What is pica?
The word pica comes from the Latin word magpie, which is known to eat almost anything. Pica in cats is a potentially serious condition where they have an abnormal compulsion to eat non-food substances such as clothing, plastic, wood etc.
Most people associate pica with the cravings many women experience during pregnancy. However, pica isn’t the exclusive domain of human pregnancy hormones, it can occur in other animals.
What about wool sucking?
Wool sucking is well known among cat lovers. Many cat owners have heard of wool sucking in cats, particularly Siamese who often will suck and eat wool or other items of clothing.
The cause still isn’t understood but there are several potential reasons why some cats develop pica:
- Dietary insufficiencies, and possibly needing more fibre, minerals or vitamins in their diet.
- Wool sucking may be a result of a cat being weaned too early and takes to this as a self-soothing mechanism.
- Stress and anxiety.
- It is possible there is a genetic component as pica and wool sucking are seen most often in Siamese cats.
Is pica dangerous to cats?
It can be as it has the potential to cause a gastrointestinal blockage.
If your cat stops eating, vomits, has diarrhea or becomes lethargic contact your veterinarian immediately.
It is important to take any cat displaying signs of pica to your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination to rule out a medical problem. Your veterinarian may wish to do a complete blood profile to check iron levels, hormone levels, check organ function etc.
If your veterinarian can’t find a medical cause, try the following:
Grow cat-safe plants:
It is common for cats to chew on plants, however, it can prove fatal if the wrong plant is eaten. There is no concrete explanation for this but some suggestions include, plants contain certain nutrients which are not available the cat’s regular food, ingestion of plants assists in bringing up hairballs. If your cat has been chewing on the houseplants the simplest solution is to remove them from your cat’s reach and replace with cat-friendly plants such as catnip or cat grass.
Feed your cat a well balanced and good quality diet
A high fibre diet can eliminate this behaviour in some cats. Speak to your veterinarian before making any changes to your cat’s diet. Also, a constant supply of dry food may be of help.
Remove attractive targets
If your cat is chewing clothing, remove this from your cat’s reach. Put clothes away in cupboards or drawers so your cat can’t access them.
Offer a replacement
Privide your cat with alternative objects to chew on such as raw (never cooked) bones with some meat still attached.
Apply a bittering agent
If the targeted item is something you can’t put away easily, such as electrical cords it may be necessary to paint them with something to deter your cat from chewing them, such as bitter apple or Tabasco sauce.
Stress can sometimes trigger pica. Pica often occurs in adolescence and can also begin when a cat moves into a new home. Therefore time spent with the cat ensuring it is in as stress-free an environment as possible may help. This includes introducing your new cats to other pets in the household slowly.
The more time your cat is entertained, the less time it has to engage in inappropriate behaviours such as pica. Hide cat-friendly treats around the home for your cat to discover. A supply of interactive cat toys and a high cat tree close to a window where your cat can watch the outside world.