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Dear Doctor - Catnip experts discuss odd chewing habits

How can I stop my cats from eating rubber bands?

[From Tufts Febuary 2010 Issue]

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 1.5 years old. One is obsessed with rubber bands and 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? Any advice?
Linda Carlen

Dear Linda: The problems you’re experiencing with your cats are a result of them being orphaned and therefore, of necessity, being hand-raised via baby bottles. The constant suckling drive they would have possessed in the first few weeks of life was not able to be directed toward their mother’s milk for sustenance and comfort. Instead, their suckling drive was redirected onto inedible things like clothing, boxes and yes, rubber bands. Some people call this behavior pica, which literally means depraved appetite but, actually, it is probably more appropriately called a substrate-specific eating disorder as 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, like Hill’s RD and Purina OM. This way, they always have the choice of eating real food and inedible objects. 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 ProzacŪ.

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
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of
Veterinary Medicine
at Tufts University

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