them, instead use training sounds like “uh-uh” or even a spray bottle (dependant on how aggressive the behaviour is.)
At the end of the day, the more your cat has to do and play with, the fewer chances they are going to need to find the object you don’t want them to play with!
So, pet parents and pet lovers, I’m curious… do your cats chew on plastic? What kinds of plastics do they chew on? Did you manage to get them to stop? How? Let me know in the comments below!