You, as well as millions of other cat owners, are very familiar with this scenario – as you’re putting your groceries away, you hear some swishing. You look and you see your cat all over your shopping bag. It’s playing with it and it’s licking it as if it were a toy and it is extremely territorial about it. But why?
Why Cats Love Plastic Bags
But why do cats lick plastic bags anyway and what makes so crazy about them? How come the simplest plastic bag can become its favorite toy and place within minutes? Is it the smell? Is it the texture? Is it the taste? Well, it all of those and then some! That’s right!
There are plenty of reasons why your cat is in love with your plastic bags and we are going to explore them all to solve the mystery of their love for plastic.
Disclaimer: Of course, plastic bags are not toys – much like you wouldn’t give a human toddler a plastic bag to play with. Plastic bags are dangerous and can cause suffocation. However, it was important to explain why cats are attracted to and interested in plastic bags, hence the reason for this article. As with everything in life, please use common sense and better judgment when living with cats.
Why Do Cats Like To Sit Inside Plastic Bags?
There are several reasons why plastic bags can set off your cat’s senses, making them love sitting in a plastic bag. There are all kinds of scents and aromas left by animal fat and other products that have been carried in the bag. Plus, the crinkly sound of plastic can be entertaining to a cat and even help to reduce their anxiety.
Plus, plastic bags provide a new sheltered space. If your cat has the compulsion to hide away, then a plastic bag – complete with all those delicious food smells – might be very enticing.
Reason No. 1 – That Amazing Smell
Enticing food smells. It’s all about the bag’s smell…and, most importantly, everything that was in it! That’s right; it’s a whole whirlpool of smells in your plastic bags. Why? Because plastic preserves the smell of the items that were in it.
While this may be difficult for your nose to notice, it is not the same for your cat, which has a keen sense of smell and can feel everything in high definition. The beef, fish, and cheese in your bag a week ago still smell pretty awesome for your cat today. Now think about the past of your plastic bags and all the deliciousness in them. Your cat certainly is! So, it makes perfect sense that your cat is licking them. Not only do they taste like plastic (we’ll get to why that’s interesting right away), but they also taste like a full-on meal.
Plastic bags are essentially lollipops for your cat. So, next time you see your cat licking a bag, think about the things you had in it to understand their enthusiasm.
Reason No. 2 – That Dazzling Swishing
Not only do cats have a very acute sense of smell, but they also have an excellent hearing! So when that bag starts swishing, it sounds extremely enticing to them, and they start playing. They’ll sit on the bag and start moving it with their paws and licking it and biting it, and what do they get in return? A plastic symphony, of course! Every move the bag makes sounds fantastic to your cat.
This is also one of the reasons why they spend so much time playing with bags. As we said above, bags are their new favorite toys every single time, so it makes perfect sense that they want to enjoy them. Also, the bag never runs out of batteries. It will swish every time they touch it, so it’s unlimited fun with plastic bags for your cat!
Reason No. 3 – That Smooth Texture
Along with the cats’ highly developed sense of smell and hearing comes their sense of touch. Their paws and the rest of their skin can feel the finest of textures.
Wild cats need that to get a good idea of the terrain they’re on and get quick reactions to be better hunters. As for your household cat, this refined sense of touch makes plastic bags feel fantastic. Imagine feeling the smooth, lush texture of a plastic bag in high definition and all around your body. It’s slippery; it’s polished, it’s glossy; it is amazing! This is why your cat rubs its entire body on it! So, the next time you see your kitty stretching all over your plastic bag, rest assured that it’s having the time of its life!
Reason No. 4 – Those Irresistible Pheromones
Mental short circuit. A lesser-known fact about the simple shopping bag is that it is made from plastic that contains substances that are quite similar in smell to pheromones.
This simple detail remains impossible to notice for humans, but it drives cats crazy! With one whiff of your bag, it will get an instant boost, and it will feel extremely excited about the bag. So, it will go on to cuddle it for hours because the smell is breathtaking!
This is also one of the reasons why your cat likes some bags better than others (plastic bags are all the rage!), regardless of their previous contents. It’s not only the fish in your bag minutes ago that can make a plastic bag irresistible, but also its chemical structure. More importantly, the presence of those pheromones smell-alikes.
Reason No. 5 – That Corn Starch Deliciousness
The corn starch factor. Yes, you read that right. Now, let us explain! Many of the biodegradable plastic bags currently in use are made with corn starch, which cats seem to be very attracted to. So, the next time you get one of those smooth-textured bio bags, expect your cat to be excited about it.
The smell, taste, and texture feel fantastic for your cat, so it is bound to love that bio bag immediately. Moreover, it is completely different from the regular plastic bag it has been playing with, making it somewhat of a novelty! Your cat will be even more curious to play with it, stretch in it, and, inevitably, lick it! Even though the corn starch will make a difference, you shouldn’t be worried about your cat eating the bag. If this happens, the situation is entirely different. We’ll get to that right away.
Reason No. 6 – Those Tasty Lubricants
Plastic bags get their much-desired smoothness from lubricants. They are usually treated with stearates, chemical substances derived from tallow. Another option is lanolin, which is a natural compound found in sheep – lanolin is the substance that makes a sheep’s coat feel greasy. Lanolin is meant to keep the sheep’s coat dry.
Reason No. 7 – Marking That Territory
This should come as no news for cat owners, but cats are extremely territorial. They go out of their way to mark their space and belongings as clearly as possible. It’s part of the reason cats knead, but it is also one of the reasons cats put their paws and tongues on their favorite bags. You may not know this, but cats have special scent glands in their paws, which they use to mark their territory.
So, when playing with their favorite plastic bag, they also claim it by smearing their personal smell all over the bag. This is particularly relevant in households with two or more cats. When another cat is present in the house, it must be extremely clear that the bag is already taken. If you have more cats in your home, you may have noticed that they do not share bags. If you’ve read this far, you now know that a cat’s and its bag’s relationship is multi-sensory and extremely personal. It is rare to see two cats in the same bag or one cat in the other’s favorite plastic bag. Why? Because no cat wants to stretch all over a bag that smells like its house companion. Once a bag has been claimed, it virtually becomes undesirable for other cats.
Reason No. 8 – All of These Things Combined
Now that we’ve unraveled the mysteries of the beloved plastic bags and you know that there’s more than meets the eye…and the nose when it comes to shopping bags, we’d like to point out that your cat experienced all these things at the same time! Please take a moment to think about it. The simple plastic bag feels, smells, tastes, and sings amazingly simultaneously!
This is why your cat loves it so much. When you present that bag to your cat, it gets on a sensory roller-coaster! It can feel the lanolin on the bag simultaneously with the delicious fish you had in it last week, all while enjoying the smooth texture all over its body. And to top it all out, it swishes every time it touches it, which makes your cat want to play! The next time you see your kitty playing with a bag, rest assured that it is having a great time!
Reason No. 9 – Those Odd Eating Habits
We’re finally getting to the odd eating habits that cats get sometimes.
What Is Pica in Cats?
To make it clear, it is perfectly normal for a cat to have a close relationship with its bag, lick it, stretch it, play with it, or cuddle it, but it is most certainly not normal for a cat to eat a bag. If the bag tastes like fish or meat, then some nibbling might be expected, but when cats bite into the plastic and swallow it, things get to a pathologic level.
This is called pica syndrome, manifested by cats eating things they would never normally eat, like plastic, small rocks, grass, yarn, wool, clothing, or other non-food items. You’ll want to take your cat to the vet if you notice this. Pica signals that your cat’s metabolism is off.
Moreover, it can signal an underlying disease, which can be anything from anemia to FIV, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia, diabetes, or other serious conditions. Your vet will completely examine your cat to determine why the pica syndrome is there. You will most likely have to change your cat’s diet to provide it with the nutrients it needs, but there may be other treatments.
Until the pica is cured, you should be extremely careful what your cat eats. If it is in the habit of eating plastic bags, then do your best to remove all bags in their way. Eating plastic bags can be extremely dangerous because the cat may be unable to eliminate them. The bag might get stuck along the digestive tract because it is too large to pass through tighter areas, and it might cause a blockage.
In this case, your cat cannot defecate, which is extremely dangerous. This is a medical emergency, and if you think this is the case for your cat, contact your veterinarian immediately because the blockage must be surgically fixed.
Leaving the pica syndrome aside, your cat can enjoy plastic bags safely! The experience is a sensory wonderland. While you see a cat swishing a bag, it has the time of its life. From the silky-smooth texture to the wonderful smell of pseudo-pheromones to that of all the previous contents of the bag, and to that tasty lanolin that the bag was treated with, or cornstarch if you’ve chosen a bio bag, there are so many reasons why plastic bags are irresistible to your cat.
If you struggle to keep your cat away from plastic bags – say you use plastic liners in a garbage can or a litter tray – the best alternative is to make sure your cat is getting enough stimulation through other toys and chewable items to make them less interested in plastics.
Make sure your kitty is happy with their cat toys and enjoys playing with them, and consider some treat-based toys that your cat has to work to open to keep them engaged and offer a tasty snack too.
If you provide enough stimulation, including playing with your cat and ensuring they have treats and toys when you aren’t at home, then make sure their plastic pursuit isn’t becoming an obsession. If it is, it’s worth ensuring they get checked out by your veterinarian.
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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,