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Pica: The Un-Finicky Feline
By Karen Sueda, DVM
What is pica?
Pica is the act of eating non-food items. In less
serious cases, cats may chew or suck on objects,
but not actually swallow them. Common targets
include yarn or string, fabric, wool, phone or electric
cords, and plants. Any object may be a potential
Why is pica dangerous?
Other than its destructive potential, pica can be
extremely hazardous to your cat’s health if non-food
items are consumed. Ingested fabric, string, or other
materials can lodge in your cat’s stomach or intestine.
The blockage prevents the passage of food and
may cut off the blood supply to these organs. Both
are life-threatening conditions. Cats that chew on
power cords may be electrocuted. Additionally, many
common houseplants are toxic to cats; chewing or eating these plants can cause a wide
range of symptoms, from drooling to death. If your cat has a history of ingesting non-
food items and becomes lethargic, vomits, or displays other behavior that concerns you,
take him or her to your veterinarian immediately.
Why does my cat eat or chew on non-food items?
No one knows exactly why some cats exhibit pica behavior. Because pica has been
associated with a variety of diseases, including feline leukemia and feline immunodefi -
ciency virus, a veterinarian should examine any cat with pica. A genetic component is
also suspected, since wool or fabric sucking/chewing is more commonly found in Orien-
tal breeds such as Siamese cats. Although it is normal for cats to eat small amounts of
grass, consumption of large amounts of plant material may be an indication of a dietary
defi ciency or illness. Once medical causes are ruled out, behavioral reasons for pica can
include boredom, attention-seeking, attractive odors, hunger, and learned behavior.
What is the treatment for pica?
Once your veterinarian has ruled out medical causes, you can discuss what steps you
can take to modify your cat’s behavior. These may include