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Why Do Cats Lick Metal?

Why Do Cats Lick Metal?
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why do cats lick metal

Cats are well-known for being curious creatures, and this curiosity can sometimes lead them to doing odd things. As a cat owner, you may have noticed your cat licking weird objects or attempting to chew on non-food items. In particular, you may have seen your cat licking metal objects or metal-coated objects.

While puzzling, it’s not that unusual to see your cat licking something that isn’t necessarily food, and it is likely they are just satisfying their curiosity about an object. So why exactly do cats lick metal?

Cats who lick metal are most likely just satisfying a curious urge, but some cats may be suffering from an underlying medical disorder that may require veterinary intervention, are bored and seeking attention, or they may just be trying to tell you they are hungry.

If you catch your cat licking metal, it could be due to one of the reasons we discuss below. We will also go over the possible risks associated with cats licking metal, why it may be a good idea to have your cat checked out by a vet if he is licking metal, and how to prevent your cat from licking metal.

Reason 1: Curiosity!

A curious cat is very likely to investigate something with her mouth. Cats have sensitive tongues, so licking or chewing on object may provide them with some key information on what the object is. For some cats, licking metal may be a way to see if an object is edible or a possible toy.

Your cat may lick the metal a few times before deciding it’s not really that interesting and moves on to something else.

Reason 2: She Could Be Bored & Is Seeking Attention

If your cat does not have enough to do, she may begin licking metal due to boredom. A cat’s tongue is very sensitive to textures, so she may begin licking nearby metal objects because it is an easy way to both satisfy her boredom and feels good at the same time.

If your cat is not actively seeking out metal objects to lick and instead begins licking a metal object that they’ve come across randomly, then it could definitely be boredom that is causing them to lick, especially if they are licking and chewing at other objects or showing other boredom behaviors.

If they are actively seeking out metal objects that they lick frequently, then it is probably for a different reason.

Some cats will lick metal when bored to try and get attention from their owners. A lot of people do not like the sound of a cat’s sharp tongue scraping across the metal, so they may interact with their cat to try and get them to stop.

Playing with the cats, giving them food or a treat, or even just yelling at the cats is enough positive reinforcement for the cat’s need for attention that the cat may begin licking the metal as a learned response to receive the attention they desire when they are bored.

Reason 3: It Could Be a Medical or Behavioral Disorder

One of the first things to think about if you catch your cat licking metal frequently is that they are suffering from some sort of health issue, and an appointment with a veterinarian should made immediately to have the cat checked out for any health concerns that could be related to the metal licking.

Here are a few of the factors that could be at play:

Nutrient Deficiencies & Licking Metal

Cats require a variety of vitamins and minerals in their diet in order to maintain a healthy immune system. Most of the time they are able to get all of their required nutrients from their food. If your cat is not eating a nutritionally balanced food (per the recommendations of AAFCO) or receiving a supplement, they may not be getting all of the nutrients they need and you may notice them to start to lick or eat odd things around the house, including metal.

Licking metal as a result of a nutrient deficiency would be related to a lack of Iron, Zinc, or Copper within the cat’s diet, which are three of the cat’s necessary “metal” nutrients that are found within their bodies. This is similar to licking other types of material like concrete which can also be related to a nutritional deficit.

While your cat could possibly be suffering from some kind of nutrient deficiency, it is unlikely they would seek out or even have access to a metal object containing the nutrient they are missing, and the cat would more likely begin showing other symptoms of the nutrient deficiency that the owner is more easily able to identify than metal-licking behaviors.

Symptoms of a nutrient deficiency include lethargy, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, reduced weight gain, skin lesions, and hair loss. If your cat is showing other symptoms of a nutrient deficiency in addition to the metal-licking, though, a trip to the vet is in order to conduct appropriate lab testing to determine if the cat is suffering from a mild nutrient deficiency or something more serious, such as anemia.

Pica

This disorder is a fairly common mental health issue among certain breeds of cats and is known to cause the licking and consumption of odd objects. If your cat is licking metal, it may be due to pica, which is closely related to other obsessive-compulsive disorders in cats and a possible reason for cats licking metal (among other things!).

Since cats normally pull off and eat small pieces of their prey, one of the biggest signs of pica is when your cat grabs and object and almost immediately swallows it in a matter of seconds, with little to no chewing. Cats suffering from pica may seek out mainly fabric materials to consume, but they can and will consume other materials (such as metal) as well.

Treatment for pica is mostly management-based, and the cat’s environment must be kept clear of any small objects they may pick up and eat. Providing stress relief and an appropriate diet may also help in the treatment of pica.

Obsessive-Compulsive & Anxiety Disorders

Cats who frequently lick metal may also be suffering from an obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder. Similar to humans, cats who have OCD or an anxiety disorder can become fixated on certain behaviors, including the licking of metal objects (called an oral disorder).

If you see that your cat is frequently licking metal objects in an almost obsessive manner, then a checkup at the vet is probably necessary. Treatments for these types of disorders include prescription medication and management of the cat’s environment to make sure their needs are being met appropriately.

Immune Disorder

If you notice your cat licking metal, they may be suffering from an immune disorder. There are several immune disorders that could potentially cause this issue, with anemia being the most common non-viral causes of an immune disorder. Similar to a nutrient deficiency, anemia may cause a cat to seek out metal objects and lick or consume them.

The main symptoms of anemia include loss of energy, weakness, and loss of appetite.

However, like the nutrient deficiencies, it is more likely the owner will begin noticing the other, more obvious signs of anemia before noticing any metal-licking behaviors in the cat, though it may still be worth it to bring up the metal licking if you have noticed it in addition to the other symptoms of anemia.

Stress

Cats who are stressed may begin licking metal as a kind of tic to try and reduce their stress, similar to how a human would pull at their hair or pick at something. If you notice your cat is suddenly licking metal and no medical reasons are found, then it could be a stressor within the cat’s environment that is causing him to aggressively lick metal.

If you can identify the stressor and remove or reduce its impact on your cat, then hopefully your cat’s desire to lick metal as an outlet for his stress will dissipate.

Reason 4: He Could Be Hungry

Cats who lick metal may also just be hungry, and they may attempt to lick or eat objects that they perceive as food to help ease that hunger. If you’ve responded to your cat licking metal in the past by giving them food or a treat, then they may also begin licking metal every time they feel hungry or want a treat.

For these very smart cats, they’ve associated the act of licking metal with the arrival of food or a tasty treat. In their minds, if they lick the metal then a treat or dinner is sure to arrive soon!

Reason 5: It’s Just a Quirky Habit!

For some cats, licking metal might just be a weird habit that they’ve developed and is unique to the cat. Just like people, cats can have odd quirks. This is especially true if a kitten was positively reinforced for licking metal at any point during their youth, or if the kitten found comfort in licking metal.

Just like licking the floor, windows, shower curtains, or anything else it could just be your cat being a silly cat!

As an adult, the kitten may continue the habit and there may be no other reason present. Even if you suspect the metal licking is just an odd habit of your cat’s, a medical visit is still a wise choice just to be on the safe side.

What Your Cat Licking Metal Probably Isn’t

We’ve already covered what’s most likely to be going on but now let’s cover what isn’t at play.

It Probably Isn’t Because the Metal Tastes Good

Compared to their sense of smell, cats have a very poor sense of taste. While some metal objects may have a stronger metallic taste than others, it is unlikely that your cat is licking metal because it tastes good.

It Probably Isn’t Because Metal Makes the Same Noise as a Prey Animal When Licked

The average prey of a cat includes rodents, birds, and other small animals, and cats are such excellent hunters that oftentimes the prey is not even able to make much more than a small sound before the cat kills it.

The sound a piece of metal makes when a cat licks it is unlike any of the regular sounds a typical prey animal makes, so it is unlikely that the cat is licking the metal because they think it is a prey animal. Cats are also highly intelligent and have an excellent sense of smell, thus it is not likely they would even consider a piece of metal to be a prey animal in the first place!

Is It Bad If My Cat Licks Metal?

Generally, it is best not to let your cat lick metal. The metal objects your cat licks could cause a variety of health concerns for the cat, including poisoning.

Toxicity

A lot of metal objects contain metals that are toxic to cats, even in low doses. Metal objects may also be coated in toxic substances, which the cat can ingest while licking the metal object. Signs of metal poisoning in a cat include digestive upset, neurological problems, or convulsions.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, you should immediately take them to your nearest veterinary hospital for emergency treatment, and then inspect your home for any possible objects the cat could have had access to.

Electricity

Cats are known for chewing and licking things they shouldn’t, including electrical cords or metal outlets. A cat who has access to a metal object that contains (or is connected to) any source of electricity is at risk for electrocution, which can be fatal. If your cat has a penchant for licking or chewing on metal cables or the metal prongs of an electrical cord, you should take the necessary steps to prevent access to those things.

The best way to do this would be to prevent the cat from being around any of these things in the first place, but you can also look at cat chew deterrents such as this one, or even at child protective covers for electrical outlets and plugs.

Dental Issues

Licking and chewing metal objects has the potential to cause dental damage in cats. If your cat bites down on a metal object, there is a chance he could crack or even lose a tooth. Repeatedly licking and chewing metal objects can also cause his teeth to wear down over time, leading to lifelong dental issues and potential difficulties with chewing and eating his food.

Obsessive-Compulsive Issues

Allowing your cat to lick metal could potentially cause addiction issues or obsessive-compulsive issues, particularly if the underlying cause is stress related. If the cat is allowed access to metal objects during times of stress and is allowed to lick them to calm himself down, he may form an impulsion to lick metal objects even when the stressor is no longer present.

If you notice that your cat is stressed, attempting to remove or reduce the stressor and providing your cat with appropriate stress relief (such as a quiet space or stress relief supplements) are better options than allowing him to lick metal to calm himself.

Allergies

Cats who are allowed to lick metal may have an allergic reaction to something within or coated on the metal object. Because it is hard to determine what may be on or in the metal object your cat is licking, it is next to impossible to rule out a potential allergen that may also be on the metal.

Keeping metal objects out of reach of your cat (especially if your cat has a sensitive immune system) is the best way to prevent your cat from suffering any kind of unintended allergic reaction.

How Do I Stop My Cat From Licking Metal?

Make a Vet Appointment

If you notice your cat licking metal on a repeated basis, a trip to the vet is probably in order, especially if your cat is also showing other signs of illness or injury. Your vet will be able to run the appropriate tests to determine if your cat has some kind of health issue, and they can also advise you on possible reasons your cat specifically is seeking out and licking metal. If your vet determines that your cat’s metal licking is a result of a behavioral issue, they are also able to refer you to a cat behavioral specialist who can assist you in finding the root cause of the behavior.

Provide Enough Toys & Frequent Playtime

Once a health or behavioral issue has been ruled out, you should also make sure you are meeting all of your cat’s necessary needs. Providing them with plenty of toys and frequent playtime to keep them occupied can help prevent them from seeking out other ways (like licking metal) to cure their boredom.

Create a Stress-Free Environment

If the cause of your cat’s metal licking is stress, taking steps to ensure your cat has a stress-free environment is a good way to help stop the metal licking. Once the cause of the stress is identified, you can research ways or work with your veterinarian to find the best ways to help your cat manage his stress in a healthier way. This could include stress relief supplements, prescription medications, or providing your cat with her own private space away from her source of stress.

Keep Metal Away from Your Cat

Of course, the best way to keep your cat from licking or consuming metal objects is to remove all access to the metal objects in the first place. You can do this by restricting access to the metal objects using barriers, using protective coverings on the metal objects, or training your cat to stay away from metal objects.

Closing Thoughts

While most cases of metal licking in cats are probably due to curiosity, there is potentially an underlying medical or behavioral issue that is causing your cat to seek out and lick metal objects. If you see your cat licking metal and suspect an underlying medical issue, a trip to your cat’s veterinarian is probably in order. In general, discouraging and preventing cats from licking metal is probably your best bet to make sure you are keeping your feline friend happy and healthy!