Some animals develop unusual eating habits, consuming objects such as rocks, wood, plastic, strings, rubber bands, and other non-food items. This problem, called pica, is defined as the persistent chewing and consumption of non-nutritional substances that provide no physical benefit to the animal. While many cats chew on a variety of objects, only a subset actually consumes the objects. This behavior can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem, such as nutritional deficiencies, or behavioral problem, such as anxiety, boredom, or true compulsive behavior. Pica can lead to medical problems including poisoning, dental problems, and gastrointestinal obstructions.
Boredom/Lack of enrichment
When not provided with adequate exercise, mental stimulation, interactive toys, and/or social interaction, cats seek out their own activities and toys.
Cats that are anxious, such as those suffering from separation anxiety, may redirect their stress to abnormal eating behaviors. For example, some cats have been reported to initiate pica upon the introduction of new animals to the house.
Cats that are weaned early may develop nonnutritive suckling of their littermates and/or inanimate objects.
Seek veterinary help
Talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns about your pet’s nutritional needs and abnormal eating habits. If your pet’s behavior stems from a nutritional deficiency, it is important to choose a commercial diet that will provide complete nutrition. Ask your veterinarian for a close nutritional analysis and advice on good commercial diets.
Address the underlying cause of anxiety or stress
In some cases, the abnormal consumption of nonfood objects may stem from an underlying stress or anxiety. Trying to determine the cause of your pet’s angst is an important step in eliminating the behavior. To determine the source, careful observation of the behavior, including its frequency, duration, and time of occurrence are important. In many cases, the behavior may occur only while the animal is not under your supervision. In this instance, a video camera may be used to capture the act. Understanding the circumstances in which your pet feels driven to perform the behavior is important to work towards elimination.
Another important point to keep in mind is how you interact with your pet on a daily basis. Setting proper boundaries helps your pet respect you as the leader. Being conscientious about the use of rewards when interacting with your pet is important to let your pet know that he must be behaving properly and actively participating in maintaining proper behavior to gain attention and rewards from you.