Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?

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cat licking plastic

Have you ever seen a cat or your cat licking plastic? The truth is that some cats love plastic! Many cat owners wonder why their cat may lick plastic but also wonder if it is dangerous. We will answer both of these questions in this article.

Why Cats Are Attracted to Plastic

There are many reasons why plastic may be attractive to cats. Some reasons have to do with how the bags hold odors, ingredients in the plastic bags that may attract, and the sound the plastic makes. Below are the most common causes of a cat licking plastic include:

  • Food wrappers. Some cats are attracted to plastic food wrappers and most commonly those that once wrapped lunchmeat. There may be residues of food in the plastic that they can lick. This is especially dangerous because if there is food in a crack, a cat can sometimes begin to eat the plastic.
  • Sound. Some cats love the little crackle sounds that come from plastic bags. The high pitched sounds may mimic the sounds of little prey such as birds or rodents. Cats love to mimic chasing prey and are commonly how they play.
  • Food smells. Most plastic bags are made of ethylene or ethene polymers with the most common grocery bag specifically made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE). This type of bag is very absorbent of odors and commonly takes on the odors of the products they hold. Cats have an amazing sense of smell that can attract them to many bags that held appealing items such as chicken, fish or steak.
  • Chemicals. Some plastic bags are treated with stearates which are derived from the saturated fatty acid that can be found in oils, vegetables, and animals. Stearates give bags the ability to float on water. They are not toxic but the taste can be appealing to some cats, leading to a cat licking plastic.
  • Animal Fat. Many types of plastic bags are made with “slip agents” which are used to reduce friction in the product. These agents are frequently made from beef tallow which is a beef fat. Some cats enjoy the subtle tastes in the product.
  • Corn Starch. Some plastic bags are made from environmentally friendly components made to be biodegradable. One of these ingredients used in plastic bags includes cornstarch. This ingredient can be appealing to some cats.
  • Pica. Some cats desire to eat non-food items such as plastic or metal. The medical term for this behavior is “Pica”. Some scientists believe Pica is from a nutritional deficiency and others believe it is a behavior created from cats that are weaned too early. Regardless of the cause, it can be dangerous if the plastic is ingested.

The Danger of Cat Licking Plastic

The biggest concern with a cat licking plastic is if the licking turns to eating. Plastic is not digestible and when ingested can become caught in the stomach and the intestines which can cause a life-threatening problem. This can require surgery. An article that might be helpful is Gastrointestinal Foreign Bodies in Cats.

How To Recognize if Something is Wrong

If your cat takes an occasional lick of a bag and doesn’t ingest it, then it probably isn’t a big problem. However, if your cat ingests any part of the bag or the licking plastic behavior is excessive or associated with other symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea or any other abnormalities, then it is time to worry.

If you believe your cat licking plastic is excessive or you have concerns, the safest thing to do is to see your veterinarian. They will likely do a physical examination and possibly blood work on your cat to evaluate for any underlying medical problem.

Some cats may lick plastic because of boredom or nutritional deficiencies. If your cat is licking plastic, here are a couple more things you can do.

  1. Ensure you are feeding quality food. Ensure your cat is on a good quality AAFCO approved food for her life stage (adult, kitten or senior). This will ensure that your cat is getting all the protein and nutrients required for your cat’s health.
  2. Prevent boredom. Provide plenty of play time for your cat and know your cat’s toy preference. Make sure her environment is enriched with scratching posts, interesting windows to look out, potentially bird feeders to watch, and some cat trees. Cats love high cat trees or perches where they can feel safe and observe their environments.

Tips For Keeping Plastic Out Of Reach

The best way to prevent a problem with your cat is to keep plastic away from your cat. Things that can help include:

  • Request paper over plastic bags if you have a choice at your local store.
  • If you take home products in plastic bags, once you unpack them be diligent in safely storing them away after unpacking the bags.
  • Place all plastic bags, tape and other products made of plastic in a sealed secure trash can.
  • Communicate your concern over cat licking plastic with everyone in your home. This can help create consistency.

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest About Cat Licking

Why Do Cats Lick You? 
My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?
What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips 
What is Pet Insurance?
How Does Pet Insurance Work?
When is the Best Time to Get Pet Insurance for Your Cat?
Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Vet
How to Have a Trauma-Free Veterinary Visit for Your Cat

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