Pica in cats – Cats and kittens that eat what they should not eat.
It's good when a cat eats the food that you serve up for them.
Provided that you give them healthy food meant for cats, then your cat will get the vitamins and nutrients necessary for a healthy and active life.
But what if your cat eats things that are not meant to be eaten.
Pica is a pathological term used to describe ingestion of non food items.
Pica in cats means that felines with the condition are prone to eating dirt, feces, stones and rocks, paper, string, shoe laces, litter, plastic and will swallow many small objects that they can get into their mouths.
Wool sucking is a fairly common habit of cats. Some cats love to suck on wool, or similar warm fabric.
Soft woolen garments get their attention, often when the owner is wearing them. But is wool sucking truly pica in cats?
When kittens are around seven weeks old mom cat will start to discourage them from nursing. She may push them away when they try to reach a nipple.
This encourages the young kittens to try solid food. (See Kitten Development. )
If weaning occurs too early (or a kitten is separated from mom cat at too young an age,) the kitten may try to suckle instead on something soft and warm. Wool fits the bill nicely.
The wool sucking habit may diminish over a relatively short time, or it may persist well into adulthood.
In some cases the need to suckle on a substitute mom will fade away, only to return in times of stress in the cats life.
Wool sucking by itself is not pica.
It is a relatively harmless ingestive behavior, however it can result in hairballs from the fabric fibers in extreme cases.
Should the cat also chew off and swallow pieces of wool then that is a different matter.
Swallowing the wool could cause gastrointestinal problems and that could be classed as cat pica
Just as some cats have a fascination for sucking wool, some cats are attracted to plastic. They love to lick it.
Plastic grocery bags, sandwich baggies, polythene, cellophane, photographs, scotch tape, all kinds of plastic can get attention from a cat.
The jury is out on exactly why some cats have an obsession with plastic and plastic objects.
One theory is that they like the crinkling sound the material makes when they lick it. Another is that the coolness of plastic feels good on the feline's tongue.
There may be an odor from the plastic that cats, with their sensitive noses, find attractive. Again it could be the taste.
Animal fat is used in the manufacture of some plastics, so too is gelatin. Cornstarch is used in manufacturing biodegradable plastic bags.
Can a cat come to harm from licking plastic? Probably not from the licking as such, but cats should not be allowed to chew at or swallow plastic, that could indeed be harmful.
A cat should not be allowed to lick too many photographs. Also cats and plastic bags are not a good mix, there is a real danger of suffocation.
A cat that chews and ingests plastic has pica. Plastic should be kept right out of the cat's way.
Kittens chew on things. They are finding out what taste good and what doesn't. Chewing can also help with teething.
Cats with pica also chew on things, usually obsessively. Not only is there the danger of intestinal damage, but when it comes to chewing on things like electrical cord there are other dangers as well.
Find out more here - Cats That Chew.
Cats and kittens are very apt to swallow string, yarn, thread, ribbon, fishing line, rubber bands and similar things.
Once a cat starts to swallow a piece of string it is difficult for them to stop.
The backward facing barbs on their tongues make it nigh impossible for them to retch, or spit, the string back out. The only way for the string to go is down.
Sometimes an owner will find their distressed cat with a length of string hanging out of its throat.
It is a temptation to try and gently pull the string out but this temptation should be resisted.
The cat should be taken to a veterinarian.
It is very difficult for the digestive tract to process string or similar materials. Often the intestines will concertina up around the string. If the string is tugged in an effort to free it, the result could be that the string cuts into the intestines.
It is the same with a piece of string hanging out the other end of a cat – it is best not to pull it. Contact your veterinarian for advice.
It may be just a short length and most of it has passed through the cat, in which case the cat may poop it out.
If the cat is unable to pass the string, or is not pooping, or is vomiting without eating, the vet may ask for the cat to be brought in.
Surgery may be necessary when a cat swallows string, but if the intestines are damaged through someone trying to pull the string out, the surgery may be more severe.
There seem to be many theories and few firm conclusions.
It is one thing to speculate on the causes of the condition, but how do you cope with pica in cats?
Not just coping with a cat that licks the occasional piece of plastic or sucks on a wool sweater. Of course, these cats have to be watched to make sure they do not swallow plastic or wool, but what about cats that eat anything?
Pica in cats means that absolutely no items that the cat could possibly swallow can be left around. Small things have to be put away where the cat cannot get to them.
A dropped paper clip could mean disaster, a candy wrapper left out could mean problems.
Meet Wooster, a cat with pica. Wooster is a handsome indoor cat, he has to be indoors - there are too many dangers for him outside, he is very fortunate to have a very caring human.
Wooster's human makes sure that he is happy indoors as well as safe.
He writes, “It was very fortunate that I saw him eat a bit of metal which caused me to rush him to the vet, or it is likely that I would not have discovered his condition until he was already impacted, or the metal had punctured his wee innards.”
“At first we all just figured he was just being a curious kitten, but after the surgery was when my vet told me about Pica. Along with that little bit of metal, (which was the post off of an LED from my work bench) when the vet had opened him up he also removed: Two shoe lace pieces 3-4 inches long, several of the tails off of his little toy mice, and a few pieces of a fleece string toy that added up to about 6 inches in length.
There were also some other unidentifiable things in there that he removed.”
Wooster's human says that he has had to make many adjustments to what he does to make sure no small items are left lying around.
You can read more about Wooster here - Safe And Happy Inside – A Cat With Pica.
It is hoped that this page about pica in cats has provided some
useful information, however it was not written by a veterinarian. If you
suspect that your cat has pica please consult your vet.
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