All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plastic-Licking Cat

Dear Marie,
My cat is weird!  He likes to lick and/or eat plastic.  When I go shopping and bring the groceries in, he can’t wait to lick the plastic bags.  He wakes me up in the night or early in the morning with his constant licking of the plastic liner over hanging my bedroom trash basket.  He chews on plastic wrappers, plastic ribbon, and anything else plastic he finds.  I’m not talking about food wrappers either – although if those are plastic, he likes them equally well.  But it’s not the food scent that’s getting him all worked up.  It’s the plastic!  Occasionally, he gets his paws on my photographs and licks and chews them.  This is especially upsetting because he has ruined some of my favorite photos. Sometimes his plastic licking goes on for hours.  Is my cat just a freak or do other cats do this too?

Dear Tracy,
You are not at all alone.  Many cat owners report the exact behavior exhibited by your cat in their own pets and they are just as baffled.  Though the attraction to plastic varies in degree from individual to individual, it is not at all uncommon for cats to lick, chew, and even eat plastic. 

Cats who seem to be most obsessed with plastic are often the type of feline who may still try to “nurse” as an adult (sucking on blankets, or their people’s clothes, etc.) or are otherwise orally fixated.  These are cats who were most likely taken or weaned from their mothers at too early of an age.

One major concern relating to this behavior is that when cats consume plastic, especially the decorative plastic grasses that line Easter baskets and gifts, or plastic tinsel, they can become seriously ill from resulting intestinal blockages.  Consequently, you should try to the best of your ability to keep your cat from ingesting plastic.

Many plastic products today are made with a number of biodegradable components, including cornstarch.  These ingredients along with various petroleum products emanate an odor, undetected by people, but irresistible to certain felines. 

The texture of plastic also seems to be a factor in this bizarre activity.  It is speculated that many cats just enjoy the smooth, cool feeling on their tongues. They also enjoy the sound that plastic makes.  (A cat's tongue on a plastic bag can be VERY noisy.  I have been awakened by my own cats licking plastic bags more times than I can count!)  This combined with the aroma, may give cats a very pleasurable sensation akin to enjoying a lollipop that never gets any smaller no matter how many times it gets licked. 

I do caution you to keep all photographs safely stored away in photo albums or behind glass frames.  Some photographic processes use chemicals that can potentially cause liver and kidney damage if consumed.  So please be very careful with these items.

Licking or eating non-food items may also be a sign of a serious illness such as feline leukemia or other immunodeficiency diseases.  Just to be on the safe side, you should have your cat tested.  Most likely however, this behavior is nothing to worry about as long as you restrict it to licking and not consuming.

If you feel you must stop your cat from continuing in his plastic quest, you should first eliminate the type of plastic he targets from your household environment.  Next, increase his fiber intake with specially formulated high fiber content pet foods.  You can also grow “kitty grass” indoors so that your little friend has something more natural to chew on or lick.

Finally, some cats become addicted to plastic licking simply because they are bored and don’t get enough stimulation.  I would strongly recommend getting some new toys for your cat and adding some extended playtime to his daily routine.  Give him a lot of extra affection or brush him more frequently.  If he is alone during the day and you work, perhaps you should consider getting him a little feline buddy with whom to pass the hours while you are away or busy.

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