Why Does My Cat Lick Plastic Bags: Facts Revealed

Cats do a whole lot of strange things, but licking plastic bags is among the weirdest. Though not all kitties share this bizarre obsession, many do. It might worry you to see your furry friend licking the plastic, but it’s actually pretty common. What’s the deal with all the plastic licking? Is it safe? While felines can be a mysterious breed, some secrets are revealed easily enough. I decided to collect up the facts about this peculiar habit, and what I found out may surprise you.

Why does my cat lick plastic bags? A cat licks plastic bags because of the lubricants that are within the plastic. One ingredient in plastic bags is fatty acid.  Fatty acids are within animal or vegetable fat and the smell is something that is irresistible to the typical cat. 

Why Do Only Some Cats Lick Plastic Bags

Not all cats lick plastic bags, even if all your cats do it. Kitty hunting instincts run deep, but not all cats ‘hunt’ the same prey. This is probably due to genetic variables.

Though all cats come from a common ancestor way back in their genetic lines, it doesn’t change the fact that more ‘recently,’ in the last few thousand years, cats have adapted to various environments. Some cats may obsess over plastic because they’re predisposed to do so, while others simply aren’t.

Could The Plastic Licking Be Cat OCD

Equally likely, in some cases, is the fact that there are cats who lick plastic because of mental illnesses. Like their humans, cats can have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), so if your kitty seems to be more than generally obsessed with plastics, then it may be time to call the vet.

Your veterinarian can help you accurately diagnose and treat a cat with a mental disorder. Most mental health issues respond well to medication and treatment. Still, you should always keep the temptation away from an OCD cat. If you don’t feed their problem, it will help them keep it under control.

Similarly, anxiety can lead to some very odd kitty behavior. There are both prescription and natural remedies for kitty anxiety. Some treats and chews can help reduce your cat’s stress level, but if it becomes problematic or dangerous, then call the vet right away.

Why Does My Cat Lick Plastic Bags

There are several reasons why a cat might love licking plastic bags. I’ve compiled a list for you to help find the root cause. Some, like the sound, can be quickly and safely replicated by getting the cat a toy that makes a crinkly noise. Meanwhile, other possible reasons are a bit harder to resolve.

Things to watch out for when your cat is a bag licker:

  1. Food ingredients in the bags like cornstarch and fatty acids can cause licking.
  2. Lubricants used to make the bags easier to remove can also contribute to this odd behavior.
  3. PICA, which is a disorder where animals and even people eat non-foods.
  4. OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be tough to cure, but you can help your pet.

I will get into the details below, but f your pet seems to have a health concern, or if they think the bag is food, then you need to be especially careful.

  • Mental Issues

OCD isn’t the only mental health concern for a cat who likes to lick plastic. Some cats have a problem with PICA. Unfortunately, this condition compels cats, or even people, to eat non-food substances that have no nutritional value.

You’ll have to talk to your vet about what you can do for your fur-person if they have PICA. Certainly make sure they’re eating a balanced diet, and keep them away from those temptingly dangerous plastic bags.

If your cat gives a bag a lick or two, then it’s probably not worth a whole trip to the vet. However, when the behavior seems excessive, or your cat tries so hard to reach a plastic bag to lick that they could get hurt, then you should be concerned about their health.

This condition is more common in certain breeds. For example, the Burmese, Siamese, and Tonkinese cats tend to have PICA more often than other breeds. Though it’s not exclusive, there may be a genetic component. If you have one of these oriental cats, then keep a more watchful eye on what they eat.

Don’t try to self diagnose your pet. Only a vet can safely determine whether your kitty is suffering from a severe problem that causes weird behavior. More importantly, only your vet can give you a prescription to appropriately treat the condition. Luckily, most of the other causes on this list are less alarming.

  • Just For Fun

At the opposite end of the spectrum from serious concerns, sometimes cats do oddball things, like licking plastic bags, for fun. While most cat behavior is reasonable and makes sense once you know what to look for, they are playful critters.

Sometimes there’s nothing to it, and the behavior doesn’t have a deeper meaning. Your cat might just be having a good time. If you’ve ever watched toddlers at play, you’ve seen them try some darn strange things. Kids, like cats, will try most anything they think of at least once. If they like it enough, they’ll keep it up.

  • The Noise

You know how some people like to listen to the wind in the trees, and others prefer death metal? Cats are the same, and some like the sound of licked plastic. Maybe it drives you crazy, but it could be music to your kittie’s ears.

Cats have their own preferences and tastes that are highly individual. Your cat might find the crinkly sound pleasing because it reminds them of some experience, or because it harkens back to their hunting instincts. Perhaps it reminds them of stalking through fall leaves.

Whatever the reason, replace the plastic bags with a healthy activity for your kitty. My cats like the SmartyKat Electronic Motion Cat Toy from Amazon. It keeps them busy and out of my grocery bags. You can get one by clicking here


  • Texture

Similar to the sound, it’s entirely possible your cat likes the texture. Cat tongues are very rough, and we can’t understand how things feel when they lick them as a result. Perhaps the lovely smooth, flexible plastic of your bags feels nice. As I mentioned before, not every reason has to be profound or alarming.

  • Lubricants

Some lubricants can be a ‘yummy’ reason for your cat to lick plastic bags. The bags might not feel greasy or slippery to you, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t treated with a lubricant. Depending on how your bags were made, this might be why your furry pal loves the flavor.

Stearates, which are saturated fatty acids typically found in vegetable or animal fat, make great inexpensive sources for lubricants. Because they’re derived from fat, it can make the smell irresistible to some pets, like your cat.

  • Corn Starch

Another reason cats lick some plastic bags is found in a different but equally common plastic ingredient. Corn starch breaks down well over time. Mainly if your cat eats food that has corn as one of the ingredients, it might smell like food to them.

Corn starch is a great way to create more environmentally friendly plastic. Unfortunately, your cat or even his canine friends can mistake this food substance for, well, precisely what it is, corn.

  • Pheromones

Some plastics mimic pheromones or scents that attract. If your cat is getting a whiff of what they mistake for other cats on your plastics, then they may find a need to lick or mark the bags. This is a normal thing for a cat, though it seems weird to you.

  • Competition

While competition is one of the less likely answers, but since it’s possible, I decided to include it here. Some animals are just more naturally competitive than others. If your hyper-competitive kitty decides that the plastic is something they need to dominate, keep away from other animals or even use to get the more significant portion of your attention from other pets, then that could be the root of the licking.

Especially if they’re rubbing their face on the bags, or if they’ve sprayed or peed on them, then consider the possibility they may be competing. In this case, more playtime and love is one of the most straightforward solutions.

  • Learned Behavior

Cats learn from the animals around them as they grow. Sure, they’re fiercely independent animals who know how to hold their own, but that doesn’t mean they completely ignore everyone around them. Even though most cats act like they aren’t paying attention sometimes, they do pick things up.

A kitten whose mother practiced bag licking around them is more likely to give it a try. Similarly, a cat who saw other adult cats or even dogs licking plastic will also probably give it a shot. After all, if all their friends are doing it, then it must be worth a try.

  • Leftover Smells

Perhaps the cat licking a bag problem is much simpler. Ockham’s Razor states that the simplest solution is most often correct. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it still may apply in this case. Your cat could just be smelling something that traveled inside the bag that tastes good.

Just because you can’t smell it too, doesn’t mean your cat’s sensitive nose didn’t pick it up.

What To Do if Your Cat Licks Plastic Bags

Cats, like small children, can practice some extraordinary and dangerous activities for fun, like licking plastic bags. One of the most important things to keep in mind if your purring pet has an obsession with plastic is that it’s not safe. Plastic can block your cat’s ability to breathe.

Additionally, if they bite any off, and eat it, it could cause intestinal troubles. It’s not suitable for any animal (or human) to eat plastics. Beyond the questionable ingredients, plastic is hard to digest. It can cause blockages and other issues inside a body.

If your cat tries to lick plastic bags, you need to take them away. Don’t leave plastic out where the cat can reach it. It can be a pain to try and hide all the dangerous plastic, but there’s always some way.

Even if you have no children, invest in some child safety cabinet locks. You can store the plastic bags away where your beloved fuzzy friend can’t reach them. Alternately, you could try hanging all your plastic up on walls and in hard to reach locations. Put plastics away in a pantry or closet if you must.

Keep Plastic Bags Away From Cats

When my cat started licking plastic bags, she was small enough to get through the gap left by my child safety locks. I picked up a Simple Human MediumPet Food Storage Can in Brushed Stainless Steel and stored the bags inside instead of leaving them where my pets could reach them. You can find one by clicking here

Final Thoughts

When your cat starts licking a plastic bag, it may seem funny to some people. For others, it’s a source of significant concern. However you react when you see it, make sure to take the bags away from your cat.

Plastic, especially fragile plastics like the stuff in grocery bags, can be a real danger to your pet. Suffocation or intestinal issues are only part of the problem. After all, those grocery bags could have sat in anything.

Always call your vet if you are worried about your cat’s strange licking behavior, and keep your furry friends safe by moving plastic bags to a location where they can’t reach them.

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