What is Feline Pica?

If your cat likes to constantly eat weird stuff, she may have Feline Pica.

You may have heard about humans suffering from pica—they eat things that aren’t meant to be a meal. It turns out the cats can also suffer from this condition. Called Feline Pica, this condition causes cats to eat non-edible items, such as plastic, rubber bands, wool, and paper. Not only is this strange, but it can also prove to be dangerous.

If you’ve noticed that your cat eats strange things, you may want to talk to your vet about feline pica and possible treatments. Let’s go over the basics of this condition.

The Causes of Feline Pica

There are several factors that contribute to feline pica.

Environmental Conditions
Is your cat lonely or bored? Your cat may be seeking attention; especially if there have been changes to her environment. She may develop pica because she lacks stimulation or is stressed by big changes.

Nutritional Deficiencies
Cats who aren’t getting adequate nutrients from their diet might resort to eating items such as plants or kitty litter. Pica may also develop if your cat isn’t getting enough fiber in her diet. Remember: cats are carnivores, so make sure their diets are balanced so they don’t try to find the nutrients on their own.

Medical Conditions
Underlying medical problems can lead to feline pica. These include feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), brain tumors, dental disease, parasites, and diabetes.

Genetics
Certain breeds, such as Oriental breeds, are more prone to developing pica.

cat pica

©istockphoto/Ulianna

Treatments for Feline Pica

As soon as you notice that your cat eating non-food items, a trip to the vet’s will help determine the cause and get her back on track. Your vet can help address underlying medical or behavioral conditions that cause pica to flare up.

Here are a few tips to discourage your cat from eating things that she shouldn’t:

  • Talk to your vet to determine the best ways to enhance your cat’s diet if pica is due to a nutritional deficiency.
  • Fill your cat’s environment with things such as cat trees and a variety of toys. Interact with your cat to ensure she’s not lonely, anxious, bored, or stressed. Physical and mental stimulation could allow your cat to release energy in a positive way and may discourage her pica habits.
  • Replace the objects that your cat typically chews on with safe cat toys. If you can’t get rid of or replace potentially dangerous items, spay them with a feline-safe deterrent like Bitter Apple. As soon as you notice your cat eating something she shouldn’t, immediately remove the object and redirect her attention to something positive.
  • Never punish your cat for exhibiting symptoms pica—this could cause your cat to become even more anxious and stressed, exacerbating the problem.

Because pica can lead to intestinal obstruction, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms such as listlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. If you notice these symptoms, consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Patience is key when breaking from pica—your cat may have developed a long-term habit of eating non-food items. Because it’s considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder, you’ll need to figure out the cause and work backward from there. Remain diligent and work closely with your veterinarian for the best results.

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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