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Pica in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

Pica in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments | BetterVet

As an in-home veterinary practice, one of the common cat questions we encounter is about feline pica, which is the consumption of non-edible household items. Pica disorder in cats can manifest in different forms, including eating objects like plastic, wool, or rubber or licking and chewing home surfaces like walls or floors. This condition can be either behavioral or medical and can result in severe health consequences if left unaddressed. Read on to learn more about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of pica in cats.

Causes of Pica in Cats

Pica in cats can stem from various underlying causes, including behavioral, environmental, or medical factors. Behavioral pica may occur as a result of boredom in your cat, anxiety, or can develop as a form of attention-seeking behavior. 

Environmental factors such as stress or exposure to toxins can also trigger pica in cats. Cats may also develop pica if they are not fed adequately or are on a highly restrictive diet. Younger cats and some breeds are more susceptible to developing feline pica, such as: 

Medical conditions, including some common cat diseases that may cause feline pica include:

Symptoms of Pica in Cats

Symptoms resulting from or associated with pica in cats may vary depending on the underlying cause and the type of non-food item ingested. The most common signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite

 If your cat ingests non-food items like plastic or rubber, they may become at risk for a gastrointestinal obstruction, which can be a life-threatening emergency. Other signs of pica may include behavioral changes like increased agitation, hiding, or aggression.

Diagnosis of Pica in Cats

To diagnose the underlying cause(s) of pica in cats, your veterinarian may perform various tests, including blood tests to check for nutritional deficiencies or endocrine disorders. Your veterinarian may also perform an x-ray or ultrasound to rule out any gastrointestinal obstructions. If the cause of pica is suspected to be behavioral, your veterinarian may refer you to a pet behaviorist to address the underlying issue.

How to Treat Pica in Cats 

The treatment of pica in cats depends on the underlying condition(s) leading to this behavior. If the cause is medical, treating the underlying cause may resolve the pica behavior. For instance, if a cat is diagnosed with a nutritional deficiency, providing supplements or switching to a different diet may help resolve the condition. In cases where the cat has ingested items like plastic or rubber, your veterinarian may recommend surgical removal of the object. Behavioral pica can be treated by addressing the underlying behavioral issue through environmental enrichment, behavior modification, or medication.

Preventing Pica in Cats

Prevention of pica in cats involves minimizing the cat's access to non-edible items and addressing any underlying medical or behavioral issues. Providing a balanced and nutritious diet for your cat can also help prevent pica. You can also reduce the likelihood of pica by providing your cat with enough environmental enrichment by offering interactive toys, scratching posts, and hiding places.

How BetterVet Can Help Cats with Pica

Pica is a disorder in cats that can have severe health consequences if left untreated. The underlying cause of the condition may be behavioral, medical, or environmental. A thorough work up is necessary to reach a diagnosis and select  appropriate and effective treatment. If you notice signs, including vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation,  resulting from pica in your cat, contact your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common things that cats with pica eat?

Common household items that cats with feline pica may eat include:

  • Fabric
  • Elastic
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Wool
  • Plaster
  • Soil

Can pica in cats be cured?

Pica in cats can be cured if the underlying cause of the behavior is identified and addressed. Treatment may involve medication, dietary changes, environmental enrichment, or surgery.

Is pica in cats dangerous?

Pica in cats can be life-threatening if the cat ingests items like plastic or rubber, which can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction. If you suspect your cat has swallowed one of these items, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Can pica in cats be a sign of a nutritional deficiency?

Yes, pica in cats can be a sign of a nutritional deficiency. Cats may consume non-food items to compensate for their diet’s lack of essential nutrients. A veterinarian can perform blood tests to determine if a cat has a nutritional deficiency and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Can pica in cats be prevented?

Pica in cats can be prevented by providing a balanced and nutritious diet, providing environmental enrichment, and addressing any underlying medical or behavioral issues. Pet parents should also ensure that their cats do not have access to non-edible items that they may ingest. Regular checkups with a veterinarian can help identify and address potential issues before they become a problem.

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