Stomach or Intestinal Causes are Most Likely

Question:
My oddball cat loves to lick shiny plastic bags, such as Ziplocs and dry cleaning bags. What is that about?

Dr. Nichol:
It seems that every month or so some new exotic cat breed appears on the scene. Is Oddball one of those high falutin’ designer cats? I want to see photos of oddball cats so I can learn to identify them. Veterinarians should know these things.

There can be a variety of reasons for licking behavior, whether directed at skin, metal, concrete, air, or plastic. Oddball is not missing essential nutrients; there is nothing in plastic that is part of a healthy diet for anybody.  If she lives strictly indoors with few opportunities to stalk, pounce, maim, climb, perch, hide out, or exercise, her licking could be a displacement behavior. Without feline-specific outlets it’s possible that she is searching for life’s meaning at the bottom of a Ziploc. Or maybe not.

It turns out that most licking behaviors are caused by stomach and intestinal disorders.  Chronic inflammatory disease, smoldering infections, or an inability to absorb B vitamins like folate and cobalamin are common in cats and dogs. Other possibilities include kidney or liver failure or a brain lesion.

Before any consideration is given to behavioral management Oddball needs a medical workup. A fasting serum chemistry profile, blood count, and urinalysis should be submitted. Abdominal x-rays and ultrasound may be necessary. If your kitty’s stomach or intestines are suspect an endoscopic evaluation with biopsies could provide answers that would allow her to be treated for the cause of her misery, not just its symptom.

Diagnosing obscure problems in pets would be easier if they spoke a human language. A person with a bellyache can tell his doctor where to start looking. Oddball can’t do that. It’s up to you to be her advocate.