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Why Is My Cat Afraid Of Plastic Bags?

If your cat is scared of plastic bags this may strike you as odd and leave you wondering why… 

Why is my cat afraid of plastic bags?

Your cat might be afraid of bags for a few different reasons. Some say that it is simply the sound, which is similar to the sound of a snake rustling in the bushes, and so it’s a survival trait that this noise makes cats naturally uncomfortable. It is also possible that it’s simply a memory from when they were a kitten. 

So, now you know. But, how could this bag trigger a bad memory? Are all cats like this? How can I keep these bags away from my cat? Keep reading for these answers, and much more…

How can a bad memory of a plastic bag affect a cat?

Cat lying next to a plastic bag.

Cat lying next to a plastic bag.

For example, it could be that someone could have rattled a bag at them or chased them and they remember this as a sign of danger.

Are all cats scared of plastic bags?

Not all cats are afraid of bags, but they certainly respond to them. The crinkling sound definitely gets their attention and while some cats will jump inside to play, other cats seem to dislike it and get away from the sound quickly.

 It all depends on your individual cat and their experiences.

If your cat is frightened of bags, they might even simply grow out of it, after a bit of time and seeing that the plastic is not a threat to them (or that the bags might even contain tasty treats!).

How can I keep plastic bags away from my cat?

If your cat likes plastic bags and you are having trouble keeping them away, then you might just have to invest a little extra time in their disposal. An extra trash receptacle and taking the time to tear up the bags first may help to make them less appealing, but this will really depend on the cat. Some cats will like bags MORE when you tear them up.

The best defense is going to be making sure that your cat doesn’t see them in the first place. A clever distraction with some catnip or treats can help to ensure that they aren’t paying attention to you and the bags and should give you a little time for a quick and discreet disposal.

How can I help my cat to NOT be afraid of plastic bags?

Your cat might not actually be as afraid of them as you think. When a cat gets excited about something, they can go into ‘play mode’ and seem much more aggressive. While it looks to us like they don’t like whatever it is that they are jumping on and shredding it, so the opposite is actually the case.

If you’re still pretty sure that they are frightened, then you should treat it like you would a phobia with a human. Tear some bags where they can see it, slowly and carefully, and let them sniff at or play with a piece or two. Repetition and patience is the key and over time your cat will associate the bags with play instead of danger.

Are some cats afraid of the sound of plastic bags?

Cats are very aware of sounds and scents in their environment. Plastic smells very odd to them to begin with, and when you move the bag to make it rustle and ‘hiss’, that sounds quite a bit like a snake to them. Not all cats react this way, but for some it seems to evoke a primal response in some that makes them want to run away.

It all depends on the individual cat and there’s really no way to know until we see how they react. Ultimately, a lot of cats seem to love bags, but every now and again you’re going to find an exception and in most cases they’ll adjust once they realize that the bag is not a danger.

Could plastic bags trigger some historical trauma in your cat?

This is always possible. Like humans, if something scares a cat quite badly then they are going to remember it. With most cats, the rustle of a bag gets them excited, as it sounds like something is trapped inside and gets their predatory instincts excited.

If your cat is definitely afraid, then it is always possible that someone hurt them or they had a bad experience with a bag at some time when they were young and they are remembering this. If you believe it to be the latter, an animal behavioral specialist might be able to help or you could simply ask your vet.

In most cases, your cat will grow out of it, but it might take a little time.

Why do some cats eat or chew plastic bags?

Cat surrounded by groceries in plastic bags.

Cat surrounded by groceries in plastic bags.

Cats chew on plastic for different reasons. When they are kittens, many will chew on plastic simply because they are teething, but plastic seems to fascinate them even well into adulthood. It ripples when touched and makes a distinctive, crinkly sound, that gets their predatory instincts instantly on alert.

Most cats will happily play with a plastic or a paper bag for a good amount of time if you let them, just be sure to break any loops that they might get caught up in and if they want to play, then let them. It’s one of the cheapest and most effective cat toys out there, with the possible exception of a laser pointer!

How do you keep a cat from being scared, in general?

Watch for cues to make sure that you aren’t mistaking excitement for fear. A frightened cat will show a number of behaviors, such as tucking their tails between their legs, hissing, or even raising the hairs on their back.

If it is a definite fear response, then the most common treatment is going to be exposure, much like you would do with a human phobia. For the most part, it’s just going to be a matter of time, as you don’t have any way of knowing what trauma originally upset them. This can be common with rescue cats, but over time it will settle.

Your cat just needs to see and feel that they are safe and eventually they will calm down. Your vet can also help by referring you to an animal behavioral specialist and medication may be an option if the issue is neurological, but give it time first – especially if this is a new cat. Once they adjust to their homes they will almost always relax.

How do you know if your cat is traumatized?

Your cat will likely react quite dramatically to certain stimuli if they have been traumatized. While it is definitely a possibility, in most cases a few years of life and love with someone who cares for them is going to relax them about their phobias. Watch for dramatic behavioral cues, such as sudden urination, instant aggression, or tucking their tail between their legs as a sign of submission.

If your cat is simply running away when certain people or items are around, you’ll want to take note of this, and you can try to minimize the effects by recognizing that these things scare them and working to adopt a strategy to make them less threatening.

Cats remember trauma, just like we do, the trick is going to be recognizing it and through love and repetition showing them that they are always safe when you are there.

Are adopted cats more likely to be scared easily?

Not as much as you’d think. While we all imagine that the previous person taking care of the animal was cruel, in most cases that is simply not true. Poverty or rules on pets where someone lives are quite common reasons that an animal is taken to a shelter to find them a new home.

If your cat is very shy, just be patient and loving. Cats are creatures of habit and over time, your cat is going to learn to trust that they are always safe when you are close.  

Lindsey Browlingdon