If you think your cat has eaten a plastic wrapper, you need to take it to a veterinary clinic as soon as possible. Plastic wrappers can be a choking hazard, and plastic bags can be a strangulation danger. Ingesting plastic not only results in minor problems such as diarrhea and vomiting, but it can also cause gastrointestinal obstructions. These often require surgery to remove.
If you want to learn more about the dangers of ingested plastic for cats, and what to do if the situation presents itself, keep on reading.
Why does my cat eat plastic wrapper?
Before we get into what to do when your cat eats plastic, let us discuss why cats do this in the first place.
1. Residual food smells
Cats are known to have heightened senses of smell that allow them to pick up scents from considerable distances. When your cat smells the food remnants on plastic bags, utensils, or plates, they will want to lick and bite the plastic in hopes of getting the food. Proper disposal of plastics that have touched any food is important, as well as making sure cats cannot get to these items when they are on a table.
2. Anxiety and stress
Similar to how some people have nervous habits like nail-biting, cats have habits they do when they are stressed or nervous. For cats, chewing plastic and other non-food items has a calming effect. When your cat is stressed, you may find it biting items in your home. This usually occurs when your cat has undergone a major change to its daily routine, like moving to a new house, a new pet addition to the household, or its owners bringing a baby home.
3. Lack of nutrients from food
If the cat’s body tells it that it is not receiving enough nutrients from the food you are giving it, it will want to chew on other things to try to eat. This is an impulsive reaction cats have because their bodies really want and need those missing nutrients. If you think this may be the reason, try changing your cat’s diet. Consult with your veterinarian about the correct, breed-appropriate diet you should be giving your cat. Be discerning about the food you are giving to your cat.
4. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Consult with your veterinarian about the possibility of your cat having OCD. This condition can cause your cat more stress and can even make your cat forget to do its normal day-to-day activities.
5. Health issues
There are several health conditions that can cause the plastic-biting behavior. The most common ones are hyperthyroidism, anemia, diabetes, and dental issues. In some cats, brain tumors can change a cat’s behavior enough to induce the plastic-biting.
This cause is purely an instinct for your cat. When your cat sees a piece of plastic wrapper flapping in the wind, they will want to catch it as they would a mouse in a field.
What do I do if my cat eats plastic wrapper?
Small, soft plastic
If the plastic your cat has ingested is a small piece of plastic, you have the option of waiting and observing your cat. It can take your cat between 10 and 24 hours to pass a piece of plastic. But it is still ideal to take your cat to the veterinarian to get expert advice, in case the situation is more serious than what you initially think. The vet may prescribe cat laxatives or fiber supplements to help the plastic and food move along the digestive system faster.
Check your cat’s litter box every couple of hours for signs of the plastic wrapper. Cats will usually expel small foreign bodies without any complications. But remember that waiting and observing is only for cases when the cat is lively and happily going about its normal daily routine. There should be no signs of distress. Also, do not induce vomiting. If that needs to happen, let the veterinarian do it.
Big piece of plastic
If your cat eats a big piece of plastic wrapper, there is a possibility of the material folding into a linear-type of foreign body that may become trapped in the stomach and intestines. This can accidentally tie off segments of the intestine, cutting off the circulation and possibly killing those segments.
Take your kitty to the veterinarian immediately, especially if your cat is showing signs of obstruction, like vomiting, lethargy, flinching when you touch its abdomen, diarrhea, or constipation. If you see a piece of plastic hanging from the cat’s mouth or anus, do not pull on it because the other end might still be trapped further in the digestive system; pulling on it may do more harm than good. The veterinarian will take a series of x-rays to locate the plastic. If the plastic is still in the stomach, it can be removed by endoscopy, but if it has traveled further down, surgery may be required.
Let the vet check your cat’s liver and kidneys
No matter how big or small the ingested plastic wrapper was, or what intervention was needed to remove it from your cat’s body, it is recommended to talk to your veterinarian for possible tests on your cat’s liver and kidneys. This is because plastics, when exposed to the cat’s digestive juices, may cause the plastic to release chemicals that can damage those organs. Your veterinarian will get a blood sample from your cat and do these tests.
Your cat eats plastic wrappers because they can have leftover food smells and crumbs on it. Your cat may also be trying to soothe its anxiety or get more nutrients that it lacks in the food it is given. In other cases, your cat may have OCD, health conditions that cause behavioral change, or simply a strong prey drive making them “chase” the plastic wrapper.
If you think your cat has ingested a plastic wrapper, no matter how big the piece is, take it to the vet immediately for professional help. If the piece is small enough, the vet can prescribe a laxative so the cat can just pass the plastic. But if the plastic is big, surgery may be necessary.
After the plastic has been removed, ask your vet about blood tests to check your cat’s liver and kidneys, since plastic can release damaging chemicals when exposed to your cat’s digestive juices.
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