Why Do Cats Lick Plastic Bags?
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Why Do Cats Lick Plastic Bags?

Est. read time: 4 min.

All ailurophiles accept and adore the fact that cats are (more or less) weirdos. But why do cats lick plastic bags? It’s one of the chart-toppers for strange feline behavior. We’ve all been there: shuffling through your oddly quiet hallways, your eyes peeled for Kitty because he isn’t in any of his usual spots, when the soft, unmistakable sound of crinkling plastic betrays him; and there you find Kitty, perched over the bag, or perhaps cradling it like a friend, making out to his heart’s content; and you think… oh, you weird, sweet, silly, darn cat, you.

So why DO cats lick plastic bags?

If only we could get inside the minds of our feline friends and ask. Theories abound as to why cats like to lick plastic, and especially plastic bags. Although one explanation above all isn’t yet agreed upon in the cat community, there are a few plausible ideas out there.

It’s a sensory expurrience

You might say that licking a plastic bag hits the jackpot for four out of Kitty’s five senses:

  • Smell and taste: Did you know that cats’ sense of smell is even stronger than dogs’? This little superpower arises not only when considering what the bags are made with, but also when considering where the bags have been. Some companies are using biodegradable bags made with products such as corn starch, while others are made with animal fat, or tallow. Still others may be made with fish oils or fish scales to keep the plastic from sticking together—all of which might attract a cat. Plastic bags can also retain food smells or the leaked juices from meat, fish, or any such appealing item that was stored inside.
  • Touch: Plastic bag appeal also stems from its texture. The smooth, cool surface probably feels good on a cat’s tongue, and it escalates from there.
  • Hearing: Some people theorize that the crinkly sound of the bag sounds like a rodent marking itself as prey in grass and leaves. Kitty can’t just ignore his instinct to hunt!

It’s a compulsive disorder

Veterinary behaviorists have speculated that licking or sucking on plastic is a mild version of a compulsive disorder known as “wool sucking,” which is linked to pica, the persistent eating of substances that are largely non-nutritive. Others relate the behavior to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Pay attention to when your cat gets his licks on. If it seems to be in times of great stress, or it occurs very frequently, it may be time to visit the vet to see if medication is in order.

They’re bored

The understimulated cat is bound to get creative with his antics. Give him interactive playtime at least twice a day, using toys designed like a fishing pole so you can simulate the movements of prey. When he’s alone, provide him with opportunities to stay busy: catnip toys, puzzle feeders, cat trees, or a window with a clear view of nature so he can distract himself by observing birds, squirrels, and the like. Or, if he’s a single kitty, consider giving him a new brother or sister!

Is licking plastic unsafe?

It’s best to supervise Kitty’s lovefest with plastic bags. The licking part isn’t the danger—it’s when your cat starts chewing that you should be concerned. Chewing may lead to swallowing, which could cause a deadly gastrointestinal blockage. There’s also the off-chance that your cat could get caught up in the bag, leading to strangulation or suffocation.

If you’re worried about not being there to supervise, it may be best to forbid plastic bag relationships altogether. Instead, explore safe alternatives for your cat’s licking and chewing pleasure, such as providing him with indoor cat grass and toys filled with catnip.

Why Do Cats Lick Plastic bags


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