My Cat Eats Everything in Sight

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, discusses a condition called pica, which should be taken seriously.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: Feb. 13, 2009, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: I have had my Birman cat Chloe for almost four years now. She is the most lovable cat I have ever had. She has no fear of anything and welcomes everyone into our house. She is the perfect pet except for one very annoying behavior problem. She chews everything! Our couch pillows always have corners chewed off of them; hence, we have no more pillows. She chews holes in our towels, clothes and blankets. If we leave a photograph out, she chews holes in it. I took her to the vet and he checked her teeth and said she was very healthy. He suggested we pick everything up. Impossible! As I said, she chews everything! As I am folding laundry, she will grab the socks and underwear and try to chew them.

We love her very much but she definitely makes keeping a house in order very hard!

A: Chloe has pica. Pica is ingesting items that are inedible. Pica has to be taken very seriously because it is possible for cats to swallow items that can cause obstructions and require surgery. One of my clients has a cat who required surgery after eating a pillow; another became seriously ill after eating a wooden window shutter. Arnold Plotnick, DVM, wrote an article in November’s CAT FANCY about a cat who ate rubber hair bands, a surgical towel, ribbon and paper.

There are many possible reasons for pica; some are medical and dietary others are behavioral. It is mandatory to take a cat to a veterinarian for a thorough evaluation if she has pica. Cats suffering from behavioral-caused pica are often prescribed a course of medication coupled with a consultation from credentialed cat behaviorist. The cat behaviorist will be able to provide behavior-modification recommendations.

Picking up items around the house that the cat might eat is a necessity. If you have a cat like Chloe, who eats everything, that can be a challenge. Along with the environmental management, there are some other activities that will help Chloe with her pica issues.

Start by providing her with healthy, safe items to chew. A couple of these items should include dental chew toys and turkey or chicken jerky that contain no spices (there are some available that are formulated specifically for cats and dogs). There are other acceptable chew items as well.

Provide Chloe with lots of environmental enrichment and interactive toys. Buy or make her tall cat trees that have lots of wide shelves. Locating them next to secure windows will provide her with entertainment. Turbo Scratchers and wooden puzzle boxes are a couple of good choices for interactive toys. The toys need to be made of materials that she can’t munch.

Put Chloe on a schedule. She needs consistency. Feed her at the same times every day. I encourage feeding her lots of small meals throughout the day. Since that is a challenge for most people, consider buying her a timed feeding station. There are a couple of models that dispense canned food; others dispense dry food.  Consider not putting her dry food in a bowl. Instead put her dry food in treat balls. Treat balls are hollow plastic balls with holes in them. In order to eat, she’ll have to work for the food by rolling the ball around. If she likes to be groomed, then groom her every day at the same time. Play with her, using a fishing pole toy a couple of times during the day, always around the same times. Clicker training is another activity that can refocus Chloe away from eating your house and everything in it.

Editor's Note: Marilyn Krieger will be interviewed about cat behavior by Ronn Owens at 8 a.m. EST Friday, Feb. 13, on KGO-810 AM radio. The interview will be streamed on the radio's web site.


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Reader Comments

Kat    Altoona, PA

1/27/2015 1:57:43 AM

I AM SO FRUSTRATED! I have a 2 1/2 year old male cat who started eating nylon leashes about a year ago. He has now graduated to HUGE HOLES in an irreplaceable blanket, my socks, washcloths, etc. I can't put a towel in his pet carrier because he will devour it. At night I kennel him because I can't keep an eye on what he is doing and twice he has managed to haul things into the kennel through the holes! He was with his mother until he was six months old, so it's not because he was weaned too early. He lives indoors with four other cats, who don't have this problem at all. Bitter Apple spray, red pepper, etc. have absolutely no effect on him. I CAN'T KEEP LIVING THIS WAY!

Joan    New York, NY

11/21/2013 2:18:28 PM

I read that there are no known cures for cat pica because we do not know what causes it. There are sometimes - I repeat SOMETIMES - ways to alleviate it somewhat.

If a cat has this problem it is not uncommon that the cat must undergo operations over and over again, which is painful and not inexpensive.

Adriana    Parkland, FL

6/22/2011 5:18:40 AM

My cat is an almost 4 year old female and she just recently started eating lintel bits that she scratches off of a basket that I have in my room. (She started scratching the basket the first day I got it though, but only now started eating the little bits that fall to the floor) She is a healthy cat and eats well and has only thrown up once in the past few weeks which I suppose could be caused by the eating of the lintel. What should I do? Is the lintel a serious danger for her? She doesn't chew other things, it's just the lintel (and eventually my toes at night in bed haha) Help?

D.B.    Montclair, NJ

2/11/2011 3:14:17 PM

My cat also eats and chews everything in sight and has almost set the house on fire more than once by eating through cords. In fact, there isn't a cord of any kind in the house that does not have his teethmarks on it (unless we just replaced it). He also ingests large amounts of wool or wool-like material, fringes on pillows, fingers on gloves, etc. He lives happily with another cat and two sweet dogs, eats well, is healthy and sweet. I give him chew treats, toys, things to stimulate and distract him, have tried dietary changes, valium and other behavioral drugs, letting him out, keeping him in. Bitter apple, sprayed daily, does not deter him. Of course we pick up and hide things as much as we can, but we can't hide every cord in the house. It's easier to make sure clothing, scarves, et al are put away, but if a guest comes and put down a pair of gloves for a moment, he's at 'em. Or, if we drop a sock out of the laundry pile... gone. We have been trying to solve this problem for over 3 years and are ready to give up. We live in fear of costly emergency surgery, finding him dead from a shock, or having the house go up in flames. Does anyone, anyone have any ideas or information about how to help?

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