Originally published Dec 7, 2016
Why Cats Love Adhesives on Tape and Glue
Recently a reader described a phenomenon a lot of cat owners are familiar with: "Charlie really loves adhesive. You cannot leave any tape around where he can get it if he will bite and lick it. I found him on the dining room table this morning biting and licking an adhesive label I had pulled off a package that I had to send back yesterday. Is this something most cats like? Is it poisonous for him to lick it?"
My cats also love adhesive on tape (and I let them have at my Scotch packing tape to get a few photos for this post - but usually I have it closed up in a drawer that they can't get to). In fact, cat forums and blogs are full of tales of kitties addicted to adhesive tape. Here’s a short rundown on why your cat might be addicted to tape, why you should be careful, and how to try and break them of this habit.
Why Do Cats Eat Tape?
Why cats like adhesive specifically is a bit of a mystery – one possible explanation is that different cats just have different preferences when it comes to the smells or textures they are attracted to. A possible root cause of a tape addiction is pica, a the condition of cats eating inedible objects. Cats can develop pica if they are weaned to early. They develop the habit of sucking on inedible items like wool or other fabrics, and more extreme cases can involve eating things like plastic (or tape). Here are a few other possible causes for cat pica:
- Cat health issues – Eating something unusual could be a sign of a deeper health issue, like feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, brain tumors, or diabetes. It could also be a sign of dietary issues, like anemia or something missing from the cat’s diet.
- Genetics – Pica could also just be a genetic trait. For example, wool sucking is more commonly found in Birman and Siamese cats. It could also be the sign of a compulsive disorder.
- Boredom – Some cats might start gnawing on unusual household items simply out of boredom or to get their owner’s attention. These cats might be in need of more stimulation in their environment.
Reasons for why cats eat tape could vary, and it’s always good to check in with your vet, especially if it’s a habit they develop suddenly.
Is Eating Adhesives Dangerous?
In a word, yes. The problem is the possibility of intestinal blockage. Cats often throw up things they can’t digest, but not always, and a case of intestinal blockage because your cat swallowed a piece of tape could be life-threatening and costly.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Eating Adhesives?
Again, your first step should be to talk to a vet to make sure your cat isn’t showing signs of underlying cat health problems, but then you can focus on keeping your cat away from tape. Here are a few suggestions:
- Keep the adhesives away – Try your best to keep tape or other adhesives out of reach of your cat – for example, don’t let them in the room when you are wrapping gifts! Try using other options, like twisty ties, whenever possible.
- Taste aversion – You can make the tape less attractive to your cat by training them to associate it with a “bad” taste like bitter apple. Let your kitty smell and even taste the “bad” substance, then leave out a piece or two of tape coated with this taste. Continue to put a little of this substance on tape whenever you use it around the house, and hopefully they will start to associate the bad taste with tape.
- Increase stimulation – If your cat is chewing tape because they are bored, try to make some more time to play with your kitty or create more stimulation in their environment, such as window views, videos, or games for cats to play.
- Diversion – Give them something else to chew! If you catch them with tape, try to distract them with something safe, like a toy with a treat inside.
How to Stop Your Cat from Eating Plastic
Aside from tape and other adhesives, cats also often eat plastic. From bags to wrappers, to flip flops, and all the way to wires and cables, there's plenty of plastic that cats sometimes love to chew on and even eat. When you see it happening, it is essential that you actively discourage it because this habit can get very dangerous very fast.
Safety and Prevention
One of the most dangerous things that can happen when your cat eats plastic is for it to chew on wires, cables, and power chords because it can get electrocuted. Moreover, the electrical damage associated with this can lead to fires or other dangerous scenarios for the entire family. This is why it is crucial to prevent this situation by placing protective covers on the wires in your home. This will keep both you and your cat safe.
Aside from this particular scenario, eating plastic is mainly dangerous for your cat because it may or may not be able to pass it. The piece(s) of plastic it has eaten can cause blockages along the digestive tract, usually in the intestine. If this happens, the cat is no longer able to defecate, and soon enough, to eat either. This is a medical emergency and it requires surgery to remove the obstruction - the piece of plastic that the cat has eaten which is causing the blockage.
So, it is paramount for the safety of the cat that you prevent this from happening by discouraging it from eating plastic. If you notice it happening, make sure you act right away before it becomes a habit. The first step is determining the reason why the cat is eating plastic.
Why Does My Cat Eat Plastic?
While cats playing with plastic - scratching, ripping, even biting - is entirely normal, eating plastic is not normal behavior. It is called pica syndrome, which refers to cats consuming non-edible materials, including but not limited to plastic. There are plenty of causes that may lead to cats eating plastic and it is important to talk to the veterinarian about this issue because the cat might need some tests.
A Poor Cat Diet
The most common cause of pica syndrome is an imbalanced diet, which leaves the cat lacking in certain nutrients. If you notice it eating plastic or other non-edible materials, then assessing the cat's diet should be the first thing to do. The vet can run tests to determine if there are in fact nutrients that the cat is lacking, and then recommend a more comprehensive diet that includes them. Once the cat gets these nutrients from its diet, it will no longer feel the need to seek them elsewhere.
An Underlying Health Problem
Aside from dietary imbalances, pica might indicate an underlying health problem, such as anemia, an endocrinological condition (like hyperthyroidism), brain tumors, or even some instances of exposure to toxic substances. Another common cause is the presence of dental issues or lesions in the cat's mouth, in which case the cat might be eating plastic to try to get to the affected area. This is why taking the cat to the vet if you notice signs of pica is extremely important.
Yet another common reason why cats may eat plastic is dealing with stressful situations. For instance, cats that suffer from separation anxiety might display erratic behavior - eating plastic - because of the stress that they're under. Here are some other common scenarios:
- Cats that are not sufficiently engaged
- Cats that do not spend enough time with their human family
- Cats that are stressed by the presence of a new cat, dog, or even family member (like a baby)
- Cats that are stressed by the absence of a beloved human or animal companion
- Cats that are stressed by being in a new house
In this case, eating plastic is simply a cry for attention and it should be dealt with gently, not by yelling at the cat when it's chewing the plastic, but by offering it more attention and love.
While in some cases, there is a complex reason why the cat eats plastic, in other cases, the reason is as simple as the cat loving the crinkly noise that the bag makes. Excited by playing with the plastic bag or wrapper and triggered by the crinkles, the cat might eat the plastic by accident.
Cats are notorious for their extreme curiosity and, clearly, it does not stop at plastic. Especially if the plastic smells like something that they like or if it has a texture that appeals to them, they might be tempted to chew on it and eat some of it.
What happens if my cat eats plastic?
Sometimes, nothing at all. If the cat is able to pass the piece of plastic it has eaten, then there are no direct consequences of the incident. However, you should still look into it to determine the cause - whether medical or behavioral. But in other cases, the piece of plastic that the cat has eaten is large enough to cause an intestinal obstruction, in which case, your cat needs emergency surgery.
How long does it take for plastic to pass through a cat?
It usually takes 10 to 24 hours for something that the cat has ingested to pass through the entire digestive system. But if you've seen your cat eating plastic, it is best to take it to the vet as soon as possible because the doctor can monitor the cat to prevent complications as best as possible. Imagistic explorations such as X-rays or ultrasounds might be necessary to see how the plastic is passing through the digestive tract.
How do I know if my cat ate plastic?
If you are lucky, you might catch your cat in the act and see it eating the plastic. If that is the case, you should try to remove the plastic from its mouth before it swallows it. In other cases, you will see the aftermath, which can be a torn plastic bag, wrapper, or flip flop missing a portion. Try to find the missing piece first, but if you can't, you should assume that the cat has eaten it, contact the vet, and monitor the cat closely. Unfortunately, sometimes cats don't leave any traces, and you might find out about them eating plastic when they eliminate it or if they display symptoms of intestinal obstruction - lack of appetite, apathy, reluctance to move, difficulty, then inability to defecate.
Why does my cat obsessively eat plastic?
To find out why your cat has an obsession for eating plastic, you should take it to the vet so that the doctor can rule out the causes of pica one by one and identify the reason behind this erratic behavior.
How do you treat pica in cats?
The key to treating pica in cats is finding out what's causing it. The vet will determine if the cause is related to the cat's diet, some underlying health problem, a dental issue, or if it is all related to a psychological or behavioral problem. Preventing the cat from eating more plastic is extremely important because it can have dramatic consequences like intestinal obstructions. To do so, the advice we've provided for keeping cats away from tape also applies to keeping them away from plastic.
A very easy way to keep cats from eating plastic is to offer them a more interesting alternative. Plastic chew toys are an excellent option because it feeds their craving for plastic until the vet can identify the underlying cause, but without putting the cat at risk. It can play with the toy, chew on it, but it will not be able to eat it. Get the cat several toys to keep it interested and alternate between different types of cat toys.
You can also talk to your vet or an animal behaviorist for more insight into how to deal with a cat who loves adhesives.
Does your cat love adhesives on tape and glue? How do you stop your cat from eating adhesives?