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Why do cats eat paper and cardboard?

black and white cat in Monster Cheese Wedge. Cardboard is bitten.

Why do cats eat paper and cardboard?

Look closely at this picture of S’mores. No, more closely. What do you see?

 

I’ll tell you what you see: teeth marks.

 

Get enough cats in a room with some paper or cardboard and somebody is bound to start munching away.

 

shredded paper

Cats eating cardboard is a common problem

“Why do cats eat paper and cardboard?” is a common thread topic on cat forums, and the questions and comments posters submit range from “Why do cats love to tear apart paper?” and “Does anyone else’s cat like to munch Kleenex tissue and toilet paper?” to “Cat licking paper, boxes, etc.” and “Cat chewing paper…Pica? Needs fiber?”

 

toilet paper and toilet paper tubes

 

 

Dig deeper into the forums and you’ll find that some cats are connoisseurs of particular varieties of cardboard and paper. One poster mentioned her cat’s proclivity for chewing diaper boxes, another loves paper towels, and yet another prefers paperback books. One bulletin board contributor complained that her cat was biting her daughter’s homework. Let’s see if her daughter’s teacher buys that excuse.

a jumble of cardboard boxes

 

While there are no scientific studies to explain cats’ penchant for chewing, shredding, or even eating paper and cardboard, there are some good theories that might explain this behavior.

 

Cardboard and Paper Shredding May be Predatory Behavior 

knife

 

Wild cats do not have access to steak knives. In order to ingest prey they have just killed, they may have to break their meal into bite-sized pieces by ripping or shredding it. It is possible that our domesticated pets are seeking to indulge this natural behavior by ripping or shredding paper and cardboard.

 

veterinarian

 

Cardboard and Paper Shredding Could be Related to Teething or Health Concerns

 

Kittens have baby teeth just like human babies and it may feel good to them to chew on something with a little “give” as the adult teeth erupt. Anyone who has or has spent time around a teething human knows the value of those rubber teething rings.

 

Is your cat beyond the kitten years and still chewing cardboard? Perhaps he has irritated gums and rubbing them against cardboard feels good. Or perhaps your adult cat’s diet is lacking in some crucial nutrient. Other medical problems, such as thyroid issues, can also lead a cat to eat a non-food item. Check with your veterinarian if you are concerned about any of these things.

 

Biting or Chewing Paper and Cardboard Could be a Cat's Way of Marking or Claiming

 

Cats deliberately leave their scent on objects and humans, often by rubbing against the things they are claiming as their own. Biting or chewing an object might be a way that a cat says, “This box (or paper towel tube, or magazine) is mine.”

 

bored cat

 

Cats Can Chew Cardboard and Paper Out of Boredom or Anxiety

 

Do you have a very spirited cat or an anxious one? Perhaps, when she’s shredding up today’s mail she’s bored, or nervous, or looking for a way to expend some of that excess energy. Be sure to provide her with a variety of appropriate cat toys and engage her in play on a daily basis to be sure she’s getting what she needs from you.

 

Whatever the reasons behind your cat’s interest in paper and cardboard, observe him carefully. Is he playfully and harmlessly shredding and discarding the paper or cardboard, or is he ingesting it? Ingested non-food items can cause dangerous intestinal blockages, so keep paper and cardboard away from cats with a tendency to consume.

 

And finally, give some thought to the kinds of materials your cat puts in her mouth, even if she’s not actually eating it. What kinds of inks are on that paper? What has that shipping box come in contact with on the way to your house? Cat in the Box boxes are all made in the U.S.A. and the inks are soy-based and human grade.

 

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24 comments

  • Hi Nancy. Wow! Cats sure can be weird, right? I’d be very, very worried about your cat eating elastics, and all the other objects, too. Every one of them could cause a foreign body obstruction which could be life threatening and require emergency surgery. Elastics are especially dangerous. If it gets bitten in two, it could cause a “linear foreign body obstruction” which can, in turn, cause a bunching in your cat’s intestines. It’s hard to know why your cat is meowing at the litter box. It could be related to a bowel problem from his pica. It could be something completely separate and equally dangerous – such as a UTI or urinary blockage. It could be behaviorial — due to boredom, for example. I’d strongly recommend two things: 1) get your cat to the vet so that you can get the bottom of why your cat is meowing, and 2) do whatever you have to do to keep your cat from ingesting anything other than cat food and cat treats. You sound like a very concerned, loving, and careful cat owner. I appreciate you reaching out with these important questions.

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • Charlene – Thanks for writing. It is possible that the inks could be harmful (it’s why I make my products in the U.S. using soy-based inks). There are harmful inks in some newsprint that are petroleum-based, for example, and the color pages in the circulars could contain dangerous pigments. I’d also be worried about your cat developing a bowel obstruction from eating too much paper, which can be a life-threatening condition. I’d suggest you keep the newspaper circulars out of kitty’s reach!

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • My cat is part bangle and he will be one in two days. His very first hairball was hair I don’t know what else and elastics. My hair elastics and he literally eats anything off the floor. A feather from the duvet, cardboard tons and tons of cardboard. His scratching pads that are made of cardboard once the card boards on the floor he will eat it. He will chew on plastic. I no longer leave my hair bands or elastics around for him to eat and then I read in another post that their cat does miaow a lot around the litter box. My cat had been doing that for a couple of months and I was thinking of taking him to the vet. But then it stopped. He’s definitely not losing weight he’s the chubbiest cat I’ve ever had. We’ve had to lay off the treats and he only eats dry food. But now he’s back to miaowing when it comes to the litter box. He’s an only cat the only pet we have in his litter is clean nightly and he always has food and water. I’m more concerned with him eating anything and everything. It doesn’t make sense as someone said like baby humans they put everything in their mouth‘s so kittens would do the same. But he will be a year old in a couple days so I’m not sure if this is pica? Or something in common? But obviously were concerned. Any feedback would be amazing and appreciated. Have a great day

    Nancypants75

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