Help! My Cat Ate My Sweater

Some cats like to chew on strange objects.   They may actually swallow the items or just chew or suck on them.  This compulsive need to chew on or consume non-food items is known as pica.

I once knew a cat that hunted for certain kinds of fabric to suck on.  Some cats chew or suck on yarn, string, plants, plastic and electrical cords.  Any of these choices could prove fatal, if the cat actually eats them, because blood supply could be cut off to areas of the body if the non-food items ends up blocking parts of the intestines.  Many plants are toxic to cats and electrical cords – if plugged in – can kill.

Max, my late “grand-cat,”  had an obsession with plastic bags.  Any piece of soft plastic left in his reach was likely to be confiscated by Max for eating or sucking on later, and his various prizes were found in Max’s hiding places all over the house.  The cat’s veterinarian warned his owners that the big boy’s habit – or neurosis – was dangerous and to be very careful about leaving any chewable, soft plastic in his reach.  He was lucky and never suffered a problem, but it could have been a disaster.

Max and his littermates were rescued from a storm drain at about 3 weeks of age and were bottle-fed by a foster mom.  Perhaps this early separation from his mother contributed to his pica behavior.  Experts aren’t entirely certain why some cats suffer from pica, but genetics may play a part.  It is believed that young kittens separated from their mama too early may hold onto the sucking instinct from nursing and may seek that outlet from inanimate objects as they grow older.  Hyperthyroidism can lead a cat to eat dirt, cat litter, and other similar items.  Once treated and thyroid hormone levels return to normal, that cause of pica will most likely resolve itself.

Some cats are obsessed with plants.  Several years ago, my two kittens began devouring the plants on our lanai.  When Chico became ill after chewing on a philodendron, I got rid of all the plants.  Chico still chews on inappropriate objects, when he can find them.

There are some really cute  food-dispensing toys on the market to entertain and distract the cat from inappropriate behavior.  If your kitty chews fabric, spray his fabric of choice with a substance known to deter cats.  We use a bitter apple spray bought at a local pet store.

In extreme cases of pica, drugs may be prescribed by the veterinarian to calm the animal.  Feliway Plug-In Diffusers may help reduce anxiety levels.  Whatever you do, don’t punish the cat.  Just protect him from any possible harm as you seek the solution for his particular problem.

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