All cats have quirks and habits, some of which are harmless. But some, such as compulsive eating, can become big trouble. Worse, compulsive eating might not just involve food. Whatever your cat is eating, make sure he's not overdoing it.
Cats usually overeat because they are stressed, anxious or bored. Left to their own, some cats will wander back to the bowl and eat as long as there is food in it. This is called "free feeding" or "ad-lib feeding." Instead of always keeping food out, try feeding twice a day on a schedule. Also, playing with your cat can greatly help if he is overeating from boredom.
Dangers of Overeating
Overeating leads to chubby cats. And while they might look cute, obesity is a major problem among American cats. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reported in 2012 that 58.3 percent of domestic cats in the United States were described as obese or overweight by veterinarians. Obesity can trigger several health problems in cats, including hepatic lipidosis -- also known as fatty liver -- diabetes and arthritis.
Obsessive eating behavior is not always about food. Sometimes cats ingest non-food items. This condition is called pica. But like overeating, pica often is caused by environmental factors or is a reaction to stress. The most common expression of pica is fabric sucking, when cats compulsively chew, suckle and swallow woolens, pieces of carpet or bits of fibers. Pica is most commonly found in oriental breeds, but can show up in any cat.
Reasons for (and Dangers of) Pica
In addition to stress, pica typically occurs in cats who are weaned too soon. This leads them to augment their need to suckle by chewing or licking various materials, from clothing to rubber bands to plastic bags. Pica can also be a result of hunger, nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia or inadequate dietary fiber, diabetes or tumors. Pica can be dangerous, depending on the material. Fibers, for example, can clog a cat's digestive system. Visit your veterinarian if your cat is obsessively eating non-food items.