Why Does My Cat Lick Plastic Bags? Is It Safe? How to Stop?

Written by

Amy Sawy

Veterinarian. DVM


Joseph M. Plummer

Veterinarian, DVM, MVZ

why does my cat lick plastic bags

It’s common for cats to lick plastic bags. You can even catch them in the act when you’re organizing groceries.

But do you ever ask yourself, “Why does my cat lick plastic bags?”

The reason felines lick plastic bags is that they contain chemicals called “slip agents.” Slip agents consist of stearic acid, which is derived from animal fat.

As a result, the scent of these chemicals attracts felines, causing them to either smell or lick plastic bags. In addition, some cats like the smooth texture of plastic bags, resulting in compulsive sucking.

Reasons Why Cats Lick Plastic Bags

The reasons why cats like to lick plastic bags can be divided into two – normal and medical reasons.

Normal Reasons:

1. They Are Attracted to the Smell


As mentioned, plastic bags have chemicals derived from animal fat called slip agents. These chemicals are lubricants that prevent plastic bags from getting stuck together.

But since slip agents come from acid in animal fats, they may attract felines due to their smell.

2. Some Plastics Contain Pheromone-Like Chemicals


Some plastic bags contain chemicals that mimic the smell of attractants like pheromones. As a result, they may trigger your pet’s flehmen reaction, causing it to inhale the smell of grocery bags.

3. Retained Food Smell


Another reason is that the plastic bags may have retained the smell of meat or fish you put inside them while grocery shopping.

Plastic bags easily absorb smell due to their porous nature. Even if you cannot smell anything from the plastic carrier bags, felines have a much more sensitive sense of smell than humans.

These sensitive scent glands allow these furry animals to sense even the faintest smell of food.

Felines may also display this behavior when hungry, particularly if the biodegradable bags are made with cornstarch or tallow.

4. Boredom


If your cat is understimulated, it may find ways to entertain itself. Plastic creates noises when licked or played with, which your pet may find as a source of entertainment. Not to mention that the noises may sound like prey hiding in the grass, which triggers its hunting instinct.

In addition, the wavy texture of plastic bags provides felines with some form of activity.

Medical-Related Reasons:

1. Compulsive Disorder


According to Tufts University veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, a common reason why cats love plastic bags is a compulsive disorder. The disorder is called wool sucking, but felines with this disorder also like sucking and licking shoelaces, curtains, and of course, plastic grocery bags.

Notably, felines with this compulsive disorder are attracted to the smooth texture of plastics. Fortunately, unless the cat actually consumes the plastic, this disorder is harmless.

2. Pica

Pica is a condition that leads to a cat’s desire to ingest inedible materials. Tonkinese, Burmese, and Siamese felines are some breeds that commonly experience pica.

Tonkinese and Burmese cats both have Siamese ancestry. For this reason, experts suggest that such compulsive disorder may be genetic.

Still, all feline breeds can suffer from pica at any age.

3. Is It Safe For Cats To Lick Plastic Bags?


Licking plastic bags is generally safe for cats, as they cannot ingest chemicals just by licking plastics. However, what is dangerous is if your cat chews on plastic and swallows it.

Ingesting pieces of plastic shopping bags can result in gastrointestinal blockages. Failure to prevent this behavior can result in intestinal obstruction, which can be life-threatening.

If you notice your cat throwing up with a chewed plastic bag near it, your pet may have swallowed pieces of that bag. Therefore, you should immediately bring it to a veterinarian for immediate care.

Another risk that is associated with cat licking plastic bags is suffocation. If the plastic bag has food remains inside, felines may stick their heads in it. They may get their heads trapped in the bag’s handle, resulting in suffocation.

Tips to Stop Cats From Licking Plastic Bags


If your cats like plastic plastic bags and the behavior is starting to become disturbing, there are several ways to stop this behavior.

  • Keep The Bags Out Of Their Reach. After fixing your groceries, place the plastic bags somewhere your pet cannot access, such as in the cupboard.
  • Switch To Reusable Cloth Bags. Instead of plastic bags, get reusable cloth bags and use them for carrying your groceries. You may also use wax paper wraps for wet grocery items like meat and fish.
  • Prevent Boredom. Provide your cat with interactive toys. These toys will reduce boredom, preventing your pet from finding plastic bags to entertain itself.
  • Schedule A Veterinary Consult. If you see your cat licking plastic bags so much and you think it is a compulsive behavior, a veterinarian can help you address and treat the issue.

Alternatives Chew Toys To Plastic Bags

  • Chew Toys. One of the main reasons why cats lick plastic bags is boredom. Providing your pet with chew toys may redirect their attention and stop this behavior.
  • Cat Grass. Another thing that your pet may chew on instead of plastic bags is cat grass. Apart from preventing boredom, cat grass can also provide felines with fiber and some nutrients.
  • Interactive Toys. Some feline toys, such as a fishing pole and toy rat, can mimic prey behavior. Such toys can stimulate your pet’s hunting behavior, which takes away its attention from licking and chewing plastic bags.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my cat has pica?

The common symptoms of pica are:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Listlessness
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Mouth ulcers

If you notice these symptoms in your cat, you should contact a veterinarian for diagnosis.

Should I let my cat play with plastic bags?

Cats and plastic bags are not a good combination. Plastic bags are not toys, and they may pose a suffocation hazard to your pet.

Therefore, you should never let your pet play with plastic bags.

How long can a cat survive in a plastic bag?

If your cat’s head is stuck inside a plastic bag, it would only take less than five minutes before it suffocates. The more your furry friend tries to breathe, the tighter the plastic bag will wrap around its head.

For this reason, preventing your pet from accessing grocery bags is crucial.


The next common question after “Why does my cat lick plastic bags” is, “Is it bad for cats to lick plastic bags?” The quick answer is yes.

While plastic bags may not be toxic for your pet, letting it lick and play with them all the time can be dangerous. Your pet may try to eat the plastic bag, thus causing it to choke.

To prevent your cat from licking or playing with grocery bags, create a designated discarding area for the bags. This area should not be accessible to your pet.

If you cannot find a good area to store your bags, you can place them in a container with a tight lid.

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