Pica is also known as eating and/or chewing non- nutritious substances like cloth, wool or plastic bags. It’s common in oriental breeds such as the Siamese, Tokenise and Burmese, which suggests there may be a genetic component to the behaviour. John Bradshaw, in his book Cat Sense describes how wool is the most popular choice of fabric eaten, and how he observed a Siamese cat confusing a sock with food. The cat in question took the sock to their food bowl and took it in turns to eat the food and then the sock! Chewing can be a soothing oral behaviour in cats and can be stress relieving just as it can be with dogs. It’s not yet known why the chewing progresses to ingesting.
Obviously eating items such as wool can cause intestinal blockages so it’s a good idea to put items away that your cat could eat. If your cat has eaten something they shouldn’t then look out for signs of vomiting and diarrhoea or tiredness and take them to the vet.
If your cat is an indoor only cat and eats non – food items, it perhaps could be because of stress from boredom. Creating a cat friendly home and bringing the outdoors in for them may help. You can do this in a number of ways:
- Having some of their food via activity centres: Trixie and or Nina Ottoston have a wide range. Be sure if it’s the first time your cat uses one then it’s not too difficult (they have different levels 1 being the easiest) or else they may get frustrated and that’s not enriching for them!
- Shelving – cats love to climb! Catastrophic creations have some inventive ideas. There may be a customs charge for delivery to the UK though.
- Scratching posts – a corrugated cardboard one is ideal. Cats have scent glands in-between their toes and they leave their mark when they scratch creating a smell of familiarity and thus the cat feels more secure.
- A box full of leaves with their food hidden in will be enticing for your car
- Fishing rod toys that mimic real flying birds such as ‘Da Bird’. Be sure to put this away after playtime though as there is a long piece of string they could get caught up in.
There is a feline enrichment group on Facebook where people share some ideas too. If you have spoken to your vet about your cat’s behaviour and they have ruled out anything medical and you want to consult the help of a clinical animal behaviourist then ensure you pick someone who’s qualified and accredited and has testimonials (anyone can call themselves a behaviourist as it’s an unregulated profession and you don’t want to work with someone who can do more harm than good), you can consult the APBC and IABCC for members.