Pica is the abnormal appetite for non-food materials, such as wool, fabrics, cat litter, houseplants or licking concrete or stones.
It can arise as a behavioural problem or can be the result of an underlying medical problem such as anaemia.
Behavioural pica often is a long standing problem in healthy cats or in playful kittens. They are usually seen at a clinic for vomiting and reduced appetite due to an intestinal obstruction with odd objects, or toxic substances. Behavioural pica may also increase during times of stress (e.g. new pets and moving house).
Siamese and related breeds are particularly prone to fabric eating and this is often a chronic problem starting at a young age. It is presumed that there is a genetic component to the habit and , although incompletely understood, it is thought that the endorphin release the cat experiences makes the habit addictive. Some cases are very difficult to manage and consulting a veterinary behaviourist is highly recommended.
Pica due to medical conditions
Pica can be seen in cats with chronic anaemia or intestinal problems – they consume excessive amount of grass or plant material and consequently vomit, have diarrhoea or lose weight.
Grass/outdoor plant ingestion in cats
Grass eating is common in cats. The reasons for this is not fully understood but it is suspected that grass has some beneficial effects on the stomach and intestines, including easing nausea. Grass eating is not problematic unless the is also showing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea or eating a toxic plant (i.e lilies). Some owners grow grass on trays indoors for their cats to eat – this may discourage houseplant eating in indoor cats.
Steps can be taken to prevent cats from eating odd things:
- Place wool, blankets and clothing out of reach or sight
- Hide electrical wires or protect them with cord guards
- Remove houseplants
- Use non-clay based litter or placing only shredded/torn up newspaper in litter trays.
Behavioural pica can be challenging to manage; a thorough examination and consultation with a veterinarian will help rule out common causes and allow prompt treatment.