why does my cat like to lick plastic bags

I learned years ago that if there s one thing I should never leave out, it s plastic shopping bags. In my case, it s just because the sound of my cats licking that crinkly material was enough to drive me batty. But for one of my friends, keeping plastic out of her cats mouths is a matter of life and death: One of her beloved furry friends actually ate enough of a plastic bag to result in a midnight trip to the emergency vet and surgery to remove the stuff from his stomach. One of my cats also had an odd obsession with licking the emulsion off photographs. Why do cats do this? What s up with this obsession with stuff that s not very tasty and even potentially fatal? There are several theories as to why cats might be driven to frenzies of foolishness over those crazy polymers, and here they are:
1. Enticing food smells Soft plastics are porous and they trap the odor of whatever was contained within them. Cats sense of smell is even stronger than dogs, and since we put everything from meat to fish to sandwiches in plastic, it makes sense that even the faintest whiff of a tempting treat could lead to licking and perhaps even swallowing plastic. 2. Crinkly fun A shopping bag makes all kinds of cool noises, which in some way mimic the sounds of little rodents scurrying around in the grass and leaves. 3. The corn starch factor More and more plastic shopping bags are being made of biodegradable materials that contain corn starch. Some cats seem to find the smell and taste of corn starch attractive. 4. Lickable lubricants Plastics are treated with stearates, which are derived from tallow. I ve seen some sources that say lanolin (the oil that makes sheep coats feel greasy) is also used in the production of plastic. Either of these things could be tempting to a curious carnivore. Gelatin is also used in photo emulsion, so that may explain the bizarre allure of those old Kodak moments. 5. It s a texture thing Some experts think that the smooth texture of plastic feels good on a cat s tongue.


There s some thinking that the temperature of the plastic may be a factor, too, but in my experience, plastic pretty quickly picks up the ambient temperature of the room it s in. 6. Pheromones Some plastics contain chemicals that may mimic pheromones or other attractants, and it s possible that licking plastic could be an extension of the flehmen reaction ( in which an animal curls back his upper lips, inhales, and often holds this position for several seconds). This could also explain why some cats like to urinate on plastic bags. 7. Mental short-circuit Some cats get in the habit of eating non-food items. This condition, called pica, is sometimes considered a mental compulsion and sometimes thought of as an attempt to try and get necessary nutrients that aren t present in the cat s diet. What do you think? Do you have any other ideas about why cats are obsessed with plastic? Do you have a plastic-crazed cat, and what plastics are his or her favorites? Sound off in the comments. Learn more about your cat with Catster: About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, since 2003. Cat owners have all witnessed our cats licking plastic bags, but whats behind this strange behavior and should we be concerned? P Licking or eating plastic falls under an eating disorder known as pica. P Pica is a term used to describe a tendency for eating non-food material. P The reasons behind the behavior are not fully understood, but pica is known to occur in humans, dogs, cats and other animals, such as pigs, goats and horses. P If your pet exhibits signs of pica, consider consulting your vet, because it may be a sign of a more serious health problem. Plastic is a common target for our cats due to its prevalence in our daily lives, but cats have been known to nibble on anything from cardboard to wool, carpets and upholstery, wires and shoelaces, even plants, rocks, wood and kitty litter.


P This desire to suckle, lick and chew random objects has led some experts to suggest that the habit is the result of kittens being weaned from their mothers too early. P Others believe that pica may be a sign of an iron or zinc deficiency. Pica has been linked to a number of serious medical conditions, including: stomach or dental issues, diet deficiencies, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus and brain tumors. P There are also a number of psychological reasons your cat may be exhibiting these behaviors, such as stress, anxiety, a possible compulsive disorder or even boredom. P If you have any concerns or want to rule any of the more serious conditions out, we recommend having your cat tested as part of their regular veterinary examination. Not all reasons for the behavior are scary. P If you just came home from the grocery store, there is a chance that the plastic bags have some food remnants and the bags smell or taste like food so your cat may just be enjoying a treat. P It may also be the composition of the bag itself. P Some bags are made from substances that attract cats, such as gelatin (an animal by-product) or are coated with cornstarch or stearic acid (a salt). Your cat may just enjoy the crinkle sound the bag makes when they attack it. P The shape and movement of the plastic bag can mimic prey to your cat, particularly if your storage method is tying them in a knot. P Your cat may be feeding their instinct to hunt. P As owners of a pet supply store, even we are willing to admit that sometimes the bag that the toy comes home in is just as interesting to our cats as the toy itself. P Just be aware that chewing plastic bags and other non-food materials present a potential choking hazard and there is always the possibility of suffocation, so be careful.


Now that we have identified some possible reasons behind why your cat may be licking or chewing plastic bags (among other things), there are a number of things you can do to curb the behavior. Store items that your cat likes to nibble on in a location they cant get to. P Place your recycled plastic bags in a cabinet and store other non-food items that your cat enjoys chewing on, like your handbag and dress shoes, in a designated closet. Provide your cats with plenty of toys and scratching posts to keep them stimulated and create safe spaces for your cat to reduce stress. P Cats need places to hide and they take comfort in heights, so give them places to climb. You may want to consider an interactive feeder to entertain the hunter in your cat. P Interactive feeders are designed to fully engage your pets predatory nature, by forcing them to take their time and work for their crunchies. Dont forget treats. P Treats are typically associated with dogs, but cats love treats too. P Every night at ten oclock is Night-Night Time! at our house. P You can set your watch to our George cat coming to remind us that its time for his Night-Nights and its a great way to bond with your cats and ensure that they are getting any supplements they may need. Cats are fascinating creatures with complicated personalities and a mysterious way that endear them to us. P With that in mind, we researched this topic expecting to write a cute article about why cats like to lick and chew plastic. P Instead, we learned that this seemingly harmless behavior may be a sign of a more serious physical or psychological condition that should not be taken lightly. P Its worth mentioning again, if your cat is exhibiting signs of pica, we recommend consulting your veterinarian to have your cat tested. We hope you found this post informative. P Please let us know if experimenting with any of the ideas shared in this article were helpful and we d love to hear from you if you have any additional suggestions.

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