Unusual Cat Cravings: Why Is My Cat Eating That?

WebMD discusses odd eating behavior in cats and explains some of the reasons that might lead to unusual cravings in cats.

By Wendy C. Fries
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Reviewed by Elizabeth A. Martinez, DVM

Some cat cravings are easy to understand: Cream, catnip, mice ... we get that. But plastic bags, houseplants, wool, paper, rubber bands? Why on earth would a cat eat those? We went to the experts for insights into unusual cat cravings.

Cat Cravings: Strange Things Cats Eat

The urge to eat non-food items -- called pica -- can be pretty common in cats.

Many cats will nurse on wool, says Arnold Plotnick MS, DVM, ACVIM, a veterinary internist and feline specialist in New York. Oriental cats “are predisposed to that.” It also may appear in cats who were weaned too early. The younger a cat is weaned, the stronger its drive to nurse, and the more likely the cat is to suck on wool -- or its owner's arms, earlobes, or hair. Although some cats may only suck on such fuzzy items as wool, fleece, and stuffed animals, others progress to actually eating these fabrics.

Other cats move on to eating stranger items still, such as shoelaces, paper, plastic goods like grocery bags and shower curtains, even electrical cords, says Nicholas H. Dodman, section head and program director of Animal Behavior at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of The Cat Who Cried for Help.

What Causes Unusual Cat Cravings?

“I wish I knew the answer to that one,” Plotnick says. Cat pica may be caused by many things, experts say, including:

  • Dietary deficiencies: Some cats will eat their cat litter if they're anemic, Plotnick tells WebMD. “I've had two cases with cats with anemia, and that was one of the signs.” And although it's normal for cats to eat a little grass, eating a lot of plant material may indicate something's missing from the cat's diet.
  • Medical problems: Cat pica is also associated with feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, and it may be triggered by conditions like diabetes or brain tumors.
  • Genetic predisposition: For some cats, pica appears to be in their genes. For example, wool sucking, sometimes a precursor to pica, is seen more frequently in Siamese and Birman cats, says Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, CAAB, a certified applied animal behaviorist researching wool sucking at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Environmental factors: Is the cat bored or seeking attention? Does he need more mental or physical stimulation? “Some cats require more environmental stimulation than others,” Moon-Fanelli says.
  • Compulsive disorder: Once other possibilities are ruled out, “we start to investigate whether the behavior may be a compulsive disorder,” Moon-Fanelli tells WebMD. “We think it may have a genetic basis, because we do see it occurring more frequently in certain breeds.”

Though feline pica shows up most frequently in young cats, it can appear in older cats as well. When that happens, says Moon-Fanelli, “my first thought is, ‘Is there an underlying medical cause, or stressful changes in the environment that would precipitate this sort of behavior?'”