Cats are charming animals that fascinate us because of their great intelligence combined with very silly habits like eating strings or styrofoam.
If your cat ate styrofoam, you need to keep an eye on them and call your veterinarian. Depending on the quantity ingested, styrofoam can be the cause of very serious diseases and even go as far as being lethal to cats.
What should you do if your cat ate styrofoam?
The first thing you want to do if your cat accidentally ate styrofoam is to quantify how much styrofoam they actually ingested.
Cats usually “attack” styrofoam with their claws or teeth, biting away or tearing it into very small, snowflake-like pieces. Ingesting one of these little bits shouldn’t be particularly dangerous, as your cat should be able to pass it with no problems.
However, if a cat ate packing peanuts or swallowed quite a large quantity of this material, it can get dangerous.
When in doubt, one harmless precaution you want to take is to feed your cat spongy food like tuna with oil or cottage cheese after they ingested styrofoam.
This type of food will hopefully wrap around the styrofoam and help it pass through your cat’s digestive system.
It’s important to keep an eye on your cat for any unusual behavior or discomfort in the hours following the ingestion.
If your cat eats the food, doesn’t throw up, and passes stools normally in the next 48 hours, they should be fine. At the earliest sign of discomfort, it’s better to call your veterinarian.
Is styrofoam toxic to cats?
Styrofoam is not immediately toxic to cats, which means if your cat swallowed styrofoam they won’t be affected by it right away unless the quantity ingested is so big that it causes suffocation.
With that said, styrofoam is not safe for cats either. This material is made of a type of plastic that doesn’t easily break down in the environment, so you can guess how bad would it be to have it stuck inside your cat’s body.
Even though one-time ingestion might not cause any trouble, recurring ingestions might be poisonous, so make sure your cat doesn’t have regular access to styrofoam.
Why do cats eat styrofoam?
The most obvious reason why cats might feel the need to eat styrofoam is that the material was used as food packaging and your cat can still smell the alluring scent of food on it.
However, styrofoam is largely used for non-edible packaging and it seems to be irresistible for cats all the same.
The reason might be that this particular material fulfills two big needs for our feline friends.
Claws are very important to cats. They use it to hunt their prey in the wild, and housecats value their claws just as much as stray cats.
Claws and teeth are the only self-defense mechanisms cats have. Furthermore, claws help cats adhere to the ground and find stability. That’s why it’s not recommended to trim your cat’s claws, or at least not the rear ones.
Cats scratch things in order to sharpen their claws and styrofoam are the ideal material for this purpose.
Biting things is especially helpful for kittens during teething, but adult cats can have this habit too. Biting is how cats get to explore the world and the things around them.
It can also be a hobby or a sort of playtime for them. Cats simply love biting things and styrofoam is particularly satisfying to them because it’s rigid, but they can also easily sink their teeth into it and break it apart. And all pet parents know how much cats like to destroy stuff.
Risks of eating styrofoam for cats.
There are several risks related to the ingestion of styrofoam and unfortunately, some of them may cause very debilitating diseases or even death in the long run.
The only exception could be made for a certain kind of packing peanut that is made from corn starch, which is biodegradable and might not hurt your cat if ingested in a small quantity.
To check whether your packing peanuts are the ‘good’ type it’s enough to soak them in warm water. If they dissolve, they’re probably made from corn starch.
Apart from this rare exception, the majority of the styrofoam we normally use poses a serious risk to your cat’s health.
It was mentioned how the styrofoam doesn’t immediately represent a threat for your cat unless it becomes a choking hazard, which can happen if your cat swallows a large quantity of it in one-go or if they swallow a piece that is too big for their throat.
Styrofoam has a subtle risk factor that is often underestimated: it gets stuck to whatever it comes in contact with, which includes your cat’s mouth and esophagus (digestive tube).
This means that even if your cat ingests a small quantity of the material, there’s still a chance it might cause suffocation.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to intervene immediately and remove the pieces of styrofoam from your cat’s mouth.
Another risk related to styrofoam is its potential to cause blockage in the gastrointestinal tract.
As aforementioned, this material sticks to the internal walls of the digestive system, which means it’s more likely to cause a blockage than many other foreign objects your cat may swallow.
The gastrointestinal blockage most commonly manifests through vomit or diarrhea (when it’s partial). However, if the styrofoam caused a complete blockage of the intestines, your cat might experience constipation.
Other symptoms include weakness, lack of appetite, and abdominal pain.
Unfortunately, an obstruction in the intestines can also be much more serious. If the food doesn’t manage to pass through the intestines, it will rot inside of it, causing bad bacteria to prosper and spread through the organs.
If part of the stomach or intestines ruptures or dies, the bacteria will flow into the bloodstream and reach other organs. As a consequence, the condition might become lethal for your cat.
This is more common when ingesting a large quantity of the material. If you’re not sure about how much styrofoam your cat ingested, don’t waste any time and bring them in for a medical examination. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the styrofoam from the body.
Styrofoam toxicity is made apparent with the regular ingestion of the material. Eating styrofoam on more than one occasion is no different than feeding your cat poison.
It will affect especially the liver and the kidneys, which won’t be able to process the plastic and might eventually collapse.
Your veterinarian will be able to assess through specific medical examinations whether the ingestion of styrofoam is affecting the organs.
Another consequence of the ingestion of the harmful chemicals in this plastic material is cancer. Styrofoam can be carcinogenic if ingested routinely.
This is a silent disease that might not manifest until it’s too late, therefore it’s important that you don’t let your cat get away with eating styrofoam regularly even if they don’t show any symptoms after the ingestions.
Cancer is not easily treated in cats and the prognosis is almost always very dramatic, as death usually follows just a few months after diagnosis.
Can cats eat styrofoam?
Cats cannot eat styrofoam and as a pet parent, you should be extra careful in keeping this material away from them because cats are very much attracted to it and might consume a large quantity by mistake.
Regular ingestion of styrofoam is the gateway to serious diseases such as gastrointestinal blockage, partial necrosis, and even cancer.
Cats like to bite random items and might accidentally end up swallowing some things they aren’t meant to. It’s your responsibility to make sure your house is cat-proof by removing or storing away everything that might be dangerous for their health.