Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 8-month-old cat has eaten polymer clay a whole half including plastic! Is polymer clay toxic to a cat? How can I keep her from eating clay and all kinds of other non-food stuff including wires, shoe laces, plastic, paint brush tips, junk on the floor, bird food, fish food, paper, potato chips, and crackers? Help!
Siouxsie: Polymer clay is made of polyvinyl chloride (a form of plastic) and phthalates, chemicals designed to make the plastic flexible and workable. Phthalates have been under scrutiny for some time due to concerns about toxicity.
Thomas: However, after a 2002 study by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group made it public that the phthalates used in those clays at the time were potentially toxic, manufacturers started using different and supposedly safer phthalates or non-phthalate plasticizers.
Dahlia: Our research indicated that there’s no need to panic if your pet eats a small amount of the stuff, but “a half” is quite a lot for a small cat. Although we’re pretty sure she’s not going to get poisoned by the stuff, it may block her intestines.
Siouxsie: Watch her litterbox carefully, and you’ll probably see evidence that your (hopefully very bright-colored) clay is coming out. If she doesn’t have a bowel movement for more than a day, give your vet a call, explain what happened, and ask if you should bring her in.
Thomas: As for all the other things your cat is eating — is she actually eating them or just chewing on them? If she’s eating things like shoelaces and wires, this could be very serious, as they could cause her intestines to get twisted up or, in the case of wires, actually puncture her digestive tract.
Dahlia: If she’s chewing on these things, it’s more of a pain in the butt than an actual hazard, except in the case of wires. If she chews through a wire that’s plugged in, she could electrocute herself and/or cause a serious fire hazard.
Siouxsie: The first step to take in curing any chewer is what we call “lead them not into temptation.” That means you need to put anything she chews on or eats in a place she can’t reach it.
Thomas: Keep your potato chips and crackers, paint brushes, fish food and bird food in drawers or cabinets. Keep your floor clean so she doesn’t eat or chew junk. If she tips over the garbage can to get to tasty morsels, invest in a heavier can, preferably with a lid that you operate with a foot pedal.
Dahlia: Wires should be kept neatly organized and tucked away from Kitty’s reach. You can use cable organizers and cable covers for places where wires run along the floors. These products are available at office supply and home supply stores.
Siouxsie: Consider using a bitter anti-chew spray on wires. We’ve heard mixed reviews about how effective these products are, but it can’t hurt to try.
Thomas: The next step is to make her environment more stimulating. Get her some toys. Most cat toys are safe to chew, and you can make them more tempting by rubbing them with, or “marinating” them in high-quality catnip.
Dahlia: When we say “high-quality catnip,” we don’t mean the stuff commonly found in catnip toys at pet stores and supermarkets. We mean go to your health food store and buy catnip in bulk. There are also companies and independent craftspeople that sell toys and more toys and still more toys made with high-quality catnip.
Siouxsie: After you’ve hidden away the things you don’t want your cat to chew and brought in some awesome toys to stimulate her mind, the next step in training is redirection.
Thomas: Redirection is basically distracting your cat with something more fun. To do this, you’ll need to get a few toys that you can use to play with your cat. The old “cat fishing pole” is a great standby. You can buy one or make one yourself with a dowel or twig and some strong twine or string with some rags knotted at the bottom.
Dahlia: Keep your interactive toy with you and whenever you see your cat going for a forbidden chewy thing, pull it out and start playing with her. As soon as she sees that tempting toy, she’ll forget about chewing those wires or shoelaces!
Siouxsie: Be sure to put any string toys away when you’re not using them: Not only is this vital for the “lead them not into temptation” factor, but you’ll avoid the risk that she’ll ingest some part of the toy and get sick.
Thomas: If you’re “crafty,” and from your letter it sounds like you sure are, check out this WikiHow entry on making cat toys for some more inexpensive but really fun and intellectually stimulating cat toys.
Dahlia: Good luck, Christina. Please let us know how things turn out!