What is Pica in Cats?

If you have a cat, you might notice that they have started to eat things they shouldn't (and we aren't talking about your cat eating your dog's food, that's a whole different matter). Perhaps you have noticed your cat chewing and even eating non-edible items like plastic, paper, wool, or plants around the house. Not only is this awfully inconvenient but it's downright confusing! Why is your normally picky cat eating stuff that makes no sense to eat, and has no nutritional value?

ginger cat at white background stick out his paw from purple chair
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If your cat is doing this, they most likely have a behavior found in felines known as pica, which, simply defined, is the act of eating items with no nutritional value (aka inedible items). Why would your cat develop pica? There are a few different reasons.

What is pica?

Pica is the act of eating items with no nutritional value. Pica can occur in humans and other animals as well as cats.

Stress and anxiety

If your cat is stressed, they might end up nervously eating non-food items around your house. Much like humans biting their nails, this habit can act as a way for your cat to expel nervous energy. If your cat is aggressive, this can also be a way for your cat to calm themselves by chewing and destroying things in your home. They most likely are not intentionally trying to harm items around the house, they are trying to self-soothe by distracting themselves.

Compulsiveness

Also like nail biting, this could be a compulsive disorder. Although there has been less hard research on this, research has shown that certain breeds seem more prone to having pica than others, like Birman and Siamese cats. This could mean that some cats have a genetic predisposition towards this behavior.

A gray cat lying on a red sofa.
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Boredom

If your cat is bored or wants attention, they might learn that chewing items they shouldn't will spice things up and get them noticed. Cats vary in their need for environmental stimulation and exercise. If your cat is not getting the personal amount they need, this could very well be the way they wind up blowing off steam. Try to play with them more, or give them more attention if you think this is the case.

Medical issues

Sometimes when a cat develops pica, it can coincide with an underlying medical problem like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, leukemia in cats, dental issues or brain tumors. Without knowing it, your cat might automatically eat things around the house because of these diseases. If you think this may be the case, it's best to take your cat to the vet so they can look into it.

Dietary deficiencies

Your cat might develop pica if they are missing something from their diet. Without realizing it, your cat might be searching for nutrition they are not getting from their standard cat food. Cats who are anemic have been known to eat kitty litter. Veterinarians have also found that if your cat is not receiving the right amount of fats or fibers, they are more likely to eat these non-nutritional items. If you notice your cat eating more than just the occasional grass and starts eating lots of your houseplants, it is likely your cat is in search of some nutrition they are lacking. Be sure to check in with your vet to make sure that your cat's diet is on track for you to have a happy healthy cat.

the staring cat
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Conclusion

There isn't simply one reason your cat might have pica. The best way to handle it is to bring them to your veterinary professional for a clean bill of health, feed them a healthy diet, make sure they have enough stimulation at home while staying calm and happy, and stow away any easily chewable plastic bags to a cupboard. If you do all these things, your cat will be less inclined to chew and more inclined to happily spend time with you!