Why is My 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

What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips

Have you ever wondered why your cat may smack his or her lips? Cat smacking lips can be a concern of cat owners as they try to determine the possible cause. This is especially a concern if it is a new behavior or associated with other symptoms such as not eating, vomiting, lethargy, weakness and/or diarrhea.

In general, some cats are bigger “lickers” than others. Some cats lick their lips as well as their other cats in the home, lick the floor, countertops, and more. Two other questions cat lovers commonly ask is why cats may lick plastic or even why a cat would lick them. Check out these articles – Why is My Cat Licking Plastic? and Why Do Cats Lick You?

On the other hand, some cats rarely lick. It can be an equally concerning symptom if your cat has always been a good licker or groomer and then suddenly stops. This can be a sign of illness. Here is a good article that explains the normal cat licking behavior and also when to worry. Go to Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking.

What Your Cat is Telling You by Smacking Her Lips

Licking and lip licking can be normal in some circumstances. The problem is when the cat smacking their lips turns into an excessive occurrence or is caused by a behavioral or medical problem.

The causes of cat smacking lips can be caused by various problems that vary from minor to serious. The most common problems involve issues related to nausea or oral pain.

Causes of lip smacking may include:

  • Displacement Behavior. Cats sometimes lick when they are anxious which is referred to as a “displacement behavior”. For example, a cat may come into the veterinary hospital and be placed on the table. The cat may be trying to decide if they need to be aggressive or run. Some cats will relieve their stress by a displacement behavior of licking or grooming themselves for a few seconds or minutes.
  • Compulsive Disorders. Some cats may lick their lips excessively from obsessive-compulsive disorders. It is more common that cats will lick their fur.
  • Nausea. Cats that are nauseated or dehydrated can excessively lick their lips or smack their lips. Many times cats will also drool and vomiting will follow the cat lip smacking behavior. Learn more about Nausea in Cats.
  • Dental Disease. Cats with dental disease and/or oral infections can also have excessive lip licking or smacking. As dental disease advances, plaque turns to tartar. The build-up of tartar both above and below the gum line can gradually produce an environment for bacteria to grow that is destructive to the periodontal tissues. Many cats will also not eat well, lose weight and/or drool.
  • Oral Ulcers. Oral ulcerations can cause pain, lip licking, drooling and/or excessive swallowing. Ulcers can develop from oral infections, dental disease, systemic infections such as kidney disease, or from ingestion of caustic substances. Caustic products may cause oral ulcers in cats include ingestion or oral exposure to laundry or dishwasher detergent pod toxicity or liquid potpourri.
  • Something Tastes Funny. Cats that lick the floor that has cleaning chemicals, food, dirt, mold, soap, or other items can have a funny taste that can cause a cat to smack their lips.
  • Wounds. Wounds can cause cats to lick. They may smack their lips but more often you will notice they are licking a wound and sometimes pull out their fur. Learn more about My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?
  • Uncontrollable Lip Licking. Some cats can suffer from a seizure disorder that appears as chomping at the mouth, biting at the air or even excessive and uncontrollable lip licking. This is most often a “focal seizure”. Learn more about Seizures in Cats.
  • Foreign Body. A common cause of lip smacking can be that something is caught in the cat’s mouth. Common items that can be caught in the mouth can be a small piece of bone or stick. Another cause can be a plant awn getting caught in the mouth such as a foxtail.
  • Bites. Any type of bite to the face or around the lips can cause cat lip smacking. Bites can occur from other cats, insects such as spiders, horse flies, mosquitos, and/or a bee or wasp stings. Snakebites can also occur around the face and mouth and cause pain, swelling, discharge, and/or lip licking.

Other Signs To Watch For & How To Help

If you see your cat smacking lips, we recommend the following:

  • The first thing to do if your cat is licking his or her lips is to look at your cat’s overall behavior and attitude to determine if there is an underlying medical problem. Two important points include:
  • Evaluate your cat’s behavior. Is your cat nervous? Anxious? Fearful? Try to determine if the lip smacking is a message of anxiety. If your cat is in a situation that you believe may make him or her or uncomfortable, this can be a displacement behavior. You can help your cat by removing the stressor and providing environmental enrichment.
  • It is important to determine if the cat lip smacking is due to a medical problem. The best approach is to have your cat examined by your veterinarian. They may also want to know when the lip licking happens? Is it constant? Is it new? Is it only after eating? Does it occur when your cat is anxious or nervous? They will likely want to examine the skin around the face, lips, gums, teeth and a complete oral examination. They will look for any foreign body in the mouth, dental disease, and an oral ulceration. They will also want a detailed history of your cats eating patterns, food change, exposure to trash or toxins, overall appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss.

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?
Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
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

My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?

How do you deal with a cat that is licking his or her fur off? What causes it and what can you do? There are many reasons that cats lick and for the most part, these are for normal instinctual grooming reasons. However, this behavior can become excessive with behavioral problems or in response to a medical problem to the point that it leads to the cat licking their fur off. In this article, we will review why cats will lick off their fur.

If you are interested in why cats lick in general, learn more at Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking.

Some cats make a noise like they are licking their fur but they are actually just licking or smacking their lips. Learn about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips.

Why Cats Lick Their Fur So Much

Cats will lick their fur to remove odors and dirt. Much of this behavior is instinctual to remove odors that can make them vulnerable to prey. Cats can also lick other things, for example, some cats may lick you or even obsess over licking plastic. Learn more about these two behaviors in Why is My Cat Licking Plastic? and Why Do Cats Lick You?

What It Means If Your Cat Starts To Lose Fur

If a cat licks so much that they lose their fur, this is a problem. The problem can be behavioral or medical. Below we will offer some possible causes for cat’s licking their fur off.

Behavioral Causes for Cat Licking Fur Off

  • Displacement behavior. Some cats will lick their fur when stressed. This is commonly called a “displacement behavior.” A displacement behavior helps cats cope with stress by lowering their arousal level. An example is when a cat is confronted with another cat and is stressed…trying to decide if they attack, run, or hide. Some cats will respond by self-grooming, as a way to reduce their stress and tension. This generally only lasts a few minutes but not to the point that the cats licks their fur off. Sometimes displacement behaviors can turn into abnormal compulsive behaviors.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorders. Some cats will groom to extremes. It may start as a displacement behavior and if the stressor continues, can become a compulsive disorder. For example, if a cat is repeatedly bullied by another cat, they may take the displacement behavior to extremes and continue that behavior even when not in the stressful situation. Learn more about Feline Compulsive Behaviors.
  • Excessive grooming is commonly referred to as psychogenic alopecia. Clients will notice their cat licking fur off their abdomens, chest, backs or legs. Some cats will pull the hair out with their teeth and create skin wounds and ulcerations. The behavior is often associated with some new stressor in the cat’s life. Psychogenic alopecia is more common in young female cats but can occur in any cat.

Medical Causes for Cat Licking Fur Off

There are various medical causes leading to a cat licking fur off. Below are some of the most common causes.

  • Skin allergy. Some cats can suffer from a medical condition called Allergic Dermatitis. The allergy can be caused by a hypersensitivity to parasites (most commonly the flea), food, dust, pollen or mold. This can cause cats to feel uncomfortable, itch, and lick their fur off. Cats with allergies to fleas have most of their fur loss over their rear end in front of their tail, abdomen, back legs and tail. They will often also have small itchy bumps around their necks. Treatment includes trying to find the underlying cause and remove that problem. For example, if a cat is allergic to fleas, eliminate all fleas in the environment and begin flea prevention medications.
  • Wounds & Infections. There are many types of wounds that can cause loss of hair.
    Cats with wounds such as a bite wound or laceration will lick that area. They will often lick off their fur or the wound may cause the fur to fall off due to infection around the wound. Wounds can occur anywhere on the body but are often on the paws, face, neck, or around the rear end.
  • Another reason cats may lick and loose hair is from anal gland problems. Anal glands can become infected which can cause cats to lick near their rectums.
  • Ringworm, also known as Dermatophyte fungi, can cause areas of hair loss.
    Some licking may be okay but when excessive licking can delay healing and/or remove sutures that will need replacing.
  • Pain. Some cats will excessively lick their fur due to pain. Some cats with inflammation of their bladders will lick their abdomens over their bladder. Some cats will over-groom when they don’t feel well from a variety of medical problems. Some cats will continue this behavior until they feel better.
  • Parasites. Infestation with sarcoptes mange (Scabies) mite is an intensely itchy skin problem that causes fur loss of the ears, elbows, hocks, and other areas. Another mite known as Cheyletiella (also known as walking dandruff mite) causes hair loss and itching.
  • Feline Eosinophilic Granuloma Complex. The term eosinophilic granuloma complex (EGC) refers to a group of skin lesions that represent an allergic reaction in the cat’s skin. These occur in three forms, and your cat may have any or all of them. It can cause areas of hair loss that can occur on the back of the rear legs, in and around the mouth, on the upper lips, neck, shoulders, and/or on the face.

How To Help Your Cat

The best way to help your cat is to determine the cause of the problem that is causing them to lick their fur off. The best way to do this is to take your cat to your veterinarian. They will likely do or recommend some or all of the following:

  • History. Your veterinarian will obtain a thorough medical history. They will ask you questions about when this problem started when the licking fur out occurs, the degree of itching, what medications or treatments you have tried, if you are giving any medications and anything that has made the problem better or worse.
  • Examination. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and careful examination of the skin and hair. They will pay particular attention to the location of the hair loss, condition of the hair, and evaluate for any skin lesions.
  • Skin scrapings. A procedure called a “skin scraping” is commonly recommended. A sharp blade is gently scraped over the skin to collect cells to look for mites and other skin parasites. These scrapings are examined under a microscope.
  • Fungal cultures. Ringworm (dermatophytes) can cause hair loss. A culture can be performed by plucking hair from the edge of the lesion and placing it on a special culture media. A color change from yellow to red in the culture media suggests the presence of dermatophytes.
  • Trichogram. A trichogram is a test that looks at the hair under a microscope to determine if hairs are developing normally and show broken hairs which would indicate a self-induced alopecia.
  • Food trial. A hypoallergenic food trial or testing for allergens may be done to rule out allergy if the alopecia is related to pruritus.
  • A skin biopsy can be very helpful in diagnosing the cause of fur loss. One or more small pieces of skin are taken from a skin lesion and submitted to a veterinary pathologist for examination.

Once the underlying cause is known, specific treatments can be recommended to address the cat licking fur off problem.

3 Methods to Prevent a Cat from Licking Out Fur

Treating and preventing licking depends on the underlying cause of the licking. Telling the cat no can work for seconds but is not sustainable as you can not be with your cat all the time.

  • Bandage. Some wounds can be covered by bandages to prevent licking. For wounds on the torso, an infant t-shirt may do the trick. For the front half of the body, put a t-shirt on in a natural way. For wounds in the back half of the body, put the t-shirt on backward, with the tail going through the hole for the head and the rear legs going into the arms. You may have to use a strip of sticky tape to tape the bottom hem of the t-shirt to the cat to prevent the shirt from slipping. Some cats detest clothing so this may not work.
  • Topical Products. Some products such as Chew Guard®, cayenne pepper, lemon juice or Tabasco® have been used to deter licking due to the bitter taste. Some products can even safely be applied directly to the wound or placed on the bandage. Discuss the best product and plan with your veterinarian before applying any of these products directly to a wound.
  • E-Collars. The Elizabethan collar, commonly called an E-collar, are often the most effective way to prevent licking to some areas. The collar fits around the neck and looks like a lampshade that surrounds the cat’s head. This can prevent licking and pulling your cat’s fur out.

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest About Cat Licking

Why Do Cats Lick You? 
What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips 
Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
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

Why Do Cats Lick You?

Have you ever wondered why your cat licks you? Licking is a very normal behavior in cats and serves a variety of functions. Most cat licking functions have everything to do with their normal instincts and grooming behavior. To understand why cats lick you, you need to understand the normal grooming behavior of cats. In addition, there are other reasons for cats to lick that can be outside of the normal behavior or can indicate an underlying medical problem.

Normal Cats Licking Behavior

A normal healthy cat will lick to keep themselves clean and spend approximately 15% of their time grooming which is approximately three and a half hours a day grooming.

When born, kittens are licked by their mother, the queen, and to remove the amniotic sacs from around their faces and bodies. The licking also helps stimulate them to breathe and move. The queen will also chew through the umbilical cords and eat the placentas. This also creates a bond between queen and kitten.

Following birth, the queen will lick her kittens to keep them clean but also lick their abdomens and anuses to encourage them to eliminate waste (urinate and defecate) which they are unable to do without this stimulation.

As adults, cats will groom to keep themselves clean and as an instinct to protect themselves.
In the wild, cats may kill their prey leaving blood and odors on their own fur. To protect themselves, cats groom to remove any odors from killing their prey so they do not become prey to another animal. Licking and grooming is a survival instinct.

Learn more about cat licking here.

Steps in the Typical Cat Grooming Activity

According to Dr. Nick Dodman, the typical steps in the licking and grooming process of cats goes something like this:

  • Licking of nose
  • Licking of lips
  • Licking a paw until damp
  • Using that paw to clean one side of the head, ears, eyes, nose
  • Licking the other paw
  • Using that paw to clean the other side of the head, ears, eyes, nose
  • Licking each shoulder and foreleg
  • Licking the flanks
  • Licking anal and genital areas
  • Licking the hind legs
  • Licking the tail from base to tip

Why Do Cats Lick You? How Cats Show Affection

Back to the question – why do cats lick you? Once kittens have learned to groom themselves, they may then begin to groom each other which is known as “allogrooming.” This is especially common in cats that grow up together. Allogrooming is most commonly focused on the neck and head areas. Studies show that in the cat hierarchy, higher-ranking cats groomed lower-ranking cats more often. Most often the cat that is doing the grooming positions itself higher than the one that is being groomed. For example, the cat that is grooming may be standing or sitting while the cat being roomed is sitting or lying.

Cats may lick you as you are they would another cat. Most often cats will lick your hands, fingers, and sometimes hair. It is believed that as the queen licks their young, this grooms, and communicates a bond. Just as with the young, why a cat licks you can communicate a bond with you. The licking also can mark you with the cat’s scent and communicate that you are part of the cat’s territory. They are literally marking you.

Another reason some cats will lick you is that they enjoy the taste of certain lotions or creams and lick you after application.

In return, many pet owners reciprocate by combing and brushing their cats. This can be beneficial to the cat encouraging the bond and removing unwanted hair and preventing hairballs.

Other Licking

Lip licking. Some cats will lick or smack their lips. Licking lips can be a sign of nausea in cats. Some cats will lick their lips just prior to the act of vomiting. Lip licking in cats is a big concern if your cat is not eating, vomiting, and/or acting lethargic. Learn more about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips and Nausea in Cats.

Licking fur. Some cats will excessively lick their fur. This can be due to normal grooming procedures, due to parasite infestation such as fleas, from injuries such as bite wounds, or skin infections. Learn more about this – go to My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?

Licking bags. Some cats will lick inanimate objects such as plastic. Learn more about Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?

Additional Articles that May Be of Interest About Cat Licking

My Cat is Licking Her Fur Off, What Do I Do?
What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips 
Why is My Cat Licking Plastic?
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

Everything You Need to Know About Cat Licking

Some cats pretty much never seem to lick and other cats lick all the time. Cat lovers sometimes ask questions about why do cats lick and try to determine when cat licking is normal and when the licking is abnormal. Cat licking is a part of the normal maternal instinct and grooming behaviors, however, these behaviors can become excessive and abnormal.

The answer to the question if cat licking is abnormal depends on if the behavior is new, if the licking appears to be part of the normal grooming behaviors, or if the licking is associated with an underlying behavioral or medical problem.

First, let’s look at why cats lick.

Understanding Normal Cats Licking and Grooming

A normal healthy cat will lick to keep him/herself relatively clean. Most cats are fastidious and spend a significant amount of time grooming. The amount of time per day cats groom can vary substantially from cat to cat but studies suggest that cats spend approximately 15 percent of their time grooming.

  1. Cleaning. The primary reason cats lick themselves is to eliminate dirt, debris, and odors. In the wild, cats may kill their prey leaving blood and odors on their own fur. To protect themselves, cats groom to remove any odors that remain from killing their prey so they do not become prey to another animal. Cats may also want to remove other odors from their coat such as human odors. Some cats will grooms themselves immediately after you pet them to eliminate your scent and even out their own scent.
  2. Displacement behavior. Some cats will use grooming or licking as a displacement behavior. When some cats are stressed, they will cope by grooming (which gives them comfort). This displacement behavior helps cats cope with stress by lowering their arousal level. For example, if a cat is intimidated by another household animal, at some point during an encounter, the cat may stop and seemingly nonchalantly groom himself for several minutes. This behavior can turn into a compulsive disorder.
  3. Post birth grooming. After giving birth, the queen grooms herself to clear normal discharge and blood. This is an instinct to minimize odors that could attract prey.
  4. Maternal grooming. After birth, the queen immediately licks the kittens to remove the amniotic sacs from around their faces and bodies which also stimulates breathing. She will also chew through the umbilical cords and eat the placentas. This is completely normal behavior. Following birth and during the first several weeks of life, the queen will frequently lick her kittens. Licking their abdomens and anuses encourages the babies to eliminate waste (urinate and defecate). Kittens generally learn to start grooming themselves around 3 weeks of age. Often by 6 weeks of age, kittens are grooming themselves competently.
  5. Allogrooming. Once kittens have learned to groom themselves, they may begin to groom each other. This behavior is known as allogrooming. This is fairly common in cats that grow up together.
  6. Heat regulation. Licking the hair coat can help cats maintain their body temperature. During cold weather, cats may lick their fur to smooth it, which traps the air to keep them warm. During the summer months, cats may lick their fur, which evaporates and helps to keep them cool.
  7. They like it. Other cats lick…just because they like to. Some cats enjoy and find comfort in the sensation of licking.

Focused Licking

The biggest concern about cat licking is when it is excessive or focused on a particular area. Below is information on various causes of cat-licking behaviors that may be focused on one area or object.

Licking you

As kittens learn to groom themselves, they may also allogroom which means they lick and groom cats close to them. This behavior can extend to us, after all in many cases we are the kittens or cats surrogate parents, right? Learn more about Why Do Cats Lick You?

Licking lips

Licking lips or lip smacking in cats can be a sign of nausea. Some cats will lick their lips just prior to the act of vomiting. Lip licking in cats is a big concern if your cat is not eating, vomiting, and/or acting lethargic. Learn more about What it Means When Your Cat is Smacking Her Lips and Nausea in Cats.

Licking fur

Some cats will excessively lick their fur. This can be due to normal grooming procedures or be caused by parasite infestation such as fleas, from injuries such as bite wounds, or from skin infections.

Another reason cats may excessively lick an area is to comfort themselves. For example, if we hurt our wrist, we may rub it. Cats may lick at a wound or a sore area in an attempt to comfort that area. Sometimes the area may be a wound or it could be over an area that is painful. For example, some cats will excessively lick the fur on their abdomens over the location of the bladder when they have bladder pain and urinary problems or lick their carpus (wrist area) after an injury.

Stroke in Cats

A “stroke” is a term commonly applied to people who have suffered a cerebrovascular accident, commonly abbreviated as CVA, caused by cerebrovascular disease.  It was once thought to be very uncommon in cats and dogs but is now known to occur.

A stroke is caused by the disruption of blood supply to the brain that results in failure of nerve impulses to be transmitted from the brain to the rest of the body.

Neurologic symptoms develop that can be temporary or permanent.  If the symptoms persist for over 24 hours, the condition is categorized as a stroke. If the symptoms persist for fewer 24 hours, the event is categorized as a transient ischemic attack or “TIA”.

There are two types of strokes. They include:

  1. Hemorrhagic stroke – This type of stroke results from hemorrhage (bleeding) into or around the brain. This can be caused by bleeding from toxins such as rat poison, vascular abnormalities, and secondary to brain tumors, high blood pressure (hypertension), inflammatory disease of the blood vessels (vasculitis).
  2. Ischemic stroke – Ischemia is a term that means there is an inadequate blood supply to a part of the body or organ. Therefore an ischemic stroke results from a blockage of blood flow to the brain. This can be caused by parasite migration (Cuterebra), migration of cancer cells to the brain, high blood pressure (hypertension) secondary to hyperthyroidism, heart disease, or chronic kidney disease.

Signs of a Stroke in Cats

Whatever type of stroke a cat has, the symptoms that develop are determined by how much brain tissue is affected, how severely it is affected, and where in the brain it is located. Possible signs of a stroke in cats include:

  • Altered mental status e.g. disorientation
  • Circling in one direction
  • Falling over to one side
  • Head pressing
  • Head tilt to one side or another
  • Stumbling or drunken walking
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination
  • Not using the legs normally (sometimes on one side of the body)
  • Rolling
  • Unequal pupil sizes and/or abnormal eye reflexes
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Diagnosis of Stroke in Cats

Stroke in cats can affect an animal very suddenly. A very important point is that many owners may mistake a stroke for a different condition called Vestibular Disease. Learn more about Vestibular Disease in Cats.

Other disorders that result in signs similar to strokes include inner ear infections, thiamine deficiency, head trauma, middle ear polyps, middle ear cancer, brain tumors, and/or metronidazole (antibiotic) toxicity.

Diagnostic tests are needed to determine the presence of an underlying disease or cause for the stroke and to differentiate between other disorders that may be affecting the balance system of the body.

Tests may include:

  • Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination including a complete neurologic examination and complete examination of the ear canal.
  • Laboratory tests may be recommended to determine your pet’s general health and the presence of an underlying disease that may be causing the vestibular disease. Recommended tests may include:
  • Blood tests may include a complete blood count (CBC or hemogram), serum biochemistry tests to evaluate blood glucose, liver and kidney function and electrolytes, and thyroid test to evaluate for hyperthyroidism.
  • Urinalysis to help evaluate kidney function.
  • Blood clotting times (PT and PTT) may be recommended if there is suspicion of toxin exposure such as to rat poison. Read more at Anti-coagulant rodenticide.
  • Blood pressure to evaluate for hypertension.
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and abdomen may be recommended to evaluate for major diseases affecting the heart, lungs or abdominal organs.
  • Cardiac evaluation:  In cases where the heart is suspected to be the problem on the basis of the physical examination and initial evaluations, a cardiac evaluation including an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and an electrocardiogram (ECG) may be recommended.
  • Other diagnostic tests may be recommended based on the results of the history, physical examination and initial laboratory tests such as spinal tap, CT, MRI or skull x-rays.

Treatment of Stroke in Cats

The treatment for strokes in cats is largely supportive. The first 24 hours is most difficult as the symptoms are worst, providing there is not progression.

  • Management will be recommended to treat any underlying conditions. For example:
  • Blood pressure medications to treat hypertension
  • Heart medications to treat the underlying heart disease
  • Thyroid medications to treat hyperthyroidism
  • Maintaining hydration with fluid therapy
  • Encourage adequate nutrition
  • Oxygen therapy to improve oxygen delivery
  • Nursing care as needed to keep the eyes lubricated, rotating pets that are not moving from side to side, constant cleaning urine and feces, and/or warm environment to provide optimal comfort

Some cats can recover completely from stokes and others will have permanent neurological abnormalities. Little research has been done to determine the overall prognosis for strokes in cats.  The prognosis is largely dependent on the underlying cause and the ability to adequately treat those causes.

Home Care and Prevention

Call your veterinarian promptly if your pet is showing signs of a stroke. This is a frightening experience for your cat so speak calmly and soothingly. Make sure he does not injure himself and please make sure you do not get bit. Cats that are frightened or in pain may bite.

Heartworm Symptoms in Cats

Heartworm disease is an infectious disease caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis that can occur in dogs and cats but is less common in cats. An infected mosquito that bites your cat can transmit Dirofilaria immitis. Below we will give you information about heartworm symptoms as well as information about the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heartworm disease.  We will also cover other diseases that can cause similar symptoms and be confused with feline heartworm disease.

There are key differences in heartworm disease and in heartworm symptoms in cats vs. dogs. The cat is not the typical host for heartworms. It is believed that dogs get heartworm disease 10 times more commonly than cats. Many cats with heartworm disease go undiagnosed.

Heartworm disease in cats can occur in any breed and at any age. Male cats are more commonly infected and outdoor cats are at increased risk.  It is estimated that approximately one-third of cats with heartworm disease are indoors only.

The numbers of worms that develop in cats are generally much less than dogs. In fact, some cats infected with heartworms may have only one to three worms. These worms will live in pulmonary vessels and cause the symptoms we will identify below.

Heartworm Symptoms in Cats

The symptoms of heartworm disease in cats can be vague to critical. Some cats will appear normal on physical examination while others will have a history of vomiting, a cough, trouble breathing, or even sudden death.

Symptoms of heartworm disease in cats may include:

  • Coughing (dry)
  • Coughing up blood
  • Difficulty or trouble breathing – Learn more about How to Recognize Fluid in a Cat’s Lungs
  • Increased respiratory effort
  • Occasional vomiting
  • Sudden death
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Collapse or fainting
  • Decreased activity or playfulness
  • Sleeping more
  • Abnormal neurologic symptoms such as seizures, circling, blindness, trouble walking or incoordination
  • Sudden death – Learn more about Sudden Cat Death: Understanding Why it Happens

Why and How Cats Get Heartworms

The following are the steps of how a cat can get heartworm disease:

  1. Transmission of heartworms to a cat occurs when a mosquito bites an infected dog or cat and ingests heartworm larvae (baby heartworms) that live in the bloodstream. The parasite is known by the scientific name of Dirofilaria immitis.
  2. The infected mosquito then bites a normal healthy cat and when this happens some of the larvae are injected under the skin.
  3. Over the following 3 to 4 months, the larvae grow in the cat and eventually make their way into the heart where they develop into adult worms.  As little as 2 or 3 worms can be fatal to an adult cat.
  4. The process is then ready to repeat itself.

Figure 1. Graphic of a heart with heartworms in the heart and pulmonary blood vessels. The heartworms appear as light colored thin spaghetti type structures. This heart shows many heartworms. Cats with heartworms may only have one to three worms.

 

 

 

 

 

Other Diseases that Can Look Like Heartworm Disease in Cats

Many cat owners are concerned that their cat has heartworm disease when they see signs of difficulty breathing or labored breathing. Trouble breathing in cats can be caused by heartworm disease but it is more common for the cause to be from heart disease or feline asthma.

Causes of heart disease in cats include Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats, Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Cats and Chronic Valvular Heart Disease. The increased respiratory effort associated with heart disease is often caused by pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) or pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) that is secondary to congestive heart failure.

There are several causes of an enlarged heart in cats. Learn more about What Does an Enlarged Heart Mean for Cats?

Asthma in cats, also known as “Feline Allergic Asthma” or “Feline Allergic Bronchitis”, and is a lung condition associated with airway obstruction caused by sudden narrowing of the bronchial tubes. These symptoms are caused by the spasmodic constriction of the bronchial tubes and increased production of secretions from the bronchial tree. Some cats may have an acute onset of signs while other cats may have signs that come and go. Common symptoms in cats include coughing, difficulty breathing, increased respiratory effort, fast respiratory rates, wheezing breathing, lethargy, weight loss, weakness, withdrawing from social activities around the house, and/or an abnormal posture. As some cats struggle to breathe, they may sit with their head extended and elbows back.

Diagnosis of Heartworm Disease in Cats

Tests that can diagnose heartworm disease in cats include serum heartworm antibody test, serum heartworm antigen test, and or Microfilaria test (looking for larva in the blood).

What Does an Enlarged Heart Mean for Cats?

An enlarged heart in cats is a common sign of heart disease.  There are several types of heart disease that can occur in cats and the different diseases can cause special structural changes in the heart. Below we will review the signs of an enlarged heart in cats, causes of an enlarged heart, tips for diagnosis of the underlying heart disease, and what you can do at home.

Signs of an Enlarged Heart in Cats

Signs of heart disease can vary depending on the severity of the disease. In early stages of heart disease, cats can appear normal. Some cats will have very subtle symptoms that may progress over time. Signs of heart disease in cats may include:

  • Noisy, difficult, open-mouthed breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate and/or increased respiratory effort (using abdominal muscles to breath)
  • Posture of help breathing such as squatting or lying with chest down, head extended and elbows pointed outward and back
  • Anorexia or lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Sleeping more
  • Decreased social interactions with the family or other cats
  • Sudden inability to use one or more limbs and crying
  • Coughing (rare in cats, common in dogs)
  • Fainting
  • Your vet may auscultate a murmur- learn more about Murmurs in Cats. This is a very good article written by a veterinary cardiologist.

Some pet owners may attribute the subtle changes associated with heart disease in cats to changes to age in older cat or maturity in younger cats. As the heart disease progresses, there may be progressive weight loss, trouble breathing which can cause an increased breathing (respiratory) rate or increased effort. If you believe your cat has an enlarged heart or is having any difficulty breathing or is in pain, please see your veterinarian immediately.

Heart disease can be a cause of sudden and unexpected death.   Learn more about Sudden Cat Death: Understanding Why it Happens.

Causes of Enlarged Hearts in Cats

There are several causes of an enlarged heart in cats. They may include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is common heart condition in cats characterized by a thickening of the main pumping chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) and not attributed to other medical conditions (such as high blood pressure). It can, in severe cases, cause heart failure when fluid accumulates in the lungs. Blood clots can form in the heart and travel to distant blood vessels obstructing blood flow to one or more limbs (especially the back legs). This is called a thromboembolism and can cause severe pain while having the inability or difficulty using one or more legs. HCM can be mild to life-threatening. Learn more about Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) in Cats.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in cats is a heart disease characterized by dilation or enlargement of the heart chambers and markedly reduced contraction. The heart muscle is often very thin and the ability of the heart to pump is diminished. An analogy of a normal functioning ventricle would be opening and closing your fist/hand completely. Using this analogy, the ventricle of a cat with dilated cardiomyopathy will only have a fraction of that full movement such as only the fingers moving slightly toward your palm but no full squeeze.  Some cats will have only one part of the heart involved or advanced case can cause all four heart chambers to be abnormally affected. Learn more about Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Cats.
  • Another heart disease that may affect cats is Chronic Valvular Heart Disease.  Valvular heart disease (VHD) is a condition characterized by degeneration and thickening of the heart valves. Valvular heart disease is more common in dogs but can also occur in cats. The abnormal values can cause an enlarged cat heart and can eventually lead to heart failure. Accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or the abdomen (ascites) may occur.
  • Feline heartworm disease is caused by a parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, that is transmitted by mosquitoes.  Heartworm disease is less common in cats than dogs but can occur. Heartworm disease can cause an enlarged heart in cats. It can be diagnosed by blood tests and advanced testing such as an echocardiogram (Echo). Learn more about Heartworm Symptoms in Cats. This article has information about feline heartworm disease.
  • Congenital heart disease is a term used to describe abnormalities in the heart that develops before birth. There are many different types of defects that can affect different parts of the heart. These diseases can cause an enlarged heart in cats. The best way to diagnose congenital heart disease in cats is with an Echocardiogram performed by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist.

How Enlarged Hearts in Cats are Diagnosed

An enlarged heart in cats can be diagnosed by the following methods:

  • Chest X-rays – Also known as thoracic radiographs or X-rays of the chest, a chest X-ray can identify heart enlargement and fluid accumulations in or around the lungs. Chest X-rays can also be useful in excluding a number of other diseases.
  • Echocardiogram – Also known as an ultrasound examination of the heart or an “echo”, is the most sensitive diagnostic test that can determine not only if the heart is enlarged but also which part of the heart is abnormal and the severity of the disease. The echocardiogram can also determine if the underlying cause of the enlargement is from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, alveolar heart disease, dilated cardiomyopathy and heart deformities (congenital heart disease).  In summary, the echocardiogram can establish the diagnosis of the enlarged heart and provide useful information about and heart muscle function. This test often requires referral to a specialist such as a veterinary cardiologist. The experience of a specialist can be vital to determining the underlying cause for the enlargement to provide the best information to guide treatment and understand the prognosis.

Homecare: What You Need to Do at Home

Please see your veterinarian for all routine physical examinations and follow-up testing.  If your cat is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, it is critical to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for additional testing such as the ones listed above. Chest x-rays and an echocardiogram can be important to determine the underlying cause for the enlarged heart which will help determine the best treatment options and help you understand the prognosis.  Referral to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist is often the best option to optimize your cats care.

High Blood Sugar in Cats

There are three common ways that pet owners can identify high blood sugar in cats. Methods may include recognizing clinical signs of hyperglycemia (which we will describe below), measuring the blood glucose, and/or evaluating the urine glucose level.

  1. Clinical signs of high blood sugar. Cats with hyperglycemia secondary to diabetes generally have a history of obesity, lack of appetite (anorexia), vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, increased thirst and increased urination.  The classic signs are drinking more and urinating more. Some cat owners don’t notice the “urinating more” but will notice that there are more piles of urine in the box or that the litter box is heavier when changing it out. They may also notice their cat at the water bowl more often or that they are filling up the water bowl more frequently. Some pet owners don’t notice these changes, especially if there are multiple caregivers in the house doing similar tasks such as filling water bowls or cleaning the litter boxes.
  2. Blood glucose test. The best way to identify a high blood glucose is to have your veterinarian perform blood work. A routine biochemical profile (also called blood chemistry panel) will provide a blood glucose measurement as well as kidney values, protein levels, liver values, and electrolytes. It may be ideal to determine the kidney function because kidney disease can cause symptoms that are similar to diabetes in cats. You can also obtain a single blood glucose level with a glucometer at the vet clinic or at home.  Although not easy to do at home in most cats, some pet owners are able to check their cat’s blood glucose at home. Here are some tips of how to do this at home – go to Home Monitoring of the Diabetic Cat with a Glucometer.
  3. Urine test. When the blood glucose concentration exceeds the kidney’s ability to handle it, glucose can be present in the urine. In cats, the blood glucose concentration that allows for urine glucose is 260 to 310 mg/dL. It can be difficult to catch a urine sample at home but some cat owners empty the litter box except for shredded paper and are able to catch the liquid and perform a urine glucose dipstick. There are some litters or confetti-type flakes that go on the litter that can help detect urine glucose.  Learn more about Urine Glucose Testing.

Diabetes in Cats

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is the most common cause of persistent high blood sugar in cats. It is a chronic condition in which a deficiency of the hormone insulin. This impairs the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus.

  • Type I DM occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin. This can be the result of destruction of the cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. This form is identified in approximately 50 to 70 % of cats diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. This form does not produce enough insulin and requires insulin injections to control the disease.
  • Type II DM occurs when enough insulin is produced but something interferes with its ability to be utilized by the body. This form is identified in approximately 30% of cats with diabetes mellitus. This type of diabetes is treated with dietary management, weight control, and oral drugs.

 

Learn more about Diabetes in Cats and insulin injection in cats.   Diabetes can get out of control causing a severe syndrome of life-threatening symptoms called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA).  Dietary therapy is very important. Learn more about Diets for Diabetic Cats.

If you believe your cat has a high blood glucose, is not eating, vomiting, lethargic, or you have any other concerns, please see your veterinarian. We hope this article helps you know more about high blood sugars in cats.

Additional Articles of Interest Relating to Sick Cats and Diabetes in Cats:

How to Recognize Fluid in a Cat’s Lungs

Cats can have various medical problems that can cause difficulty breathing. Cat owners commonly want to know how to recognize if there is fluid in a cat’s lung. The medical term for the accumulation of fluid in the lungs is pulmonary edema. Fluid in a cat’s lung can be caused by congestive heart failure, trauma, or potentially by an infection such as pneumonia. In this article, we will review signs of trouble breathing in cats and possible causes for fluid in cats lungs and other signs of trouble breathing.

Difficulty breathing, or “shortness of breath”, is commonly referred to by the medical term “dyspnea”. This can manifest in cats as an increased respiratory rate, increased respiratory effort (working harder to take breaths), open mouth breathing, and/or an abnormal posture to breath. Cats that have fluid in their lungs or have difficulty breathing may sit with their head and neck extended with the elbows back (see figure 1).

Cat dyspneaFigure 1. Cat with slight trouble breathing from fluid in lungs. This cats elbows are back and neck slightly extended. Some cats may have their next extended more as the difficulty progresses. 

Difficulty breathing can occur at any time during a cat’s breathing process, during inspiration (breathing in) or expiration (breathing out).

Figure 2. This cat is having severe trouble breathing due to fluid in lungs. This cat’s neck is slightly extended and he is very weak. He is also open mouth breathing. This cat has congestive heart failure from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

 

 

 

There are many different reasons a cat can have difficulty breathing. When a cat has trouble breathing, he may not be able to get an adequate supply of oxygen to tissues. For example, there can be airway problems from asthma, a foreign body in the airway causing an obstruction, an infection, or accumulation of fluid (edema) in the lungs, bruising of the lungs (pulmonary contusions), or an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity (Pleural Effusion in Cats).

Why Cat’s Lungs Fill With Fluid

Fluid in a cat’s lung can be caused by several different diseases. The problems are often categorized by those caused by underlying heart problems (cardiogenic) and those not caused by a heart problem (non-cardiogenic).

Cardiogenic Causes

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition resulting from the heart’s inability to sufficiently pump blood to adequately to meet the body’s needs. This failure leads to an increased respiratory effort caused by fluid in or around cat’s lungs. Two common heart diseases that cause congestive heart failure are Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats and the other is Dilated Cardiomyopathy in Cats. These diseases can cause lethargy, weakness, lack of appetite, and decreased exercise capacity. Most cats won’t eat when they can’t breathe well.

Non-Cardiogenic Causes

  • Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that usually results from a bacterial infection. The most common way a cat acquires pneumonia is by inhalation. Cats with pneumonia may suffer from a compromised immune system. Pneumonia can occur at any age but is more common in kittens or senior pets.  Learn more about Pneumonia in Cats.
  • Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells on or within the body. Cancer is common in cats and the risk of cancer increases with age. In fact, cancer accounts for almost half of the deaths of pets over 10 years of age. Cancer may be localized, or it may invade adjacent tissue and spread throughout the body. Cancer can develop in the lungs, spread to the lungs, or occur in tissues near the lungs that lead to fluid in the lungs or around the lungs. Intact (non-spayed) female cats are predisposed to breast cancer (metastatic mammary carcinoma).
  • Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) are amongst the most common conditions that occur in cats and kittens.  Signs can range from sneezing, running eyes, inflamed conjunctiva, ulcers in the mouth, and/or trouble breathing. Learn more with this article –  Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infections.
  • Head trauma can occur in cats from being hit by a car, crushed in a recliner, bites from other animals, or other kinds of trauma. Some cats with head trauma can develop lung inflammation that causes fluid in the lungs.  Learn more about Head Trauma in Cats.
  • Electrocution or electric shock results in injury to nerve cells from the intense heat generated as the electricity passes through the body tissues. The most common source of electrical injury to cats is when they bite electrical cords carrying low voltage household currents. This is most common in young playful cats and kittens. Exposure to high voltage electrical current is uncommon and is usually fatal due to massive internal damage. Learn more about electric shock in cats.
  • Seizures, also known as fits or convulsions, are a sudden excessive firing of nerves in the brain. It results in a series of involuntary contractions of the voluntary muscles, abnormal sensations, abnormal behaviors, or some combination of these events. A seizure can last from seconds to minutes in cats. Seizures are symptoms of a neurological disorder but are not a disease in themselves. Some underlying causes of seizures in cats include inflammatory brain diseases, brain tumors, symptoms from toxins, or epilepsy. Learn more about Seizures in Cats.
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and acute lung injury (ALI) are severe respiratory diseases that can occur in cats. These diseases are well characterized in human medicine but less well understood in cats.  Complex changes occur that leads to cellular inflammatory changes that cause progressive trouble breathing and sometimes fluid accumulation in the lungs. This most often occurs in cats with infections or pneumonia.

Disease Commonly Confused with Fluid in Cat’s Lungs

There are other diseases that can be confused with those that cause fluid in cat lungs.  One problem that comes is Feline Asthma.