As a cat owner, you notice a lot of weird things cats do that just don’t make a lot of sense – no matter how hard you think about them.
Things like being really eager to knock random objects off tables or counter tops, sitting on paper that just so happens to be placed in the middle of the floor; cats are even weird with each other, often licking and grooming their cohabitant felines, but if you pay attention closely, you’ll find in more cases than not, the very same cat who does the grooming is also the one more likely to pick a fight.
Really think about it, and even cat behaviours so normal for a cat we often think of felines just upon the mention of that behaviour – acts like purring and kneading – are still downright befuddling. It seems there’s almost no end to the list of oddball things cats do, and that typically keeps our curiosity piqued; it can even be fun trying to work out the reasons why cats act so strangely.
When it comes to cats chewing on plastic, I’ll be frank, I did quite a bit of digging and feel like most sources get the reason behind the “why” wrong. You’ll see a lot of articles simply jump to the connection between cats chewing plastic and cats with pica, and while I admit there’s a big correlation there, I think most cats love chewing plastic – with or without pica in the picture. In today’s article, I’ll be breaking down how to semi-rule out pica from the menu of reasons your cat could be chewing on plastic, I’ll showcase the best answer I’ve managed to find on the explanation behind this cat obsession, and I’ll give my own example and explanation for why I personally think cats typically like to chew on plastic.
Obviously (as I’m sure you’ve read the title), I’ll also be discussing whether or not this behaviour is dangerous. Spoiler, but – as with most things – this behaviour can sometimes be dangerous and sometimes not; I’ll go over when it is and isn’t dangerous in this post as well. I’ve also added some tips in case chewing plastic is a habit you’re hoping to help your cat break out of for one reason or another. Let’s begin!
Why Do Cats Chew On Plastic?
Remember how I said most sources online seemed to make the connection between chewing plastic and pica from the get go? Let’s start there.
Some Cats Chew Plastic Because They Have Pica
If you’ve never heard of pica, essentially it’s a psychological disorder that animals and even humans sometimes have. Pica is when an animal or person has a desire to eat things that are not food – and are nutritionally useless for that species to consume. Some people with pica like eating ice, for example, or metal, paper – even hair. When it comes to cats, some common favourites amongst cats with pica include plastic, wool, cloth in general, and tissue.
Yes, you read plastic in that list there. The difference I feel when it comes to pica vs not really pica is that typically a pica cat will not only chew on an object that’s strange, he or she will actually swallow and ingest it. He or she will chew on plastic with the intent to consume.
Definitely go to the vet and make sure your cat has pica if you suspect it’s something your cat has. 100% double check with your vet by listing any and all symptoms you think even may be relevant. But in my opinion (and I am not a vet or a pet care professional by any means so keep that in mind), if your cat’s just chewing and isn’t swallowing any plastic, he or she likely doesn’t have pica.
Just because your cat likes chewing on something, doesn’t mean he or she really wants to eat it. Could just mean that he or she simply enjoys chewing on the object. Like humans chewing on the butt of their pencil. Or on pens. Lots of humans do that type of thing. And speaking of pens…
Even Humans Like Chewing on Plastic
Let me say that again in case you skip over headers like I sometimes do: even humans enjoy chewing on some plastic sometimes. Not all humans do it, and it’s usually within the context of being a specific shape or maybe even texture, but humans are sometimes tempted to and enjoy biting on plastic.
I can’t count the number of lost pens and mechanical pencils I’ve found within the walls of my high school that had bite marks on them. I’m sure you’ve seen many yourself. I’m also pretty stinkin’ sure if you gave an appropriately sized piece of plastic to a baby, he or she would try giving that plastic a bite, too. Yes, we have baby-friendly made of much better (and safer!) materials for babies to chew and teeth on, but that doesn’t make the plastic any less nice to bite. Humans realize that chewing on plastic is bad for teeth in the long run, it’s not particularly hygienic if the plastic in your mouth has a chance of being covered in bacteria, and thus you really shouldn’t do it for those reasons. But without that knowledge, maybe we’d all be chewing on our plastic pens a lot more than we currently do.
Cats Enjoy Chewing on Plastic Too, Even If They Don’t Have Pica
If even humans enjoy chewing on plastic, it doesn’t seem a far step to me that cats would enjoy chewing on it as well – even if they don’t have pica.
Again, I feel a cat who’s chewing on plastic, but doesn’t necessarily want to eat it probably doesn’t have pica. But please let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree with me about this.
Dr. Eric Barchas, writing for Catster, wrote up the most reasonable response to why cats chew plastic I’ve managed to find:
[…] Yes, a very large number of cats like to chew on plastic bags. Many cats also enjoy chewing other forms of thin plastic, or chew on (and sometimes swallow) rubber bands.
I do not have a definitive answer for why cats do this. It may be because they enjoy the texture, which is unlike most objects found in nature. But, frankly, that is just a guess. Certainly, medical science has provided no answer to this question that I’m aware of.
I feel like his guess about the texture is probably pretty accurate. Regardless, he mentions that he gets this question a lot as a vet (his words: “Believe it or not, people ask me these sorts of questions almost every day in my practice”) and while he admits science hasn’t provided an answer for this question yet, it does seem likely to me that if this many pet parents are asking about whether their cats chewing plastic without swallowing it is normal, it must be a general feline behaviour as not all that many cats have pica.
And hey – if you’ve ever chewed on the butt of a pencil or pen and kinda wanted to continue to chomp, even though you knew it was probably not the best idea for the long term health of your teeth – my guess is you already sort of get on a personal level why plastic is enjoyable for cats to chew on.
Is It Ever Dangerous for Cats to Chew Plastic?
Again, I’m going to use Dr. Eric Barchas to explain this away. He seems to hit the nail on the head quite often (I’ve actually used his words to explain a number of things before, including why natural diets don’t prevent dental issues in felines and egg yolks are fine for a cat to eat – anyway, back to the topic at hand).
Here’s what he had to say about the potential danger of a cat chewing plastic bags –
If your cat is not swallowing portions of the bags, then it probably is harmless. The plastic in most bags is inert and not toxic. Even if swallowed, small pieces of plastic (or rubber bands) usually will pass harmlessly through a cat’s system. However, a slight risk exists that such foreign material might coalesce into a form that can obstruct the intestines and require surgery. As well, if any toxic materials are on a bag (for instance, if the bag was used to carry insecticide or motor oil), they could make your cat sick. And, a risk of suffocation exists if cats crawl into plastic bags. So, to be safe, you should probably keep plastic bags out of reach.
However, if your cat is like most, she will probably continue to chew on the occasional plastic bag without coming to any harm.
Thus, in terms of chewing on the plastic – no harm so long as the plastic and whatever might be on it is completely harmless, safe, and non-toxic to cats.
In terms of chewing and swallowing the plastic, even if it’s by accident – that can be dangerous, because it can lead to an obstruction or cause your cat to choke and/or suffocate. In the case of plastic bags, as well, there’s a risk of suffocation if a cat crawls in and runs out of air. So it’s best to keep those out of reach.
Obviously, he was simply speaking on the topic of plastic bags, so let’s expand that to plastic toys and other plastic things – no risk if simply chewed, a risk is there if swallowed. So to be safest, even if it’s a plastic toy, if you find the object can easily break or tear into bits that can then be accidentally swallowed, keep them out of reach of your kitty.
Can I Make My Cat Stop Chewing on Plastic? How?
In my opinion, the best way to get cats to stop doing absolutely anything is by making sure the want or need that leads them to do the undesirable action is being fulfilled in a way that’s completely acceptable for you and completely healthy for them.
So in this situation – let’s say your cat is chewing on plastic bags or other plastic objects, and this is both undesirable to you because you worry one day your cat will tear through and choke – or you just don’t like the damage your cat’s causing another plastic item he or she likes to chew.
The best option from my point of view (besides removing the object from your cat’s reach in the first place if that’s something you can physically do), is to get replacement, cat safe chew things for your feline to take his or her urge to gnaw out on. Then make those chew-friendly things more desirable (i.e. spray them with catnip!).
In my mind, the best rinse-and-repeat technique for training a cat to stop chewing on something he or she shouldn’t looks something like this: say “No!” loudly when he or she’s discovered chewing on something naughty, pick up the dedicated chew thing (hopefully having been sprayed in wonderful, appealing catnip previously), and give it to your cat. Your cat should get the association and realize “I should be chewing on this instead” over time. Obviously, the fact that you’re not denying your cat the right to chew, and are just replacing the object that he or she should be chewing, should go a pretty long way to making the new habit stick.
While there aren’t that many pet toys made specifically for cats to chew on, there are some. Toys like the Petstages Dental Health Chew Toy, Petstages Catnip Chew Mice and the KONG Cat Hugga Wubba Cat Toy.
The Catit Senses 2.0 Wellness Center also features a gum simulator, which is essentially a little plastic nipple that cats like to and can safely bite or chew. Obviously, any toy a cat chews on is bound to get damaged, but luckily Catit sells its gum simulators for a pretty affordable price, so once it starts looking worse for wear, it’s easy to switch out with a new one.
As with absolutely any toy at all that a cat bites, chews, or really plays with in any aggressive way at all, monitor your cat when you first give the toy to him or her, make sure he or she is playing with it safely. Take it away if he or she’s being so aggressive with it to the extent where it gets damaged and especially if small bits of it can be unsafely swallowed. If the first try goes okay, I’d say it’s safe to leave your cat with a number of cat toys unattended, only under the condition that you regularly check back to make sure – if it has begun to be torn apart – you remove it from a cat’s reach and replace it with a new or different toy.
It’s not just chew toys that can posit a danger to cats in terms of being choking hazards. Really, any toy can become a hazard, as no toy (to my knowledge) is fully indestructible. I once bought an OurPets Annette Catnip Fish and “donated it” to my mum and brother’s cats because my Avery wouldn’t play with it, and that thing had its head torn off in a matter of minutes (in case you’re curious, you can see a picture of the monstrous “after” in the middle of my post about cute catnip toys here). Really and truly, it just depends on how aggressive your particular cat happens to be with that particular toy.
Last example – I love the Spot Ethical Pet Cat Springs and Avery does, too. They’re excellent quality, but even then, sometimes with really prolonged use and especially if they happen to smash against a wall at an odd angle or be stepped on my my klutzy self, they can begin to dent. If I leave those dented plastic toys, I know they stand a much higher chance of Avery breaking them the next time he plays, and if that’s the case, he can easily swallow fragments of them by accident, so if I see the plastic starting to bend, I immediately throw that one spring out. I recommend you do the same with toys like this, or even fabric toys that your cat has begun to fray with dedicated chew. Really any toy you see get a little damaged in a way that it could possibly be torn or properly break should be taken away and replaced with a new one. Yes, it can be the manufacturer’s fault when things break, but not always; again, nothing is truly indestructible and our cats are viscous predators in the wild – of course they’re going to find a way to destroy the things we buy them over time. So it’s important to be vigilant lest there be choking hazards in places we didn’t expect them to be.
Your Experience with Cats Chewing Plastic?
What are your thoughts on cats chewing plastic? Do you think it’s mostly to do with pica, or do you agree with me that it’s likely most cats have this obsession regardless of whether pica is part of the equation or not?
Do you find most cats like to eat plastic as well as chew on it, or really just chew and nothing more? If you have a cat – does he or she chew plastic? And if so, what types of objects made of plastic does he or she typically like to gnaw on?
Have you ever tried chew toys as a replacement for unapproved objects your cat likes to chew on? What was the reception? Ever tried spraying those chew toys with catnip spray? Do you find that helped?
Love to hear any and all thoughts you have on this topic in the comments section below!