Why Do Cats Lick and Chew Plastic? – 9 Reasons for This Odd Behavior

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.

Ragdoll Trigg playing with plastic bag in his mouth

You look, and you see your cat all over your shopping bag. It’s playing with it, licking it like a toy, and incredibly territorial about it. But why do cats lick plastic bags anyway, and what makes them so crazy about it? How can the most straightforward plastic bag become its favorite toy and place within minutes? Is it the smell? Is it the texture? Is it the taste? Well, it is all of those and then some.

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Ragdoll Trigg chewing plastic bag in his mouth

There are plenty of reasons why your cat is in love with your plastic bags, and we will explore them all to solve the mystery of their love for plastic.

Disclaimer: 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 is essential to explain why cats are attracted to and interested in plastic bags, hence the reason for this article. As with everything, 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. All kinds of scents and aromas are left by animal fat and other products that have been carried in the bag. Plus, the crinkly sound of plastic can entertain a cat and even help reduce their anxiety.

Plus, plastic bags provide a new sheltered space. If your cat is compulsive to hide away, then a plastic bag with all those delicious food smells might be very enticing.

Reason No. 1 – The Amazing Smell

Enticing food smells. It’s all about the bag’s smell…and, most importantly, everything 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.

Lynx Mitted Ragdoll cat Trigg lying on a plastic bag on a tiled floor

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.

Blue Lynx Mitted Ragdoll Cat Trigg with his face inside a plastic bag

Plastic bags are like 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 excellent hearing. So when that bag starts swishing, it sounds incredibly enticing to them, and they start playing. They’ll sit on the bag and start moving it with their paws, 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.

Trigg lying with his head on top of a plastic bag

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.

Ragdoll cat Trigg with his face stuck inside a plastic bag handle

Wild cats need that to get a good idea of their terrain and get quicker reactions to be better hunters. As for your household cat, this refined sense of touch makes plastic bags feel fantastic. Imagine feeling a plastic bag’s smooth, lush texture in high definition and all around your body. It’s slippery, it’s polished, it’s glossy, and 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 containing substances quite similar in smell to pheromones.

Trigg cat lying on top of a plastic bag

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 feel incredibly 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 pheromone smell-alikes.

Reason No. 5 – That Corn Starch Deliciousness

The corn starch factor. Yes, you read that right. Many biodegradable plastic bags are made with corn starch, which cats seem very attracted to. So, the next time you get one of those smooth-textured bio bags, expect your cat to be excited about it.

Ragdoll cat Trigg playing with a plastic shopping bag on a tile floor

The smell, taste, and texture feel fantastic for your cat, so it is bound to love that bio bag immediately. Moreover, it is entirely different from the regular plastic bag it has been playing with, making it 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 animal fat. 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.

Ragdoll cat Trigg sleeping on a plastic shopping bag

Reason No. 7 – Marking That Territory

This should be no news for cat owners, but cats are highly 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.

Ragdoll cat Trigg with his head stuck inside a plastic shopping bag while Ragdoll cat Charlie watches from the background

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 evident that the bag is already taken. In fact, if you do have more cats in your home, you may have noticed that they do not share bags.

If you’ve read this far, you know that a cat’s and its bag’s relationship is highly personal and multi-sensory. 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 of these things simultaneously. Please take a moment to think about it. The simple plastic bag feels, smells, tastes, and sounds terrific all at once.

Triggs head is stuck inside a plastic shopping bag while he plays with it

This is why your cat loves it so much. When you present that bag to your cat, it gets on a sensory roller-coaster. They can feel the lanolin on the bag simultaneously with the delicious fish you had in it last week 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.

Trigg Ragdoll cat playing with plastic shopping bag

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 be 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. Suppose the bag tastes like fish or meat. In that case, some nibbling might be expected. Still, 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. If you notice this, taking your cat to the vet is very important. Pica clearly signals that your cat’s metabolism is not wired correctly.

Moreover, it can signal an underlying disease, which can be anything from anemia to FIV, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia, diabetes, or other severe conditions. Your vet will thoroughly examine your cat to determine why pica syndrome exists. You will likely have to change your cat’s diet to provide the necessary nutrients, but other treatments may exist.

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 it. 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 all the way 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.

Trigg is sleeping on a plastic shopping bag

Plastic Alternatives

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 ensure your cat gets enough stimulation through other toys and chewable items to make them less interested in plastics.

Make sure your kitty is happy with their 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, ensure their plastic pursuit isn’t becoming an obsession. If it is, it’s worth ensuring they get checked out by your veterinarian.

FAQs

Can a cat die from eating plastic?

While it may look like cute behavior, a cat can die if it eats plastic. Plastic – mainly plastic shopping bags – can cause intestinal blockages. If your cat’s intestines are blocked, it can’t defecate, which could be toxic.

If your cat has eaten plastic bags, it is a dire emergency, and the obstruction must be resolved surgically. Seek immediate attention from a veterinarian if your cat may have swallowed plastic shopping bags.

A much smaller risk could also be strangulation if the bag is elasticated. However, it would be scarce for a cat to get its head stuck in a tight plastic hole. It’s still worth making sure you treat plastic bags around your cat with care.

Why do cats lick plastic shopping bags?

Cats like to lick and chew plastic bags mainly because of the residual flavors of foods that have been left behind. However, lubricants used in smooth plastic are also enticing for cats, and they might be enticed by those substances.

Plastic bags are usually treated with stearates, chemical substances derived from animal fat. 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. It is incredibly greasy and protects the sheep’s coat and skin from the water.

As you can imagine, the smell of lanolin is highly alluring for your tiny little predator carnivore.
It is very enticing, so your cat will be all over the bag, licking it, taunting it, as it would with its own prey. Another type of lubricant used to treat plastic bags is derived from gelatin, making bags a tasty delight that is just right for licking.

Is it bad for cats to lick plastic bags?

Generally, as long as your cat is not consuming the plastic, it should be OK to lick it. The amount of substances in plastic bags isn’t enough to be toxic to a cat just by them licking it. It would be best if you watched them to ensure they don’t ingest it.

If your cat starts to bite into plastic bags and looks like they want to eat it, it could be a sign of Pica. You should have them checked to ensure they don’t develop an eating disorder that could be dangerous.

What about your cats? Do they love plastic bags? Do they lick them, stretch on them, cuddle them? Tell us all about your cat’s love story with its favorite bag in the comments section below.

[adthrive-in-post-video-player video-id=”4c4fRmqB” upload-date=”Sat Feb 08 2020 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)” name=”Why Do Cats Lick Plastic? – ねこ – ラグドール – = ネコ – Floppycats” description=”Whether you are trying to figure out why cats lick plastic or why cats like plastic shopping bags, this video will have your answer – be sure to check out the last reason – as it’s a medical one and should be addressed immediately.”]

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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,

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13 Comments

  1. My grandsons cat eats the handles off the grocery bags. Even if they have groceries in them. He comes running out and starts chewing the handles. He has been doing it ever since he got the cat.

  2. Plastic laundry baskets — my cat licks them. It’s because the basket has been made with meat by-products. Any plastic made, such as grocery bags too … More tempting because of groceries and by-products.

  3. Jeanne Rasmussen says:

    My cat got caught in the handle of a plastic bag and when she realized she was stuck, she took off running thinking the bag was in pursuit. She finally hid behind the couch, eyes wide. I released her from the entanglement and she was very reclusive for awhile. To this day, if she even hears us shaking a plastic bag, she runs and hides.

  4. ellen beck says:

    I would not allow it unless you cut off both handles while they play with it. One of our cats was quite obsessed with bags. I was standing there watching, he got his head in the handle loop and zoomed out of the room and up the stairs. He came running back down full tilt in panic mode and almost literally hung himself and I was in hot pursuit. He was fine, and did eventually play with bags again (he loved them) but the handles were always cut off the one he had and the others out of his area.
    I am in no way telling anyone how to ‘raise’ their cat, only my experience with my own bag loving cat.

    Oh and another reason they will lay or sit on bags, is the plastic will magnify their heat, You will find plastic bags being used by animals who need to keep warm, as much as I detest plastic, the wildlife have made good use of some of it.

    1. Yes, wildlife have – but wildlife has also suffered from plastic bags and plastic. Sigh.

  5. I really think this is an important article to post regarding an unusual ragdoll behavior. One of my two cats is obsessed with several different types of plastics and also tissue paper and rubber bands. I have to be so diligent to throw out these materials immediately to avoid having him try to play with and also eat them. This includes the plastic tape used to close mailing boxes. He will pull it off a discarded box if not supervised. He also likes the very thin plastic wrappers, as well as thin foam sheets.
    He does know he is not allowed these items and with opportunity, he will steal them, and then hide, making a distinctive sound, which tells me he is up to something. I do my best to throw things away before we get to this point.
    It is definitely a problem and a big concern in caring for this beautiful ragdoll boy.
    I did not know he was eating these plastics until I moved and found a long strip of mailing tape plastic coming out of his anus. A frightening experience. Fortunately he passed the plastic without internal damage per vet.
    I’m so glad you have this site Jenny so we can share the unique differences of ragdoll behavior from other feline breeds.

  6. This is the most irresponsible article I’ve ever read. People, please be careful about letting your pets enjoy plastic bags. Unless you’re willing to hand one to your toddler unsupervised, then go ahead

    1. It’s meant to be responsible – I guess it assumes that people would know better about allowing a cat to be unsupervised with a plastic bag – as you would a toddler, as you mentioned. If I am in the kitchen, putting away groceries and one of my cats starts playing with a plastic bag, I will allow it – but, of course, I remove the bag and put it away when I am not around. What disclaimer would you suggest to add to the post? Would that take care of your judgement?

  7. Thank you Jenny – I was curious about his because my cat always goes nuts for plastic bags and I never knew why until now! He absolutely rolls in it, plays with it, paws it and sits on it for hours and sleeps. He tends to mimic chewing it but never does. I always check on him and remove it after awhile and when I have to leave the house. I thought he had some weird fettish!

    Hugz & Purz,
    Cathy & Sebastian

  8. WOW! SUPER PAWESOME & FABULOUS post, Jenny honey! Such a great topic! I never knew about this fascinating behavior (and the possible medical reason of cat pica…such a fascinating yet alarming condition for both cats and humans!)! Miss PSB has no interest in plastic bags other than peeping to see what’s inside them…lol. TYSVM for this very informative (and the super adorable Chiggy The Plasticbag-aholic footage & pics…such a sweet cutie patootie!) info! 🙂 <3

    Big hugs & lots of love & purrs!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3 <3 <3

  9. Please get rid of the plastic bags (and other not plastic ones) OR cut the handles. They can be lethal…

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