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Sunday, April 09, 2006

My cat has an eating disorder. How does this happen?

She comes from a good family. I've never mistreated nor neglected her. She's well fed. By all accounts she should be happy and content...and yet, here we are.

It's called Pica, which is an eating disorder typically defined as the persistent eating of nonnutritive substances for a period of at least 1 month.

My cat has been doing this for several weeks. Her non-food item of choice is paper products. She started with newspapers, worked her way up to notebook paper, and now I believe she's sneaking the occasional scraps of wood - after clawing them off the doorframe - when I'm not looking. Some of my bills are just plain gone and I have to keep my money under lock and key for fear she'll devour that as well. The paper money, not coins which - at least for now - she has no interest in.

Among individuals with mental retardation, pica is the most common eating disorder. But my cat ain't retarded, so I don't know what her deal is.

As for treatment, I've looked up some recommendations such as:

1. Remove targeted items. Since my place is stacked with papers and books, short of leaving everything behind while I relocate with my cat to a nice roomy cave, I don't see that happening.

2. Provide lots of structured play. If that actually worked, I'd start eating paper just so my friends would provide me with lots of structured play.

3. Make targeted items aversive. The recommendation I read stated: "Occasionally, applying aversive substances (e.g. hot sauce, Bitter Apple, etc) to an item may deter a cat from chewing it. If this is not possible, spraying strong smelling substances (e.g. citrus air freshener, potpourri) on an object may prevent cats from approaching." Yeah, that'll be great. I'll just splash some hot sauce, and for good measure spray a little citrus air freshener, on every piece of paper I own. Nobody will talk to me because that'll be a stench that won't ever wash off but, hey, at least my cat will stop eating paper.

4. Provide alternative items to chew or eat. Do you mean like plastic bags? I've got plenty! And nothing beats that yummy chemical taste.

I'd like to think there's a simpler solution so, instead, I'm trying to find a high-fiber brand of cat food so she won't feel the need to consume her own inappropriate dietary supplements.

If that doesn't work, then the next time I catch my cat eating paper I could just give her a couple of good whacks with a rolled up newspaper - but she'd probably eat that too.

Maybe, to teach her a lesson, I should crack open a copy of War and Peace and tell her, "Start eating and don't stop until you've finished all 992 pages!"

If all else fails, I could take her to an 'animal psychic'.

"Your cat tells me she's depressed. Also, she was once a human being who worked in a paper mill in a previous life. It was the early 20th century and the workers barely made enough to put food on the table, so they'd sometimes eat wood pulp just to survive. This is a habit she's carried over into her new cat life. Also, she says the taste of paper and ink makes her taste buds dance."

Like I originally asked: How does this happen?

posted by Pete 3:22 PM
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