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If you’ve lived long enough with a cat, you’ll know that they are fastidious creatures when it comes to cleanliness. Especially when it has to do with their own fur and saucy food the urge to lick is only natural.
But is it normal for cats to lick anything other than themselves, their food, and occasionally their owner?
Why do cats lick toys? Licking toys can be a soothing behavior. Some cats enjoy the fun, crinkly texture, and smell of new toys. By licking the toy, they also mark it with their scent to claim ownership over it, something they would do to actual prey in the wild.
If you have a cat that enjoys licking his toys, you might want to find out more about this behavior. So, let’s figure out together when licking toys is simply adorable or possibly worrisome!
Why Do Cats Lick Toys?
You might find your kitty lick the strangest things from hair ties to bathroom rugs, but this time we’re here to explore all the reasons why your feline companion is particularly obsessed with licking their toys.
Most importantly you need to understand the difference between a happy toy-licker and a kitty that needs a little extra attention and support.
Reason 1: A Kitten’s Behavior
If you have brought a kitten into your home, teething could cause your new friend to lick and chew on their toys. Veterinarians even suggest that during their teething period “you should still provide them with appropriate chew toys, so they are not tempted to gnaw on other objects.”
Plus, the texture of certain toys may remind the young cats of nursing their mothers when they were still part of the litter as well as grooming, cuddling, and playing with their littermates. You might see the kitten carry that toy in their mouth around the house and treat it as a comfort blanket instead of a prey/toy, exhibiting behaviors like kneading, biting, and of course, licking.
Kittens that were separated too early from their litter can also lick their toys as a way to replicate that familiar environment. As they grow up they might abandon this behavior, or they might continue to feel attached to these toys throughout their life.
Reason 2: For Comfort
Cats also have their own unique ways of comforting themselves when trying to relax. One way they’ve learned how to do this is through the ritual of grooming. They can display this behavior towards other cats they feel bonded to, you might even find them licking your hair, face, or hands.
If your feline companion doesn’t live with other pets, and they show no interest in grooming you then you might observe them lick their toys instead. With time the toys carry a familiar smell that your kitty can grow attached to and seek out when they need to cheer themselves up.
One of my cats will spend most of his sleeping hours next to a fluffy toy he had since I first took him in. The texture of this stuffed toy feels is almost hair-like and he’ll spend a few minutes licking and grooming it before eventually falling asleep next to it.
Reason 3: To Claim Ownership
Cats rely heavily on their sense of smell to communicate with other cats and make sense of the world around them. They use the scent glands located on different areas of their body, like their paws and face to mark certain objects, or to exchange scents with other cats and people.
By marking each other they create a sense of familiarity and they also let other cats know their friendly intentions. In the case of an object like a toy, when they lick it they leave their own scent on it, marking it as their own.
If you keep your cat’s toys stacked away and let them play with them only in your presence, then they might lick the toy to reestablish their ownership over it. In a multi-cat household, your kitty might be exhibiting this behavior even more, especially if they are challenged by the other cats.
Perhaps they think that by licking the toy the other cats won’t play with it, or maybe they all end up licking the toys as each cat tries to reclaim it. New toys could also get a few licks from your cat just to make sure everyone knows he’s the owner!
Reason 4: They Think The Toy Is Prey
Another common reason why your kitty might be licking his toy is that it’s part of their hunting behavior. Mikel Delgado, co-author of recent research explains that “the patterns of behavior are similar, and the things that entice cats to hunt also get them excited about toys.” She also pointed out that, “the more similar to realistic prey the toy is, the more of a response the cat shows.”
So, the moment your kitty starts tossing the toy around he is immersed in a hunting experience. You might wonder why cats would lick their prey in the wild and that’s something cats do when they’re actually playing with it, and they’re not simply trying to eat it. This usually happens when they’re not hungry, or their prey is too big to eat in one go. Of course, our cats aren’t going to eat stuffed mice, so they’ll most likely lick and bite it instead of trying to consume it like they would with real prey.
Let’s not forget that cat toys often come with feathers and these things can get in the way of chewing, so your kitty will start licking them and pushing them out of the way.
Reason 5: They’re Curious
Toys are exciting, magical objects for many cats. Some love to chase and bat them around, others prefer to lick them. Finding your kitty lick his toys might come as a surprise, but if you look closely you might realize that they also like to explore other strange objects through taste.
All these things can be linked back to a cat’s natural curiosity. Think of it as your cat using all of his or her senses—especially taste—to check things out. While cats don’t have a complex taste palette as humans do, their strong sense of smell makes up for it.
The folks at Canidae point out, “some plastics have other chemicals in them that have interesting smells which can attract cats. It’s possible that cats detect a smell that mimics pheromones.” This can could explain why your kitty licks certain toys.
Some toys are also fused with catnip, which according to researchers is “a plant that can cause an apparently euphoric reaction in domestic cats.” Of course, not all cats respond to catnip, and the ones that do can have a different reaction.
I have two cats and one of them couldn’t care less about catnip and catnip toys for that matter. On the other hand, my other kitty will rub his face against such toys, nibble on them and lick them.
Just like this little guy, he definitely has a soft spot for catnip toys!
If you don’t have an issue with your cat’s harmless licking, one thing you need to be aware of when buying toys is possible dangerous substances. SO, make sure to look at instructions, and if your cat likes licking more than just his toys, keep toxic cleaning supplies, and plastics that are poisonous to cats out of reach.
Reason 6: Stress or Boredom
As I’ve mentioned above cats can lick toys because they’re seeking comfort, and while it can be an innocent behavior it could also be rooted in anxiety. Along with licking their toys, you might find your cat displaying excessive self-grooming that can lead to hair loss, a condition also known as alopecia.
It’s common for cats to use grooming whether it’s on their toys, a blanket, or their own fur as a coping mechanism. This obsessive licking can erupt from boredom, and that’s why it’s important to offer housecats as much indoor entertainment as possible, through daily hunting games, and visual stimulation by keeping the cat tree close to the window.
Enriching your cat’s environment can reduce their toy licking behavior and eliminate their anxiety. If you have a small apartment you can invest in a window perch instead of a cat tree with multiple levels.
CLKHOWL Cat Window Perch Hammock Seat is perfect for spying cats, and it’s suitable for a household with more than one cat.
Remember that finding the root of your kitty’s anxiety can help you find a solution. If there were any recent changes in your cat’s life, like moving, perhaps a change in their diet, or the passing of a friend then they might start licking their toys to cope with this new stress.
Reason 7: Nutritional Imbalance Or Pica
While licking toys isn’t necessarily dangerous when done in moderation, it’s definitely worth observing if you think it has turned into an obsessive behavior. There are cats that might lick or eat inedible objects because they have an eating disorder called pica. Cats with this disorder could be licking and snacking on a range of nonedible items such as cardboard, plastic shower curtains, and all sorts of crinkly chewy things including their toys!
Some cats will start licking their toys first and with time transition to nibbling and consuming small pieces. If you keep finding your cat’s toys gnawed, and with missing parts then it’s highly likely that they’re eating them. WebMD suggests how it’s necessary to consult a veterinarian to rule out serious medical causes for pica in a cat, and to get some advice on how to discourage your cat from eating nonfood items.
“For some cats, pica appears to be in their genes,” says Alice Moon-Danelli, an animal behaviorist, as it is quite common in certain breeds like the Siamese. This bizarre behavior could also be a coping mechanism related to stress, related to boredom, but it could also have something to do with their diet or a medical condition.
A visit to your local vet can help you identify whether your cat that keeps eating nonfood items is getting the right nutrients for his age, breed, size, and activity level. They might also need to be screened for feline leukemia, diabetes, and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Should You Be Worried If Your Cat Is Licking His Toys?
You don’t need to be too concerned with your cat’s toy-licking behavior if they do it from time to time. Of course, it’s always important that we keep an eye on our cats no matter how innocent a behavior might seem.
We can’t always be sure what toys are made of, there could be certain chemicals that seem appealing to your kitty and their licking could lead to consumption. If you find them licking and nibbling on their toys as part of their daily routine like self-grooming, then they could ingest parts of the toy by accident which in turn could cause intestinal blockage.
“If your cat has a tendency to ingest foreign bodies it may become a repeat offender, so being aware of this and taking precautions will be an important part of avoiding repeat incidents of gastrointestinal obstruction,” Veterinarians advise.
If licking toys is triggered by a medical condition or boredom, then it definitely isn’t healthy behavior. Not only because they’re in danger of swallowing small particles, but because it could be a symptom of a larger problem that needs to be addressed.
It’s good to be observant of our kitties and if a behavior as mundane as toy licking raises some red flags, then it’s time you took them to a vet. If it’s a behavioral problem, take some time to figure out what could have caused it. Are you staying away from home longer than usual? Have they stopped bringing you their toys because you have been too tired and rejected their requests for play sessions?
When cats display a problematic behavior you need to look for more clues, more changes in their mood, their eating pattern. A happy kitten most likely won’t lick their toys as a coping mechanism.
How Can I Stop My Cat’s Toy-Licking Behavior?
Whether you’re worried that your cat’s behavior is compulsive and excessive or you simply want to make sure they don’t hurt themselves, there are ways to keep their habit of licking toys under control.
1. Choose The Right Toy
Even if your kitty isn’t an obsessive toy licker, choosing toys that can reduce this behavior is a great long-term solution. It’s best to avoid feathery toys because they can trigger their toy grooming habit. Similarly, toys with small parts, easily breakable plastic bits should definitely be avoided for fear of choking. Instead, look for plush toys that won’t fall apart easily, are snuggly and can retain odors well so your kitty won’t feel the need to mark them over and over again with their tongue.
Look for interactive toys that you can use to play with your cat instead of living them alone with toys that they usually end up licking. You can also use food releasing toys so your kitty will spend most of his time tossing it around trying to nibble on the food instead of the actual toy.
2. Tuck Away Your Cat’s Toys
Of course, you don’t need to keep all the toys away from your kitty, just the ones they prefer to lick. Cat’s with pica or obsessive licking shouldn’t be left alone with toys. Instead, let them play with toys under your supervision, and once they grow tired or bored we can simply hide them away until they want to play again.
I usually use strings or wand toys to play with my cats, but I make sure to keep them hidden when I’m not around.
3. Reduce Stressors In Your Cat’s Environment
No matter how much your kitty enjoys licking toys, you still can’t eliminate them completely because they’re part of their in-house entertainment. What you can do is figure out what causes them to exhibit excessive toy licking.
It’s easy to blame our cat or the toy, but we also need to look at their living conditions. Make sure your feline companion doesn’t spend most of his day alone. I know it’s not always easy since work and life, in general, can take over, but if you feel that you’ve got a difficult week coming up try asking a trusted friend to come over and spend some time with your furry friend. When you do spend your time at home set some time aside to actually play and cuddle with your kitty.
Cats also can react badly to any change or disturbance. Vets suggest that you need to “strive to keep your cat’s environment and routine as consistent as possible, and when a change is needed make it gradually, so your cat has time to adapt without feeling threatened.” Provide lots of hiding spots where your cat can find some peace and quiet away from other household pets and family members.
This might sound obvious to some, but try to keep up with your cat’s feeding routine and the hygiene of their litter box. These two small things are also crucial and should not be neglected!
4. Redirecting Your Cat’s Toy Licking
While keeping your cat’s environment cat friendly can help reduce their stress, cats also need direct attention from their owner. Perhaps you could completely eliminate toys and experiment with games that involve you and your buddy only. My cats love playing hide and seek, or we chase each other around the house which isn’t only fun, but also helps keep them fit and me for that matter!
If your kitty is overly attached to their toys then completely taking it away is also not a good idea. Cat’s don’t respond well to negative reinforcement like yelling or being sprayed with water. None of these are long-term solutions, and on the contrary, these techniques might even increase your cat’s stress levels, which in turn might increase the tendency to lick their toys even more.
So, instead of throwing out your cat’s toys, you could only give them to your cat during play sessions. This way you can reduce the association between toys and licking. If you find your kitty is susceptible to training then you can use positive reinforcement to teach them that licking is an undesirable behavior. Whenever they lick a toy you can remove it and when they don’t you can praise them by giving them a treat.
When you’re recreating a hunting experience make sure your kitty doesn’t have much time to sit down and lick the toy, instead make them chase it until they’re too tired to even think about licking. Another fun way to pass your time together with no toys or licking is by teaching your cat to go out on a leash. This can help them spend their pent-up energy and be mentally stimulated from an outside environment.
If that’s not a possibility for your kitty then see if you can invest in an outdoor enclosure. I live in an apartment on the fourth floor and I’ve cat-proofed my balcony with a wire that none of my cats can go through. This way I keep the balcony doors mostly open and let them go in and out as they please. They usually spend their mornings laying in some sunny spot, watching the birds fly by or spying on the neighboring apartments.
5. Change Or Improve Your Cat’s Diet
Your cat’s constant toy licking could be a symptom of some food deficiency. If that’s the case you can consult with your vet on whether your feline friend has any allergies, food sensitivities, or special dietary needs to improve his or her diet with food options that will work better for his or her age and weight.
The Cornell University states that “Cats evolved as hunters that consume prey that contains high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat, and a minimal amount of carbohydrates.” They also add that cats require “a dozen other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids.”
To get all those goodies into your cat’s system you might need to look closely into your cat’s food brand and if you’re feeding them homemade food then you definitely need to switch to a high-quality cat-food brand. Researchers have shown that “nutritional problems occur most commonly when dogs and cats are fed imbalanced homemade diets.”
So, your kitty licking his toys might be a sign that they need more from their diet!
6. Seek Veterinary Help
Regular vet checkups can help ensure your cat is in good mental and physical health. If there’s a medical or health issue that’s causing your kitty to lick his toys, then your vet can find it in time and give your kitty the right treatment.
Even if their licking is the result of psychological issues or pica, then a professional can still help, and in case a vet is unable to give you an answer they can redirect you to an animal behavioral therapist. What you definitely shouldn’t do is self-diagnosing, or going through this stress all by yourself!
Realizing that your kitty enjoys licking his toys can be seen as adorable, eccentric, and in some cases problematically obsessive.
That’s why it’s important to understand if it’s part of a healthy kitty behavior or something that needs your attention. Thankfully you can always try and find ways to change this behavior if you know it’s hurting your kitty, by enhancing their environment, looking closer at their diet, and knowing that if you can’t solve this problem independently you can always reach out to a vet!
Now tell us do your cats lick their toys or do they prefer other objects they happen to find around the house, and how do you deal with it?
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