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My cat has a bad and frequent habit of eating (or trying to eat) inedible items. Specifically, she tends to eat plastic trash bags, cardboard, and paper, though she is especially prone to eating the trash bags. She has been doing this since she moved in with me almost two years ago, and she has done it consistently. She is otherwise a healthy, affectionate cat, who eats all of her food and is active around the house.

The only thing I have figured out to prevent it is to either lay a very thick coating of some kind of repellent such as this, or to simply put my garbage cans in a closet.

  1. Why does she like to eat inedible things?
  2. What can I do to teach her not to?
  3. What kind of negative medical side effects can happen from this?
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Your cat is showing signs of the Pica syndrom. Pica syndrom is in short, the consumption of non-edible materials. This consumption of non-edible materials is generally meant by consumption of fabrics, or in other words objects made of plastic, rubber, wood, leather, cellophane. Paper and cardboard are arguably popular when it comes to Pica.

"Many cats will chew and tear at objects when exhibiting predatory behaviour during play but pieces are torn off and not consumed. A pica sufferer will take the chosen object in its mouth and grind repeatedly with the back molar teeth before swallowing in a sequence that can take just a few seconds. The behaviour is highly rewarding for susceptible individuals and many will go to great lengths to seek out the favoured material. It is not fully understood why sufferers appear so highly motivated to consume fabric but one theory suggests that the act of chewing causes chemicals to be released in the ‘pica brain’ producing a feeling of intense pleasure. This then becomes addictive and, if a cat is observed ‘wool eating’, the expression does appear to be one of sheer ecstasy!"

Source: link

The vast majority of the inedible objects your cat eats will not be digested properly and may lead to an obstruction. If your cat has diarrhea, vomits, or has displayed any other unnatural behaviour I would recommend going to the vet as this could be a sign of the obstruction. Also, because Pica can be a sign of an underlying medical problem, cats displaying unusual ingestive behaviour should be examined by a veterinarian. If things get more complicated, it may turn out that your cat has something else, as the symptoms are associated with craving for unusual objects, and these symptoms may be due to other illnesses/diseases. Some of them are hyperthyroidism, cancer, lead poisoning. To answer your second question, teaching her not to eat inedible objects is something you're already doing through the repellent. It may be harder to teach her through commands or showing her through gestures, as this syndrome is hard to manage. Regardless, I'd also recommend to continue locking away anything inedible that you found your cat chewing on/eating before.

A lot of guides suggest that cats could also be triggered to eat inedible objects by boredom, therefore it is important to increase environmental enrichment. Some of the ways to do that could be through introducing puzzle feeders, activity toys, scratching posts, cat trees and other forms of simulation.

Most of all, I really hope it doesn't escalate to a serious disease. I would like to wish you and your cat a lot of good luck with identifying the problem. Stay strong.

edit: I wanted to add just to clarify something - are you sure it's been like this for two years? Two years is an incredibly long time unless you've really been trying hard to lock inedible materials away.

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It can be what D.Tanya said, or it could be something a lot simpler, like hairballs. My cat starts eating plastic bags when she has a lot of fur in her stomach, and it's my cue to give her a course of malt paste, then she stops paying any attention to the plastic bags. Either way, contact a vet if it's possible. If it's Pica, it's Pica. There was at least one episode of My Cat From Hell about it, which might help you understand how to deal with it. If your vet finds lots of fur in your cat's stomach (by ultrasound or otherwise), then try giving your cat malt paste and see if it helps. If it's something else, it's something else.

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  • DO NOT give your cat malt paste. Especially chocolate malt paste. They can contain vanillin and other harmful chemicals and additive for cats. – GoldNugget8 Apr 16 '16 at 2:27
  • @GoldNugget8 Why don't you just check contents before buying something? Honestly, I've never seen malt paste that contains chocolate or vanillin. If I did, I wouldn't have bought it, because, yeah, these are harmful for cats. But don't assume all malt paste is Evil (c) just because you managed to find a bad one. – Kaworu Apr 16 '16 at 4:49
  • Sometimes it doesn't say it contains vanillin because that is a by-product of some foods, same goes for that chemical that makes chocolate toxic to cats. They don't have to list it because it causes no harm to humans. You would be surprised how many things contain toxins for cats that aren't even listed on the packaging. – GoldNugget8 Apr 16 '16 at 22:59
  • @GoldNugget8 If by "some" you mean "vanilla pods", then look for vanilla pods in the ingredients. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanillin And if you think not all ingredients have been stated, write to the manufacturer. You'll be surprised how much information a simple question will get you. Also, google guidelines for listing ingredients for pet products. – Kaworu Apr 17 '16 at 4:25

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