We had two cats when I was growing up: a grey Siamese crossed with the spirit of a grouchy tiger (truth) and a fluffy cat of an indeterminate breed that had tufted ears. The grey cat mooched human food and the fluffy cat ate… well, some of my sister’s books still bear toothmarks from her!
Cats eating (or at least chewing) on paper and cardboard isn’t unheard of. In fact, many book and cat owners probably have a few books with tooth holes in the corners. But why do cats eat cardboard? It can’t taste too good and it certainly doesn’t endear them to humans, so what gives?
First off, chewing on cardboard isn’t necessarily a reason to go racing to the vet unless you suspect cardboard got swallowed and it’s causing problems in the digestive system. Otherwise, most of the reasons why cats chew cardboard are fairly banal, harmless to the cat, and while it shouldn’t be encouraged, it’s probably not worth losing sleep over either. As usual though, if you have any concerns, call your vet!
Reasons Why Your Cat May Eat Cardboard
There are several reasons why your boxes may be sporting little holes in them:
- Predatory behavior. Cats have evolved to rip and shred their prey. While they don’t have to rip and shred their dry or wet food, the instinct may still remain for many cats, leading them to rip and shred paper and cardboard.
- Marking their territory. Certainly, the family cat chewed on my sister’s books to get her attention and mark the territory as hers. Much like rubbing their glands on things, it’s thought that cats also chew on things to get more of their scent on an object. If you have a cardboard bed for your cat, you may see them chewing on the corners to mark their bed as their own.
- Boredom. If your cat doesn’t have enough toys or things to do, he may start chewing on things out of boredom, much like dogs do. Destructive behavior is pretty common in domesticated animals that have no steady outlet for their energy.
- Teething. In kittens, chewing behavior is very common because it feels good on erupting teeth and sore gums. In adult cats, it can be a sign that the gums are feeling irritated or sore and the cardboard feels good on them.
- Anxiety. Anxious cats may chew cardboard as an outlet for their feelings. Cats have a reputation for being stoic and insular, but they are actually quite sociable animals who don’t generally react well to change. Moving, being alone a lot or sudden changes can cause cats to feel quite anxious and that often makes them act out, including eating or chewing on cardboard.
- Pica. Pica is a condition whereby animals (and humans!) have a craving for things that have zero nutritional value, for example, clay, cat litter, dirt, and cardboard! The causes of pica aren’t very well known, (it’s characterized as a psychological disorder and eating disorder in humans), but it seems to be tied in many cases to a vitamin deficiency, genetics, or psychological issues. In the case of cats, pica may also be why some cats love to eat grass!
- Vitamin deficiencies. Some vitamin deficiencies have been linked to cardboard chewing in cats. These can include fibre and fats.
- Disease. Some diseases such as kidney problems, leukemia, diabetes and gum disease have been linked to cardboard chewing. If your cat is showing other symptoms of problems or you’re concerned, definitely go to your vet to get your pet tested.
As you can see though, many of the reasons why cats chew cardboard is harmless enough, though it may be time to invest in some new toys if your cat is bored!
What Can I Do About My Cat Chewing Cardboard?
If cardboard chewing is not a behavior you want to encourage, and you’ve ruled out health issues, then there are some things you can do to discourage your cat from putting little tooth holes in everything.
One of the big causes is boredom and a lack of an outlet for energy, especially in younger cats. Therefore, the easiest thing to do is to provide that outlet. There are plenty of toys in pet stores and dollar stores that cats enjoy, or you can even make your own out of things like small rods, ribbons, tufts of fake fur, scraps of wood, and so on.
Much like toddlers, cats will often choose the package the toys came in over the toys themselves. It’s important to pay attention to what your cat enjoys doing and then make sure that toys are available that fit those preferences. Cats also like to perch and look outside, so having ledges available can provide much-needed entertainment. Some people even build ‘catios’ which are enclosed, outdoor patios for cats to get fresh air and look around without worrying about the cat getting run over or hurt.
My cats (all of them) liked plastic eggs with something inside to make them rattle. They also went after bread tags, so you know, you don’t have to work too hard or buy anything too expensive to make a cat happy.
It’s also important to take things away that you don’t want your cat to wreck. Recycle or store cardboard, paper, and things made from those products properly and encourage cats to stay in their own ‘territory’ with their food, beds, toys, and positive attention.
A final thing to do is make sure that your cat gets loving attention every day, that changes are minimized and cats are helped through major changes such as moving or bringing in a new pet or a death, and that you monitor your cat for any changes to their health where chewing cardboard is just one symptom.
Chewing cardboard and other things like paper is a relatively common behavior in cats and it doesn’t always mean a dire health concern. However, it can easily mean that your cat is bored, wants your attention, or just wants to mark their territory. You can gently discourage this behavior by providing other toys, providing attention, and keeping cardboard out of their reach. As always, if you are truly worried, contact your vet.
For now, while it was irritating at the time, those tooth marks at the corner of a few books are a physical reminder of a cat who passed away years ago, so in that sense, it’s a little sweet. However, most people don’t want holey cardboard, so we hope this helped you with your cat’s chewing behaviors.