Dear Doctor: Cats with an Obsession
Q I have had my two cats since they were just a few days old. They were bottle-fed until they could eat regular food. They are now close to two years old. One is obsessed with rubber bands, while the other chews any shoe that has a soft sole. Both chew cardboard boxes.
To try to break this habit, my veterinarian suggested giving them dog chew bones and crunchy food. Neither worked. They still chew on inappropriate objects. Do you think this behavior is because they were not properly weaned? Do you have any advice?
A Dear Linda: The problem you’re experiencing with your cats is indeed a result of them being orphaned and hand-raised via baby bottles (obviously, a necessity in this case). The constant suckling drive they possessed in the first few weeks of life wasn’t directed toward their mother’s milk for sustenance and comfort.
Instead, their suckling drive was redirected onto inedible things like clothing, boxes and even rubber bands. Some people call this behavior pica, which literally means depraved appetite. But it is probably more appropriately called a substrate-specific eating disorder because cats with this problem can be quite fussy about what they chew or ingest.
One way that I have dealt with this problem is to transition affected cats onto free-choice feeding of high-fiber rations. This way, they always have the choice of eating real food and inedible objects. You can consult with your veterinarian for his or her dietary recommendations.
That said, this technique does not always meet with success, and sometimes it is necessary to resort to treating seriously affected cats with anti-obsession medication, such as Prozac®.
When you consider that some cats develop intestinal obstructions and can become very ill or die as a result of ingesting rubber bands or other non-edible items, this latter measure can literally be life saving. You should speak with your veterinarian about this option.
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Cummings School of
at Tufts University