Dear Christopher Cat
My cat, Oreo, eats everything from fresh and artificial flowers to strings. She doesn’t just chew them; she ingests them. Why does she do this? Does she need vitamins? Is this behavior harmful?
Eating non-food items is called pica. Sometimes it’s caused by an underlying medical problem, though not usually a vitamin deficiency, so you should start with a veterinary exam and blood work.
If Oreo passes these tests, her pica may be a compulsive disorder, which some cats inherit.
As you suspect, it can be dangerous. If Oreo eats a plant that’s toxic, like a lily, or ingests a string that gets stuck in her intestines, she’s in trouble. So now is the time to institute measures to protect her.
First, keep toxic plants out of your home and strings safely hidden away in drawers. Get rid of any other non-food items she likes to chew or eat.
Make sure her food is of high quality; your veterinarian can recommend specific brands.
Feed mostly dry food to satisfy her desire to chew. Hide small portions around your home to encourage her to “hunt” for her meals.
Place dry food and crunchy treats inside toys that require her to manipulate them to release a morsel. She can lick canned food from toys with small openings.
Schedule more interactive play sessions. If Oreo doesn’t have a friend, adopt a second cat.
If you see Oreo eating something she shouldn’t, don’t punish her, because punishment may exacerbate the problem. Instead, interrupt and redirect her pica behavior by tempting her to chase a laser pointer dot or play with a favorite toy.
If these suggestions fail, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist, who can evaluate Oreo and make specific recommendations, which may include medication.