Some people have to deal with the stress of cats who are too choosy with their eating habits. On the other hand, others have to deal with cats who just aren't picky enough. If your cat has taken to eating hair of all things, compulsive pica may be to blame.
If your cat possesses a seemingly uncontrollable desire to eat hair, whether it's yours dangling off of your head or her own shedding fur on the floor, then she may have pica, an obsessive-compulsive medical condition that not only occurs in cats, but in dogs and people, too. When a cat develops a preference for eating things that, simply put, aren't really edible, it is referred to as "pica."
Desire for Attention
Hair doesn't exactly seem like too appetizing a meal, so consider all of the potential reasons why your cat may have the desire to chow down on such a strange thing. In certain cases, cats turn to eating oddities as a means of getting some much-needed attention, regardless of whether it is "good" attention or not. Even if you reprimand your kitty for eating hair, you're focusing on her, even just for that one moment.
Eating hair may also be a reaction to stress in felines. According to the ASPCA, pica can be a "displacement behavior." Maybe your cat desperately wants to play with her favorite motorized toy mouse, but just can't find it, so she instead opts to eat hair. Although it may sound bizarre, it's simply feline. In some cases, this type of behavior moves beyond just the source of stress. It may begin as a stressful reaction, but spiral out of control as a regular habit. Occasionally, cats may also start eating strange things out of simple boredom, nothing more, nothing less. If your cat grooms her fur to an obsessive degree, it also may be related to stress and pure nerves. When a cat simply doesn't know what to do with her feelings of uncertainty and confusion, she may turn to something rather comforting to her -- her grooming regimen. Licking the fur nonstop also often leads to accidental consumption of hair, as well.
As soon as you notice a pet's unexplainable eating habits, take her to the veterinarian to make sure it's unrelated to any health conditions. Pica sometimes is a symptom of a bigger underlying ailment, whether food allergies or dietary deficiencies. Once you know exactly what's going on with your pet, you'll be able to sooner help her manage -- or eliminate -- the problematic situation.
If your cat's pica has nothing to do with her health, then it may be up to you to help her quell it. Firstly, do what you can to make your cat's life as comfortable as possible. If her hair eating is stress-motivated, figure out what's causing her anxiety, whether the presence of a new dog or lack of attention on your part. If she's nervous about the newbie, make the effort to set aside a cozy and isolated sanctuary within your home for your pet, at least until she has had time to fully adjust to the change. If your cat is lonely, spend meaningful "together" time with her for at least 15 minutes every day, whether you engage in a back-stroking session or throw a stuffed toy bird around for her to chase. Make "hair" inaccessible to your cat in any way possible. Don't leave brushes with remnants of hair lying around, for example. Also, if you groom your cat, sweep the floor free of her coat afterward. If you suspect boredom as the trigger for your pet's pica, invest in some new, interactive and exciting toys for your cat. Think feather wands or catnip balls, for instance. For severe cases, consult an animal behavioral expert near you. Ask your veterinarian for trusted and reputable recommendations in your region.
- Feline Advisory Bureau: Strange Cravings
- ASPCA: Compulsive Behavior in Cats
- Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Compulsive Behavior
- The Humane Society of the United States: Pica - Why Pets Sometimes Eat Strange Objects
- Animal Humane Society: Unusual Eating Habits in Dogs and Cats
- UC Davis Veterinary Medicine: Pica - The Unfinicky Feline
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images