Pica is the compulsion to consume non-nutritional substances. Or more simply put, the eating of non-food items.
When this behavior extends to your cat’s litter, it can be worrisome.
Table of Contents
Is it safe for my cat to eat paper litter?
Though eating paper litter is less risky for your cat than eating clay or silica crystal litter, it certainly isn’t safe to do so.
Small amounts of paper litter will often be passed with no harm. But if enough is eaten, it may begin to gather in the gastrointestinal tract, absorbing moisture and creating clumps.
Your cat’s body will try to expel these masses of paper, either through the bowels or by vomiting.
If unable to do so, your cat is at risk of obstruction — a dangerous and potentially fatal condition.
Signs and symptoms of GI obstruction include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, loss of appetite, straining to defecate, and/or a painful or bloated abdomen. If your cat is showing any of these early signs of GI obstruction, contact your veterinarian or an emergency pet clinic immediately.
Even if your cat seems fine otherwise, if you’ve noticed them eating paper litter or any other non-food item, a consultation with your veterinarian will help to identify any medical issues that may be causing the behavior.
Why is my cat eating paper litter?
In cats, pica can have health-related causes or be strictly behavioral.
The exact cause is often difficult, if not impossible, to determine. Experts have theorized the following possibilities:
- Boredom: Some cats may ingest non-food items simply out of boredom or a lack of social contact.
- Early weaning: Some kittens who are removed from their mother too soon exhibit a behavior called wool sucking. Wool sucking is a comforting behavior in which a cat sucks on wool or other soft fabrics. It is believed to be a precursor to pica.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Cats who suffer from nutritional deficits may turn to non-food items in an effort to correct the problem. Fiber and pyruvate kinase deficiencies, for example, have been linked to pica.
- Other health problems: Pica in cats has also been linked to certain medical conditions, like anemia, FIV, feline infectious peritonitis, and feline leukemia.
- Genetics: Burmese and Siamese cats have been found to be genetically predisposed to compulsive behaviors like wool sucking, a common precursor to pica in cats.
- Kittens: Much like human babies, kittens explore the world around them with their mouths. It’s perfectly normal for a kitten to try a small bite of something new. Don’t fret. It only becomes an issue when the behavior becomes repetitive or in high volumes.
How do I stop my cat from eating paper litter?
A consultation with your veterinarian is the best first step. Together, you can eliminate the possibility of a medical issue causing your cat to eat their paper litter.
Identify health problems
Your vet will likely perform a physical exam and bloodwork, which will help to identify conditions such as FIV, infection, and anemia that may be causing your cat’s pica.
The bloodwork may also help to identify certain nutritional deficiencies, but not all.
Upgrade their diet
If your cat seems in good health otherwise, consider upgrading them to a better diet.
This is particularly true if your cat is exclusively eating dry kibble.
A grain-free wet food will provide a more well-rounded profile of vitamins and minerals, taste better, and provide your cat with the moisture needed to maintain kidney function.
The higher quality food may also help to eliminate deficiency-based pica.
Keep them entertained
Provide your cat with plenty of mental and physical stimulation.
Spend more playing with them.
Try laser pointers, string, or stuffed mice.
Buy a harness and teach them to go on walks.
Set your home up in a way that provides plenty of options to keep your cat entertained.
Install elevated walkways.
Leave the blinds up and install a perch in front of a window. Jackson Galaxy calls this ‘cat TV’.
Even if boredom doesn’t end up being the cause of your cat’s pica, these are great changes that will help your cat live a happier life.
Consult an animal behaviorist
Consider scheduling an appointment with a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) who, working closely with your veterinarian, may help to modify the behavior.
Try a different litter
In some cases, it may be as simple as swapping out the paper litter for something else.
In case your cat eats the new litter too, choose a plant-based litter with no additives.
Litters made from wood, walnuts, grass, corn, wheat, and tofu all share many of the same benefits of paper litter. And, assuming they’re additive-free, are relatively safe when consumed in small amounts.
A consultation with your vet can help to identify underlying health conditions that may be causing your cat to eat paper litter.
If your cat is in good health otherwise, the simplest solution is often to just switch to another type of litter.
About Matthew Alexander
Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.