Alex and His Strange Obsession: Nighttime Kitty Antics

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night and thought, “what the heck is that noise?” What am I saying, of course you have; you have cats. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the sound of your favorite feline about to violently eject their dinner onto your bedspread, which, if they could do at 7am instead of 2am, would actually be helpful. But as I lay awake one night, listening to this new, unfamiliar sound, I knew it wasn’t the audio accompaniment to an impending upchuck; it was something different.

The trouble with trying to work out where in the darkness an alien sound is coming from is that as soon as you start looking, the noise invariably stops, so it took me several nights to discover the culprit. My four-year-old ginger cat, Alex, vigorously licking a plastic bag.


This is an excellent question, and one that I still don’t feel like I’ve answered to my satisfaction. Initially, I assumed that it was just that particular plastic bag; it must have contained something delicious, or had something spilled or sprayed on it. But no, it turns out that Alex’s taste in plastic is far from discerning.

If there is any plastic bag left within his reach, he will be there, licking away. He doesn’t do it during the day, and he doesn’t lick other plastic receptacles. Shopping bags, bin bags, and especially post bags have become Alex’s nocturnal obsession.

Despite having been a vet for well over a decade, this was not a behavior I had encountered before, but as it turns out, Alex is not alone. In fact, there are several theories to explain this particular feline fetish, none of which can be definitively proven.

Business Alex the orange cat wearing a tie
Business Alex has some theories too…

Is it the…

  • Texture? Is it the sensation of rough tongue against this smooth surface that appeals? But it must be something about the way that the bag moves, as other plastic objects just don’t cut it.
  • Flavor? I admit, this is not something I have tested myself, but it’s hard to imagine that a plastic bag would be particularly mouthwatering. Plus, we have around 20 times more taste buds than cats; surely they aren’t detecting something we aren’t.
  • Smell? This is where cats have us beat. 200 million olfactory receptors vs. our paltry 5 million, and this sense also contributes to how things taste.
  • Chemicals? We know that plastic bags are terrible for the environment, and they’re not too great for us either. Chemicals like phenols and phthalates have been found to have some properties that mimic or block human hormones like estrogens. Perhaps this is what attracts a cat.
  • Sound? The rustling sound the plastic makes while being licked could be a factor, although one would expect that this would encourage them to play with the bag rather than treat it like a popsicle.

There is another possibility that I cannot ignore, and that is that Alex may just be a sandwich short of a picnic. But in his defense, apart from a few little eccentricities such as his “somersault of happiness”, the way he always crosses his front legs when they’re not splayed out in strange angles, and his weekly habit of sitting at the kitchen counter waiting for his teaspoon of milk, he generally seems to be of pretty sound mind!

Alex the cat waiting for his milk
Patiently waiting for his milk

Am I Worried?

Look, there is always the risk that Alex could swallow, inhale, or choke during his late-night licking, but I have never observed, or seen evidence of, him biting or chewing the plastic. Just the tender, somewhat obsessive, licking.

The reality is, he’s probably at far greater risk of being buffeted in the head by the cushion I send flying towards him at 3am. I have learned to perform a nightly reconnaissance to make sure that any bags have been carefully stashed away or disposed of; perhaps Alex has just been trying to get me to tidy up a bit more!


We should all be using less plastic, and if one of the unintended benefits of seeing a reduction in its use is that I am less likely to be woken by the lick, lick, lick of Alex’s strange preoccupation, then that is just one more reason to get on board. Of course, with five cats and five dogs, one of them’s bound to do something to keep me awake!

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About the Author: Tony Ramos

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