If you’ve had kittens, you’ve likely seen a cat eat non-food items like plastic, toys, litter, etc. Sometimes this is out of curiosity, but if this behavior persists it can become very nerve-wracking for the cat parent. Eating non-food items can cause major GI upset and even blockages in cats.
Why Would A Cat Eat Non-Food Items?
The term for cats that eat non-food items is called Pica (pronounced pike-ah), so I will use this term for the remainder of the blog. Pica is a completely different condition from cats who are weaned too early and ‘suckle’ or ‘smurgle’. Some pica cats will eat anything!
When you research pica you’ll find differing theories on why cats eat non-food items. Some say that it is because they’re missing certain nutrients in their diets and others say this condition is 100% behavioral.
We believe that it could be a mixture of both.
You see, our kittens have been fed a species appropriate raw food diet since they were 10 weeks old. Since they came home with us, our girl (Friday) would eat toys, plastic, rubber – you name it. We kept both kittens confined in their own room until they were spayed and neutered – and we did everything we could to remove temptation from the room. It didn’t stop her. She loved fabric, the food matt, the corner of the litter box – there was almost nothing she wouldn’t eat – except (thankfully) her nearly identical brother, Zorro.
Once they were integrated into the home, I noticed that Friday would jump on the counter and steal my veggies while I was preparing dinner. Spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, celery… she loves it all. This is interesting to me because I’ve never had a cat that likes veggies before. Could they have a missing ingredient that’s not in her diet? Very possible. So I let her have it.
But once she was out of ‘confinement’ and had the whole house to explore, she started slowing down on the consumption of toys and other non-food items. Eventually she stopped the scary snacking altogether (knock on wood).
So could this have been a behavioral issue? Was she just super bored in her kitty oasis room? I truly think pica has a level of boredom at the root of it’s cause, so yes.
What Can I Do To Help My Pica Cat?
Here are a few tips that we found very useful during the phase of pica with Friday. I honestly believe that these little steps are what “fixed” her from eating non-food items.
- Feed variety. Whether you feed fresh food or processed, all pet food manufacturers have different ingredients, sourcing and vitamin/mineral levels. Feeding a variety of foods and brands helps fill in the gaps of what might be missing in your cat’s diet.
- Add coconut oil to the food. This is super important while you’re trying to correct the problem. Adding a few drops of coconut oil to the food will help whatever your cat has eaten to flush through her system and help avoid blockages.
- Make sure to redirect your cat when eating non-food items and reward the good behavior. This is a method of training your cat and it helped us greatly. Cats don’t understand punishment so if you scream or reprimand them when they’re eating non-food items they see this as attention – or just plain frightening. Instead, change their focus and reward them for eating food.
- Give them plenty of stimulation. Indoor cats are usually bored and need stimulation to feel more like a cat. Hide their food around the house so they have something to hunt (like the indoor feeding below) and – importantly – spend time each day playing with them. Giving them something to stay active and enriched will do wonders for their overall health and likely stop pica in it’s tracks!