What is Pica?
A feline with a mild case of pica may suck or lick on inedible objects, but not actually consume said object. However, in severe cases of pica, the feline will consume the object entirely, posing a risk for intestinal blockage, tearing of the digestive tract, toxicity, and electrocution. Common target objects for feline pica include; plants, electric cords, phone cords, wool, fabric, string, or yarn. The cause behind pica is unknown, however, disease and behavioral disorders are thought to be the underlying cause behind this unusual behavior. Oriental cat breeds, such as the Siamese cat, are commonly affected by pica and it is believed to be a genetic disposition.
If your cat licks, sucks, or consumes objects around the home that are not food, she could be suffering from a condition called pica. Pica in cats is the act of eating objects that are not food. Eating non-food items can be very dangerous to a cat, as chewing on electrical cords can cause a feline to be electrocuted, and plant consumption can be toxic. Other inedible objects, such as clothing, can block the intestine and prevent food from passing. Pica is a serious behavioral issue that can become fatal if not addressed by a veterinarian.
Symptoms of Pica in Cats
Pica in cats only has one clinical sign and that is consumption of inedible objects. Common target objects for feline pica include; plants, electric cords, phone cords, wool, fabric, string or yarn. Felines with a mild case of pica may not consume the object, but chew, lick or suck on said inedible object. Secondary conditions of pica in cats may include:
- General listlessness
- Decreased appetite
Causes of Pica in Cats
Research is still being conducted to find the exact cause of pica in cats, but veterinarians have linked the behavioral condition to several possible causes including:
- Feline immunodeficiency virus
- Feline leukemia
- Dental disease
- Brain tumor
- Oriental cat breeds
- Siamese cats
- Learned behavior
- Lack of fiber
- Mineral deficiency
- Vitamin deficiency
Weaning a kitten too early
Diagnosis of Pica in Cats
The diagnosis of pica in cats begins with an exchange of notes between the veterinarian and the pet owner. You will be asked to explain the behavior your cat has been exhibiting, what he or she seeks out as a target to consume, and the duration of this behavior. As pica can be caused by stressful or new situations, it is important to recall any new change in your schedule that may affect the feline. (Move to a new home, work schedule change, etc.) The veterinarian will then proceed to diagnostic examinations. He or she will want to conduct blood tests, including a complete blood cell count, blood smear, and biochemistry profile. The doctor may also ask for a urinalysis to detect the possibility of underlying disease that may be causing pica in the feline. As tumors of the brain are believed to be a possible cause of pica in cats, the veterinarian may likely conduct radiographs or a CT scan of the feline’s brain.
Treatment of Pica in Cats
The treatment for pica in cats is variable, as it lies dependent on the underlying cause and the results from diagnostic exams. If the veterinarian has found an underlying disease, the treatment will be specified by the veterinary medical professional, but if your feline has received a clean bill of health, treatment may include:
Removing inedible target objects
Keeping household plants, blankets, clothing and electrical cords out of your cat’s reach will remove the temptation to eat them.
Providing chewing alternatives
Cat toys and safe plants like catnip can detour the feline’s behavior to a more appropriate chewing object.
Boredom is a common cause for pica, so structured playtime with the feline can prevent boredom and fulfill the need to be active.
Attending to dietary needs
Malnourished felines may chew on inappropriate objects if their diet is lacking in adequate nutrients. Your veterinarian may supplement the required vitamins and minerals through medications or suggest an alternative cat kibble.
Consult a veterinary behaviorist
Recovery of Pica in Cats
The prognosis for cats displaying pica behavior is guarded. Some felines will “grow out” of the inappropriate behavior, whereas other need continuous treatment. If your cat does not improve with the treatments recommended by your veterinarian, he or she may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.