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Recently I adopted a female cat, a little over a year and two months old, as a companion for my male cat. The introduction was smooth and they got along very quickly. However, this new cat would always eat anything that smells or looks remotely similar to food.

For example, we are feeding them separately behind doors now. When she comes out to the other side after feeding time, she sniffs where the other cat ate, and she would pick up pieces of carpet and eat them. I noticed this behaviour after about a week into the adoption, it's too late because she seems to have already developed the habit of pulling random pieces of carpet out, around the whole house, and eat them.

I put down a placemat on the dining table when I have my meals. The other day, after I ate and did the dishes, my cat jumped up the counter and chewed up the corner of the placemat (which is made of plastic), while I was at the shower. Maybe it still smells like food, maybe she knows I ate there and hoping there was still food on it, I don't know.

Other problems including
- chewed up phone charger cable
- licking blankets
- went up the kitchen counter and licked our drying dishes
- went up the the kitchen counter, stuffed her face down the drain to try getting food out of the garbage disposal

To combat some of the problems, we put aluminium foil/tapes around the kitchen counter, but gradually she realized it wasn't gonna hurt her, so she persisted.

I tried distracting her when she started to sniff around/eat random things, but as soon as play time is over, and I turned around, she started scavenging again, no matter how tired she was.

When we adopted her from the humane society, they said that she was found as a stray, so some of the behaviours are understandable. However, we made sure to feed her enough. In fact, she has gained quite a bit of weight since she got her, so she is definitely not starving, so I'm not sure how to deal with this problem anymore. It seems she is constantly scavenging for food, and if anything remotely smells/looks like food, she'll try to eat it. Any advice would be appreciated!

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There are many reasons for this to happen, and many ways to try and fix this. I'll try to list all that I can think of:

1. Medical reasons

Compulsive eating (especially of non-foods) can be an indication of medical issues. Consult a vet.

2. The cat may be stashing up

Our latest addition was a rescue cat who lived on the street and was clearly malnourished.

For weeks after his intergration into the household, he would eat anything remotely edible, both to fill up while he can (on the street, he can't be sure when the next meal will be) and possibly to feel full (staving off feeling hungry).

Other problems including
- chewed up phone charger cable
- licking blankets
- went up the kitchen counter and licked our drying dishes
- went up the the kitchen counter, stuffed her face down the drain to try getting food out of the garbage disposal

While our cat didn't do these specific things, if my girlfriend were to claim that he did these things, I would believe her without hesitation. His behavior is pretty consistent with your description.

At our vet's suggestion, we made food amply available. Literally more food than he coud possibly eat.
It was okay for him (since he needed to recover from the malnourishment), but the vet OK'd it knowing that it'd increase the meal size for our other cats.

Consistently overfeeding is not okay, but a temporary boost can solve more problems than it causes.

  • The newcomer could catch up on missed meals
  • The other cats would be happier because they get more food, which makes them more willing to socialize with him due to not fighting over the availability of food.
  • More importantly, the newcomer would not eat food substitutes, if he has real food available.

Over time, his standards for food increased, and he now only eats actual cat food (and tries to eat our food, but at least no more non-foods).

3. Chewing exercises

This is a bit of a weird one, but one of our cats has a habit of grinding her teeth. I've never seen a cat do that before, but according to the vet it's very common; except that it usually manifests as the cat biting other things, rather than grinding their teeth.

We had also noticed that both cats ate cardboard. On closer inspection, they never swallowed the cardboard. They ripped a piece off, chewed on it, and spat it out. It was their chew toy.

We decided to allow the cardboard chewing. I've also bought them hard treats (specifically for dental hygiene), and I've noticed that they chew less cardboard when they have the hard treats.

4. Prevention

If all else fails, and you can't deal with the destroyed items, it's time to cat-proof the items.

  • Lemon juice, or any type of strong citrus, is not something cats like. You can also use e.g. wet wipes with lemon scent, it doesn't need to be natural.
  • Cats respond similarly negatively to vinegar.
  • From experience, the smell of coffee works too. Although it intially draws their attention, I've never seen such a strong avoidance after they get a good whiff of it.

You can also train them to avoid specific misbehavior, but this takes time, and you'll likely not want to buy a new charger cable constantly while they're learning. Training cats is possible, but it's a slow process.

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