Why Cats Are Attracted to Plastic
There are many reasons why plastic is attractive to cats, aside from its ability to trap smells and make crackling sounds when batted about.
The most common causes of a cat licking plastic include:
- Food taste. Some cats are attracted to plastic food wrappers, most commonly those that once wrapped lunchmeat, as there may be residue from the food in the plastic. This can be especially dangerous, since cats may ingest the plastic to get to the food stored inside.
- Sound. Some cats love the crackling sounds that come from plastic bags. These high pitched sounds may mimic the noises of prey such as birds or rodents.
- Food smells. Most plastic bags are made of ethylene or ethene polymers with the most common grocery bags being 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 attracts them to bags that held appealing items such as chicken, fish, or steak.
- Chemicals. Some plastic bags are treated with stearates that 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, and the taste can be appealing to some cats.
- 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 fat, and some cats enjoy the subtle flavors in the product.
- Corn Starch. Some plastic bags are made from environmentally friendly components made to be biodegradable, including cornstarch, which cats have a natural affinity for.
- Pica. Some cats have desire to eat non-food items like plastic or metal. The medical term for this behavior is “Pica.” Some scientists believe Pica comes from a nutritional deficiency, and others believe it is a behavior in cats that were weaned too early. Regardless of the cause, it can be dangerous if the plastic is ingested.
The Danger of a Cat Licking Plastic
The biggest concern related to a cat licking plastic is the potential for ingestion. Plastic is not digestible, and when ingested can become caught in the stomach and intestines, which can cause life-threatening problems.
How To Recognize if Something is Wrong
If your cat takes an occasional lick of a bag and doesn’t ingest it, then it isn’t a big problem. However, if your cat ingests any part of the bag or their licking behavior is excessive or associated with other symptoms such as weight loss, lethargy, and diarrhea, then you should visit your vet.
If your cat is licking plastic, here are a couple more things you can try at home:
- Ensure you are feeding quality food. Ensure your cat is on a good quality American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved food for their life stage (adult, kitten, or senior). This will ensure that your cat is getting all the protein and nutrients required for their health.
- Prevent boredom. Provide plenty of playtime for your cat, and know their toy preferences. Make sure their environment is enriched with scratching posts, interesting windows to look out of, and cat trees. Cats love high perches where they can feel safe and observe their environment.
Tips For Keeping Plastic Out Of Reach
The best way to prevent a plastic 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.
- Place all plastic bags, tape, and other products made of plastic in a sealed, secure trash can.
- Communicate your concern over your cat licking plastic with everyone in your household. This can help create consistency.