Why Does My Cat Lick Plastic Bags?

By Karin Krisher

Dogs eat poop and vomit. We know that’s gross, but for some reason it kind of makes sense to us: dogs are scavengers and will go after anything remotely edible—including other animals’ waste. But cats’ strange habits aren’t explained away as easily. Sure, we know they’re hunters at heart, but why in the world would those carnivorous souls ever go after something like a plastic bag?

The plastic bag question puzzles pet owners and vets alike. Scholars speculate, bloggers lecture, owners shake their heads in mock surrender. Disclaimer: We can’t answer it, either. But what we can do is compile all reasons your cat might go after those grocery bags or that storage bin or feeding bowl. What about plastic drives a cat so crazy? It could be….

Theory 1:

Some plastic bags are made with animal fat, or tallow, that attracts cats. Similarly, it’s speculated that some bags are made with fish oils or fish scales to keep the plastic from sticking together. Even chemicals in plastic can be attractive. Cats lick at the bag to try to get some of the taste that corresponds to the scent.

Our thoughts:

We’re not sure about this one. It might be true, but it doesn’t explain licking plastic bags or other plastic items that don’t include these animal products—which cats definitely do.

Theory 2:

Some mental health issues can cause mammals to eat items they shouldn’t. Pica is characterized by a desire to eat non-nutritive substances. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder could also be at play, if the behavior seems to be frequent enough.

Our thoughts:

We’re not ruling this theory out, but we’re also not diagnosing all plastic-licking kitties with any sort of mental health issue. Keep an eye on your cat’s tendency to lick plastic and when it occurs—if it’s only in times of high anxiety, you might want to consult a vet.

Theory 3:

Plastic carries odors from everything else. If a plastic bag once housed some delicious chicken or even cat food, cats little noses could detect it and be intrigued.

Our thoughts:

Well yeah, that makes sense. Plastic does collect odors and hold onto them, and cats would be interested in many of those odors.

Theory 4:

They’re in it for the noise, which sort of mimics a caught rodent.

Our thoughts:

Not too far-fetched, but we think other materials also mimic this and cats don’t like those noisemakers as much as they like plastic, so this theory as the end-all isn’t our pick.

In fact, none of them are. Your cat could be licking plastic bags for a variety of reasons. Know that it is only a problem if the cat ingests the bags or if it is incessant—that could indicate a health concern. Your best bet? Keep your plastic items in a drawer or cabinet the kitty can’t reach or, even better, use reusable bags so you never need to bring plastic bags home. They’ll stay safe while you help the environment.