We've all dealt with coming home from the grocery store, emptying our grocery bags and finding our cat has stolen the plastic bag and decided to lick and chew on it. What? You just got them new treats but instead they go straight for the plastic bag! Why are cats so obsessed with plastic bags?
As confusing as it may seem, there are a number of reasons why cats think plastic bags seem like a delightful thing to gnaw on.
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Residual food matter
Plastic bags can absorb and collect residual food matter even if they seem clean. In addition, many plastics are coated in cornstarch, stearates, or animal byproducts like gelatin. This can make your plastic bag an extra salty treat to lick and chew. These lingering tastes can seem like a yummy way for a cat to spend their time. However, yummy as it is, it isn't food and is definitely unhealthy. If you find your cat chewing on a plastic bag, take it away immediately.
They're audibly relaxing
In addition to tasting good, plastic bags can also provide relaxing noises and feeling to your cats. The crinkly and pliable nature of plastic can sound and feel good when your cat is chewing. However, plastic, and especially plastic bags, are easy to break apart and swallow, which can choke your cat and irritate their intestinal tract. This can require surgery or the chemicals can leech into your cats body and poison them.
Your cat might also have developed a behavior known as Pica, the act of eating nonfood items that have no nutritional value. You'll notice that your cat might be drawn to eat plants, paper, wool or plastic. This can be due to your cat feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or bored. Much like the compulsion some humans have to bite their nails, your cat might develop this compulsion to chew non-edible items like the oh-so-convenient plastic bag they found.
Your cat might also be obsessed with chewing on plastic bags because they are dealing with dental issues. The act of biting on the stretchy, chewy plastic of the bag might offer a bit of relief to their sore teeth. They could also be eating plastic bags do to nutritional deficiencies in their diet. Your cat might subconsciously be trying to find nutrients that currently aren't available in their food. The best thing to do is check with your veterinarian to make sure your cat's teeth are healthy and that they are getting enough nutrition in their diet so that they don't seek out "help" from plastic nearby.
How to stop your cat from chewing on plastic bags
Plastic and cats are not a good mix. The best thing to do is keep plastic bags or other chewable plastic items out of the house as much as possible. Not only does it help with the health of your cat, but it is environmentally conscious to replace your plastic bags or items with cloth or other re-usable alternatives. If there are plastic items that you cannot replace (like electrical cords) try spraying them with bitter apple spray, which will make them taste unappealing to your cat without hurting them. You can find bitter apple spray in your local pet store.
If your cats enjoys the texture and sound of plastic, you can find new toy alternatives, like crinkle toys or cloth crinkle balls that offer the same effect without endangering your cat's health. Make sure to play with your cat regularly so they don't become bored and search for plastic bags to chew on. If it is a compulsion or a dietary issue, regularly keep dry food in the house for them to snack on (although if they are overweight, consult your veterinarian for other options). Most importantly, if you think they are ill or their Pica has gotten out of control, check with your veterinarian.