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Why do cats eat paper and cardboard?

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

 

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

 

“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.

 

knife

Predatory behavior

 

 

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

 

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.

 

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

 

Boredom

 

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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