Pica is a human and animal disorder characterized by eating things that are typically considered as non-food or do not have any nutritive value.
Pica in cats may involve kitties sucking wool, stuffed animals or fleece as well as other non-food materials including litter, soil, yarn, strings, paper including toilet paper, wood, dirt, cardboard, blankets, socks, jackets, plastic, shoelaces, shower curtains, electric cords, or just any other thing.
The oriental cats are more predisposed to pica. Also, weaning your kittens early may make them nurse on wool by sucking it or owners earlobes, hair, arms and so on.
Note, as prey animals, chewing is one of the cat’s natural behaviors since they disassemble their prey’s bodies once they have caught them.
Finally, pica is thought to help soothe, satisfy some cravings as well as entertain felines while it may make owners worried, frustrated and disgusted.
Feline pica causes
Pica is common in younger kitties as opposed to older ones and it has several causes that include the following which is either behavioral or medically induced.
1. Dietary deficiencies
Dietary deficiencies including anemia can make eat litter and other things. Although it is normal for a cat to eat grass, eating too much may indicate some sort of deficiencies. Deficiencies of fiber or fats may make some cats chew things that are not edible.
2. Medical conditions
Some disease and conditions including leukemia, anemia, diabetes, tumors, hyperthyroidism, feline immunodeficiency virus, among others have been blamed for pica in kitties.
Wool sucking which is part of the pica behavior has been noted to occur more in Birman, Oriental, Tonkinese, Burmese and Siamese cats making it possible to conclude that it could be due to genetical factors.
Lack of physical or mental stimulation may lead to boredom especially in environments that do not have any enrichments including toys.
5. Compulsive disorders
The compulsive disorder may be due to genetics since it has been noted to occur in some specific breeds more than others.
Stress and anxiety may drive your feline friends to eat non-food materials. Stress may be from their environment, moving, new people or pets, and so on.
7. Displacement behavior
When torn between two events that are conflicting such as aggression and fear, a kitty may act wrongly to stimuli or stimulus and one such behavior may be pica.
8. Other causes
Besides these behaviors, early separation of kittens from their mother (causes wool sucking that may be habitual even as they grow), attention-seeking (causes stealing and chewing their owner’s items) and accidental training (your feline assuming your behavior is a reward) are also possible causes.
Should I ignore pica in cats?
Cases such as nibbling plastic bags that have gelatin which these pets can detect are often considered to be harmless, it becomes a concern if there is progress to wool and rubber band sucking or chewing.
Also, some of the things they chew may be harmful or cause intestinal blockages, inflammation, tear their GI tract, be toxic, electrocute them or have parasites, bacteria, and so on.
For instance, while eating grass does help relive stomach upsets and has laxative benefit, if this behavior is worsening, your cat may begin eating house plants. Some plants such as English ivy, chrysanthemums, tulips, lilies, are poisonous and may cause stomach upsets.
Therefore, you should not ignore it in case it seems too odd, seems to be worsening or persisting as it can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, reduced appetite, constipation, blockages and so on.
Some of the ways to deal with pica in these pets include:
1. Take your cat for a medical exam
A vet exam will help rule out possibilities of underlying medical conditions or disorders including anemia, leukemia, kidney disease, and so on known to cause feline pica.
During diagnosis, your vet may ask for information on when the pica began, progression or any stressful event.
Also, blood tests including blood biochemistry profile, complete blood count, urinalysis, CT scans (if tumors suspected) among others may be performed.
2. Diet adjustments
Since dietary deficiencies may be a cause, you need to consider dietary supplements and changing their diets. Do dietary adjustments only after you have talked to your vet and not before.
3. Secure items they often target
If its clothes, paper, cardboard, or plants, put them out of their reach. This may help reverse the behavior. Also, get rid of any harmful plants or materials including plants.
4. Give them other chew items
Consider providing chew toys or items that are totally safe. Also, you can consider growing catnip and other more appealing edible items.
Furthermore, give them rye, wheatgrass or oats are safe greens that these pets can nibble. Get organically grown grass since the ones on your lawn may be having fertilizer, insecticides and other chemicals.
5. Keep your cat busy and break the boredom
Since boredom and loneliness can be a cause, consider spending time with your kitties. Sometimes when ignored and as they try to seek your attention, they may end up showing these abnormal chewing behaviors.
Spending time and playing with your feline may stimulate them physically or mentally. Consider interactive play therapy including the use of toys such as a fishing pole-type toy to let your cat enjoy not only stalking it but also pouncing and capturing activities.
There are many other cat toys to consider which will enrich your cat’s life and reduce boredom and consequently the pica behavior including play and puzzle toys.
Also consider outdoor enclosures to give them a chance to watch around, teach them to use a harness, among others.
Finally, be consistent with routines. You do not spend much time. 15 minutes is ok each day to keep this pet stimulated both mentally and physically.
6. Manage stress
Find what makes your cat stressed, anxious or tensed. New people, environmental changes, new pets, and so on may be a cause.
Give them hideaways, high points to sit and watch, safe feeding and littering points and provide individual resources if you have several cats including a place to nap.
Also, stray cats coming to your yard may be a cause. Use motion sensors such as motion-detecting sprinklers and a motion-detecting ultrasonic sound machine to keep feral or stray felines away.
Finally, consider anti-anxiety medications for felines as well as calming products including Feliway, Anafranil, Selective Serotonins Reuptake Inhibitors and so on after talking to your vet.
7. Make items they chewed less appealing
Using hot pepper, citrus air fresheners, Bitter Apple or Band guard, may help put off your felines from sucking or chewing items they often such.
Consider various ways to disrupt or desensitize your feline friend from this behavioral problem and impart positive behavior. Cause a disruption but avoid overreacting to help in redirecting its attention elsewhere.
9. Get the help of an animal behaviorist
If medical causes have been ruled out, you may consider engaging the services of a cat behaviorist to train your feline to find ways of managing, modifying or preventing the behaviors from repeating.