Pica in Cats (Felis) | Vetlexicon
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ISSN 2398-2950

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  • Ingestion of non-nutritional substances.
  • Cause: unknown.
  • The most common age at onset is 2-4 months.
  • Signs: persistent and recurrent chewing or ingestion of fabrics (wool, cotton), rubber, electric cables, paper, etc.
  • Wool is often the preferred target substance - hence the name wool eating.
  • There is a reported increased incidence in Siamese and Burmese but the behavior also occurs in other breeds.
    Print off the owner factsheet on Abnormal eating habits and chewing in cats (Pica) Abnormal eating habits and chewing in cats (Pica) to give to your client.

Presenting signs

  • Chewing and/or ingestion of substances that are of no nutritional value.
  • Variety of items can be targeted including wool, fabrics, rubber, electric cables, houseplants and paper.
  • Wool is typically preferred over cotton and both over synthetic fibers.
  • Pica often shows a progression from wool to other fabrics and from chewing to ingestion.
  • Grass and plant eating can come under the definition of pica, however motivation is different in the majority of cases (it is associated with need for increase intestinal fill or regulation).

Age predisposition

  • Onset of problem at 2-4 months of age.
  • Onset is typically 6-18 months of age and usually within the first 4 years of life.

Breed/Species predisposition

Special risks

  • Where cats are consuming material, blockage of the gastrointestinal tract Intestine: foreign body - linear  can occur which may require surgical intervention.
  • Risk of electrocution if electric cables are targeted Electrocution.
  • In some cases, denied access to favored substances may lead to distress and anorexia.



  • Unknown.
  • There are various theories regarding the cause of pica.
    • As a stereotypic behavior induced by short-term acute stress (oral compulsive behavior).
    • A form of redirected ingestive behavior.
    • An extension of neonatal comfort seeking behavior (thought to be more significant in non-orientals).
  • Ingestion of plant material is considered a way to facilitate gastrointestinal function, creating increased gastric fill or encouraging regurgitation.

Predisposing factors


  • Genetic factors (oriental breeds show an increased incidence and there is some indication of familial inheritance).
  • Early adoption of kittens (2-4 weeks of age), and consequent early and sudden weaning are thought to favor comfort seeking behaviors and the development of pica.
  • Anxiety or emotional conflict may be facilitating factors in predisposed individuals (environmental stress such as rehoming, medical illness, introduction of a new cat, etc can be a precipitating event).
  • Lack of appropriate stimulation through being kept indoors.
  • Possible comorbitity with other behavior problems - causality relation is not clear.
  • Low residue diets.


  • The condition is not fully understood.
  • Individuals are believed to have a genetic predisposition to exhibit the behavior but it is thought that an environmental trigger is needed for the behavior to begin.


  • There is evidence that many cats displaying pica often begin by sucking or chewing wool and then progress to other fabrics and/or to ingestion.
  • If it is an oral compulsive behavior, it is generally shown initially in conflict situations and then generalizes with time to other contexts.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Ellis S L (2009) Environmental Enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. J Feline Med Surg 11 (11), 901-912 PubMed.
  • Luescher A U (2004) Diagnosis and Management of Compulsive Disorders in Dogs and Cats. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract 19 (4), 233-239 PubMed.
  • Bradshaw J W S, Neville P F, Sawyer D (1997) Factors affecting pica in the domestic cat. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52 (3/4), 373-379 VetMedResource.
  • Neville P F & Bradshaw J W S (1994) Fabric Eating in cats. Vet Pract STAFF (5), 26-29 VetMedResource.
  • Neville P F & Bradshaw J W S (1991) Unusual appetites. Bulletin of the Feline Advisory Bureau 28 (1), 5-6, 32.

Other sources of information

  • Horwitz D F & Mills D S (2009) BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine 2nd edn, pp 109-110.
  • Bradshaw J W S, Neville P F & Sawyer D (1997) Pica in Siamese csts: association with other behavioral abnormalities. BSAVA Congress Scientific Proceedings, p 609.


  • For veterinarians wishing to refer cases on to a behavioral counsellor:
    • Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC):  www.apbc.org.uk/.
    • A list of registered Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCAB) is available from the website of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour at: https://www.asab.org/.
    • European College of Animal Welfare and Behaviour Medicine - Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law (ECAWBM-AWSEL) www.ecawbm.com/.
    • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB): www.dacvb.org/.