Pica is the term used for the behavior of eating non-food material. The most common material associated with pica is usually wool such as blankets, socks, jackets, etc., but some cats will nibble on just about anything such as paper, plastic grocery bags, litter or shoelaces.
What Causes Pica in Cats?
Pica is considered an obsessive/compulsive-type behavior. There are many possible reasons for pica behavior such as:
Deficiencies in the diet. Some veterinarians and behavior experts believe that inadequate amounts of fat or fiber in the diet can lead a cat to crave these nutrients from non-edible sources. Some cats who are anemic may try to eat litter.
Stress. Cats who are living in a stressful environment may try to self-soothe by engaging in pica behavior. Changes in the environment such as a move to a new home or the addition of absence of a family member can be stress triggers that can lead to pica.
Boredom or Lack of Attention. A bored cat who is not receiving adequate mental and physical stimulation might begin munching on non-food items just for something to do.
Underlying medical problems. Certain diseases such as diabetes, dental disease or hyperthyroidism or brain disorders may be associated with pica behavior.
Genetics. Pica seems to be more common in Oriental breeds such as Siamese.
Displacement. Whether the cause is boredom, stress or frustration, a cat may turn to pica (as well as other behaviors) as a displacement behavior. It can also be a displacement behavior when the cat would rather be doing something else but is unable to or if the cat has been punished.
Veterinary exam. Have your cat examined by the veterinarian. If there is an underlying medical problem it will need to be diagnosed and addressed.
Dietary adjustments. Your veterinarian may make a recommendation for supplementing your cat’s food with increased fiber or something else. Don’t make any dietary adjustments without consulting with your veterinarian. An inappropriate amount of fiber added to the diet can cause major intestinal distress.
Remove temptation. If kitty is munching on socks or items that shouldn’t be accessible, make sure temptation is removed by keeping clothing in drawers, closets or in hampers with lids. If your cat is chewing on plants, remove them from the indoor environment. Do your best to keep items of temptation out of your cat’s reach. Don’t punish the cat for chewing on items as that will simply increase frustration and stress.