Cats have peculiar eating habits. Some fiend for dollar-store dry food and turn their noses up at pricey organic chow. But more peculiar is indulging in household items such as paper, plastic, fabric or even rubber bands. This tendency, called pica, can range from harmless to life-threatening.
Much like some humans, cats sometimes suffer from a compulsion called pica, the inclination to eat things that aren’t food. In cats who are weaned prematurely, pica often develops in the form of sucking fabric, or even an owner’s earlobe, as a substitute for nursing. While those behaviors are harmless -- and likely cute -- they could lead to eating dangerous items such as rubber bands later on. Even cats weaned appropriately can suffer from pica for a variety of reasons.
If a cat swallows a rubber band, the nondigestible rubber can cause a life-threatening blockage. If the band becomes lodged in his stomach or intestines, it can prevent food from passing through the cat’s system and being digested. Blood supply may become restricted from some of the cat’s organs. Blockages sometimes require expensive surgery to remove, assuming they are caught in time. If not, a cat with a serious blockage could die.
Some cases of pica have suspected genetic basis, particularly in the Siamese and Birman breeds, which are known for sucking wool. More commonly, cats are simply bored or looking for attention. On occasion, pica develops as a symptom of a more serious medical condition, such as feline leukemia or a brain tumor. Have your veterinarian rule out major medical problems if your cat starts eating inedible items.
No More Rubber
If your cat frequently turns to snacks of the rubbery variety, the safest way to ensure he doesn’t end up at the emergency vet -- after a veterinarian rules out deeper health issues -- is to keep the rubber bands on lockdown so he can’t reach them. However, because he’s bound to find one someday, or perhaps turn his tastes to another troublesome item, you should attempt to treat the cause of the compulsion. Provide your cat with an array of toys, and dedicate time to interact with him every day. Offer food and treats with a variety of textures so he has ample chance to chew his heart out. Consider a different food to rule out nutritional deficiency or low fiber. If compulsive behavior continues after these modifications, consult an animal behavior expert.