May 1, 2019

Feline Pica: What You Need to Know

Ever heard of pica? It’s the medical term for the behavior of eating substances that aren’t intended to be food. Humans can have pica – it’s especially common among pregnant women – but so can animals like cats and dogs. Feline pica is actually one of the most common reasons cat owners go to the vet.

Pica: A Common Cat Affliction

The urge to eat non-food items in cats can be strong. It’s no secret that cats generally do what they want! If a cat has pica, it’s probably been practicing the behavior for some time. For cats, pica can serve a variety of purposes: to soothe, to entertain, or even to attempt to satisfy some dietary craving. For cat owners, pica can be frustrating, unappetizing, and even worrisome. Pica is a little more common in younger cats but it can occur in cats of any age. Some experts say that certain breeds of cats, particularly Oriental and Siamese cats, are predisposed to pica. Cats with the condition can eat a wide variety of non-food items like plants (grass), yarn, wool, clothing, and even electrical cords.

Symptoms and Causes of Feline Pica

How can you tell if your cat is eating things he shouldn’t be eating? Of course, the most reliable way to diagnose pica is to catch your cat in the act. If you don’t spend 24 hours a day with your cat, this can be difficult. Since pica can cause ill-effects, a few symptoms that might be an indication of the condition include constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, or lethargy. Why does your cat do this if it’s bad for his health? Feline pica is still a bit of a mystery, even to vets, and its root cause varies from cat to cat. A few of the most commonly-hypothesized reasons cats get pica include:

Behavioral Disorder: Pica is a learned behavior that cats do out of boredom, stress, or to satisfy a primal urge (such as to relive the sensation of nursing as a kitten).

Dietary Needs: Pica occurs in cats whose dietary needs aren’t being met, resulting in hunger, mineral deficiency, vitamin deficiency, or a lack of fiber.

Feline Disease: Pica is a symptom of an underlying disease such as FIV, hyperthyroidism, anemia, feline leukemia, dental disease, diabetes, and others.

Treating Feline Pica

Do you suspect your cat has pica? If you’re very concerned or if your cat’s health seems to be affected, call a vet immediately. Your cat’s doctor can perform a variety of tests to determine whether a physical condition could be to blame. There are a few things to try if you want to treat your cat’s pica yourself. First, remove any objects he might want to chew on including cords, rugs, blankets, or houseplants. If you must, provide him some objects that are safe to chew on such as indestructible toys. Be sure to give your cat at least 30 minutes of play a day to keep him happy, not bored. Lastly, talk to your vet about whether or not your cat’s diet may be lacking. Switching out his food may be an easy solution to the persistent problem of pica! 

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