Why Do Cats Lick Plastic?

March 13, 2017


Some cats have an eating disorder called pica that causes them to eat strange things. They are drawn to non-food items as a food source, including plastic. But seeking out plastic grocery bags, straws, garbage bags, sandwich bags, cups or other plastic items to lick or chew on can be an indication of other issues besides pica. If your cat goes bonkers over plastic, here are six reasons that could be behind the behavior.

Plastic Has an Enticing Sound
The crinkly sound plastic makes when it is licked or chewed on isn’t exactly pleasing to our ears, but to our feline friends it can resemble critters scurrying around in leaves or through the grass. It’s an enticing sound that may be activating your cat’s prey drive.

Interesting Food Smells
The plastic used to make supermarket and sandwich bags is soft and porous, trapping food smells in them. Because a cat’s sense of smell is so keen, they can easily pick up food odors in the bags we bring our groceries home in; sandwich bags also hold the smell of whatever was stored in them. Your kitty may think she’s found something good to eat and ingest some of the plastic if she chews on a bag.

Corn Starch
Biodegradable packing “peanuts” made from corn starch have been around for some time. Some makers of plastic shopping bags have also started using biodegradable materials, including corn starch, to help keep plastic out of our environment and protect wildlife. The smell and taste of corn starch is something many cats seem to like.

Lubricants in Plastic
If you catch your cat licking a photograph, she could be drawn to it because gelatin is used in the photographic emulsion, which is a light-sensitive colloid consisting of silver halide crystals scattered in gelatin.

Plastics are treated with stearates, a saturated fatty acid found in animal and vegetable fat. This acid is found in soaps, candles, cosmetics, oil pastels and plastics, and is used to soften rubber. Stearic acid ethyl ester is a class of organic compounds insoluble in water, but soluble in organic solvents. These compounds are fatty acids or a by-product of them. This gives plastic a smell that entices some cats to chew on or lick it.

Some plastics have other chemicals in them that have interesting smells which can attract cats. It’s possible that cats detect a smell that mimics pheromones. Licking the plastic could cause a flehmen response, and could also be why a cat will urinate on a plastic bag.

Cats Like the Feel of Plastic
It’s possible some cats lick plastic because they like the feel of it on their tongue. Some feline experts suspect that cats may be drawn to plastic because of the temperature of the plastic.

Some cats just seem to enjoy licking or biting plastic. A curious kitten discovering that plastic is an entertaining “toy” to chew on might keep doing it as an adult just for the fun of it.

Medical Issues
There could be a medical reason your cat seeks out plastic. She could be dealing with a lack of physical and mental stimulation, dental disease, gastrointestinal issues, anxiety, stress, social issues with other family pets, noise phobia, and other medical conditions. Licking or chewing plastic could also be your cat’s way of coping with something that’s bothering her.

Any type of plastic can be dangerous for your kitty if she ingests pieces of it. Plastic can get caught in her throat, it can cause an obstruction in the GI tract, and can cause injury to the gums or other soft areas of the mouth. It could also result in suffocation if she gets wrapped up in a plastic bag.

The best way to prevent your cat from licking or chewing on plastic bags is to make sure she doesn’t have access to them. Give her appropriate toys to play with to help satisfy her desire to attack things. Toys that allow her to investigate different textures, sounds, tastes and smells are ideal. Spend more time playing with your cat to help keep her mind and body healthy.

Cats may be more challenging to train than dogs, but with patience, persistence and a supply of tempting CANIDAE cat treats, you can teach them basic commands. Training is a great way to build a bond with your cat while increasing her level of exercise. Be sure to take your cat to the vet if you think a medical issue could be the cause of her desire to lick or chew plastic products.