Some cats are a lot like puppies and enjoy chewing on objects. Plastic items are some of those objects that many cats take a liking to, but why? And is it dangerous if a cat chews on or eats plastic?
Normal Cat Chewing Behaviors
Cats that are teething are more likely to chew on items than adult cats and this is completely normal. Kittens lose their baby teeth and grow a full set of adult teeth between 3.5 and 7 months of age. Different teeth will fall out at different times, but the drive to chew may be stronger during these 4 months while your kitten attempts to get relief from the 30 new teeth that are coming in.
Kittens love to play with small objects and sometimes they grab these objects, such as bottle caps, bottle nipples, or rubber bands, and put them in their mouths. Once they feel the texture of the items, they often continue the behavior and seek out items with a similar texture.
Adult cats may take a liking to chewing on certain textures. The attraction to a specific item may have started after it was covered or filled with catnip, treats, or another tasty edible, or it may have blossomed out of pure curiosity. Some cats are more adventurous than others and may lick or bite items to see what happens and when the item makes a fun noise or has an interesting taste, they continue. Plastic grocery bags are often coated and this coating tastes sweet to cats, which may also attract them.
Adult cats may also start chewing on plastic if they experience dental pain in an attempt to soothe their hurting mouth. If you suspect your cat has dental disease or discomfort, be sure to get it examined by your veterinarian.
Abnormal Cat Chewing Behaviors
Pica is a term used to describe an eating disorder where items of no nutritional value are consumed like litter or dirt. Since plastic has no nutritional value, you could argue that a cat that chews and then consumes plastic has pica. Most cats that chew or eat plastic, though, start doing so because the object tasted good or they enjoyed playing with it, not because they have an eating disorder. But stress may cause a cat to do irrational things and therefore develop pica as a response to being stressed.
Cats that have aggression issues may begin chewing on plastic cords and other items around the house in an attempt to express their emotions. These aggressive behaviors can be a sign of pain, poor socialization, and stress, among other things.
Problems With Chewing Plastic
Some plastic items are completely okay for your cat to chew on but many items pose a potential danger to your feline friend. Plastic items that are small enough for your cat to fit completely in its mouth pose a choking hazard. They could also be swallowed and cause other problems.
Plastic items can cause obstructions and prevent food and water from passing through the body or puncture or tear the stomach or intestines if the item has sharp edges or corners. If your cat consumes plastic, it will need to be removed. Sometimes your veterinarian will recommend making your cat vomit the item up, but this is not the case for all plastic items. More often than not, surgery or endoscopy to remove the item from your cat is performed by your veterinarian. These procedures require general anesthesia and are not without their risks, so it is always best to prevent your cat from eating plastic in the first place.
Preventing Your Cat From Chewing Plastic
Stress and anxiety can be lessened and sometimes prevented in cats. Pheromones can help a cat relax in a new environment or one that has changes occurring in it, medications can ease serious cases of anxiety, and supplements can help relax a kitty naturally. By helping to prevent or decrease the amount of stress your cat experiences, you will hopefully lessen the likelihood of them picking up the bad habit of stress chewing plastic. Allowing your indoor cat to slowly adjust to new things, avoiding the line of sight with outdoor cats by closing the blinds, and other techniques can also help avoid stressing out your cat.
It may be obvious, but by picking up and disposing of plastic items such as rubber bands, plastic lids, and milk jug rings that are within a cat's reach, you'll be completely preventing the opportunity for your cat to get its paws on it. If you don't want your cat to chew on an item, then hide it or get rid of it.
Finally, a great way to keep a cat disinterested in plastic items is by attracting them to items that are not plastic. Provide your cat with fun and safe toys of different textures and fabrics, use feather wands and laser pointers to entertain it, and use catnip or treats to attract it to other items you want them to play with or chew on.
Dental Disease in Cats. VCA Animal Hospitals.
Amat M, Camps T, Manteca X. Stress in owned cats: behavioural changes and welfare implications. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2016;18(8):577-586. doi:10.1177/1098612X15590867
Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines in Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.