Pica In Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Pica in cats feature

Does your cat display peculiar behaviour like licking or chewing fabric, bags, cables, rubber, plants, straws, cardboard, and household objects?

Rest assured you’re not alone, some days our lounge resembles a paper shredding factory, while other periods our blinds have bite mark dents. Don’t even mention plastic bags, they’re the flavour of this month.

Cats who obsessively lick, nibble and/or consume items are exhibiting a form of pica.

What Is Pica?

Pica involves ingestion of non-food items. Frequently reported items which cats may chew include wool, fabric, wood, plastic, paper and plants (Case, 2003, Horwitz & Mills 2009). Often the molar teeth are used to chew holes in such materials.

Pica shouldn’t be mistaken for kitten behaviour of suckling which might persist into adulthood. When adult moggies exhibit suckling behaviours, material isn’t consumed, simply sucked repetitively and often accompanied with front paw kneading.

Likewise, many young moggies will chew and tear at objects when exhibiting predatory behaviour during play, pieces are torn off but NOT consumed.

Ingestion of bizarre objects can result in life-threatening internal blockages requiring urgent veterinary medical attention.

Hypothesized Causes Of Pica

Since there’s no test to diagnose pica, veterinary professionals depend on owner’s home observations and note-taking. Theories of pica include:

Genetics

 Pica is generally seen in breeds like Siamese, Tonkinese, and Burmese who are predisposed to eating wool or wool sucking. Other domestic kitties with no known Oriental ancestry like DSH and Ragdolls may also endure pica.

Dietary Deficiencies

Cats with prolonged nutritional deficiencies lacking adequate fat, minerals and/or vitamins in their food may ingest non-edible material, whilst other cases could also be due to dietary imbalance from lack of roughage, although a clear dietary insufficiency has yet to be documented.

Medical Reasons

Licking or absorption of weird substances has been correlated to Endocrine and Gastrointestinal conditions such as Hyperthyroidism, Diabetes, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Gastric Motility, and hookworm infestation.

Two studies uncovered a high prevalence of pica diagnosed in cats with immune-mediated Hemolytic Anaemia, Pyruvate kinase deficiencies, and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), but with lower occurrences (Isabelle Demontigny-Bédard, 2015). Infrequently, eating inappropriate things may also happen with medical issues like liver disease.

Additionally, neurological disorders and cancer (i.e., brain tumours) can disrupt appetite control and contribute to uncommon cravings resulting in pica.

Behavioural Hypothesis

Pica prevalence is considerably greater in felines housed exclusively indoor. Potential contributing factors include boredom, anxiety, frustration and lack of social contact.

High reinforcement history to things can have an accentuating component, increasing the likelihood of the behaviour repeated, inadvertently reinforced by the owner when the cat steals food items with plastic wrapping.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

According to certain literature pica may be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder in anxious moggies. Gnawing or sucking on objects releases endorphins and serves as comfort.

Distress can exacerbate pre-existing pica and chomping of things is also used as a coping mechanism.

Stressful life events like house move, new pet adoption and owner death can trigger compulsive ingestion of non-food items in individual cats.

Symptoms Of Pica

If your cat suffers from pica, they must be closely monitored. Watch out for the subsequent gastrointestinal signs just in case of blockages:

  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Changes in eating patterns (decreased appetite)

Pica Treatment

Treatment for pica

Pica may be caused by both behavioral and physical issues, so you must rule out health problems before pursuing behavior-focused treatment.

Rule out any medical conditions with a thorough vet examination before seeking a behavioural evaluation. Therapy options for mild cases:

Minimise Exposure To Favoured Substance

  • Removing the item from view could be a sufficient measure in simple cases to manage the problem.
  • Minimise access to plants by placing them outside, hide plastic bags in cupboards, keep clothes together with socks in drawers and manage the environment to reduce enticement to preferred substances.

Stress Reduction

  • Create a haven with escape routes in addition to comfortable sanctuaries for retreat.
  • Provide consistent daily social interaction ensuring your furry companion has full control able to escape when feel threatened.
  • Use variety of coping strategies and rotation in multi-cat situations to assist non-related adult cats successfully get along.

Boost Environmental Stimulation

  • Boost your cat’s surroundings by adding vertical space like a catwalk, incorporate frequent play sessions to increase environmental stimulus especially for junior kitties with a high exploratory drive.
  • Redirect and motivate undesirable behaviour with the help of interactive prey type toys plus clicker training.
  • Build a catio or a bird feeding station for your cat’s viewing satisfaction and for the confident outdoorsy moggie incorporate garden adventures to alleviate boredom including frustration.

Alternate Feeding Methods

  • Substitute eating activities with the utilization of puzzle feeders then encourage foraging with hidden food.
  • Oral stimulation with the aid of cat grass, dental chews and durable munch toys can help redirect their instinctive prey drive.

Dietary Modification And Supplementation

Person holding a pill to a cat's mouth

Dietary supplementation and other modifications can help to resolve any deficiencies that may lead to pica.

Cats with pica benefit from a dietary modification to a high fibre content diet moreover introduction of probiotics, digestive enzymes and half-teaspoon-soaked psyllium husks in wet food.

Soft hide sticks with a drop of fish oil along with mastication substances like chicken wing or small raw meaty bones (human grade following one-week freezing period) could also be valuable.

Other felines may like change to a more natural raw diet with fibrous muscle and organ tissue. Always talk to your vet about appropriate diet especially for cats with GI issues.

Compulsive Behaviour

If pica is a compulsive behaviour, refer to a certified behaviour specialist, since medication might have to be contemplated.

Conclusion

Pica can cause owner emotional distress, expensive vet surgery and even cause pet relinquishment. Absorption of inedible material requires veterinary intervention together with behavioural therapy.

Although pica may be a lifelong disorder, it can be managed or resolved with appropriate chews along with environmental and diet modification.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is my cat suddenly chewing on everything?

A sudden chewing onset can be due to stress, anxiety, diet change, acute problem of intestinal parasites or a medical cause.
Cats consuming substances due to medical reasons will exhibit further symptoms that signal they’re unwell requiring veterinary examination.

Will my cat outgrow chewing?

Pica can start as early as 12 weeks or perhaps at an earlier age when kittens arrive at their new home.

Certain felines can even munch on their bedding however will grow out of it by 1 – 2 years old, whilst for others the habit will continue into adulthood requiring behavioural intercession.

What should I feed my cat with pica?

Cats with pica benefit from a dietary modification to a high fibre content diet moreover introduction of probiotics and chew substances. Please consult your vet to make sure your pet gets the best nutritional care possible. 

View Sources

Care, I. C. (2018, September 26). Pica in Cats. Retrieved March 12, 2021, from ICatCare: https://icatcare.org/advice/pica-in-cats/

Center, C. U. (2015, October). Retrieved March 09, 2021, from CatWatch: https://www.catwatchnewsletter.com/health/when-they-ingest-non-food-objects/

Isabelle Demontigny-Bédard, G. B.-C. (2015). Characterization of pica and chewing behaviors in privately owned cats: a case-control study. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 1-6. Retrieved March 10, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098612X15591589?journalCode=jfma

Isabelle Demontigny-Bédard, G. B.-C. (2015). Characterization of pica and chewing behaviors in privately owned cats: a case-control study. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 1-6. Retrieved March 11, 2021

Isabelle Demontigny-Bédard, M.-C. B. (2019, October). Medical and behavioral evaluation of 8 cats presenting with fabric ingestion: An exploratory pilot study. CVJ, 1080-1088. Retrieved March 10, 2021

Marta Amat, T. C. (2015). Stress in owned cats: behavioural changes and welfare implications. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 18, 577-586. Retrieved March 13, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1098612X15590867

Rachel M Korman,. N. (2012). A retrospective study of 180 anaemic cats: features, aetiologies and survival data. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 15, 81-90. Retrieved March 14, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1098612X12461008

About Melina Grin

Melina’s love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a Vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Small Animal Rehabilitation and Feline Behaviour. Melina is the proud director of Pet Nurture in Sydney, Australia (Unique Mobile Animal Wellness Centre specialising in Cats). Melina is currently studying to become a qualified Veterinary Nurse with a view to progressing to Animal Behaviour Therapy

2 thoughts on “Pica In Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

  1. Pat Taubler

    I have a 9 year male Himalayan. I adopted a 1 year old female that was hanging with ferals. Both are neutered. My boy couldn’t wait to meet her. I kept them separated for 4 weeks, they were immediate friends; that was 3 years ago. In the past 2 years during the middle of the night my 3 year old has let out blood curtling screams/sounds and attacks my loving mellow Hymalayan. I have to jump out of bed and grab my boy close the bedroom door and take him in bed with me where he stays until morning. When I open the bedroom door they smell each other and all is well. Why is this happening?

    Reply
    1. Melina Grin Post author

      Hi Pat,

      Thank you for your question.

      If this has been happening for 2 years continually same time, it’s likely your household is getting visited by either a feral/stray cat or a nocturnal animal causing redirected aggression.

      When a cat is agitated or frustrated by a stimulus, they respond by redirecting the attack towards the closest target, in this case her mellow brother instead of the source.

      Place a webcam or pet-camera with night vision before heading to bed to inspect both indoor/outdoor environments. If indeed you have a night visitor, close all blinds, change your shades or place a privacy window film.

      Hope this helps
      Melina

      Reply

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