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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 



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.




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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  • Marilyn, you are right to be worried about your cat’s desire to eat plants as so many common houseplants are poisonous. The truth is that you can never truly train a cat to not eat plants as it’s a natural behavior (read: Our cats just don’t know that their instinct to eat greenery can cause them harm. I’d encourage you to remove your houseplants and provide your cat with a little cat garden of safe grasses to eat. Plant your own, or buy a kit. It would be nice to be able to redirect our cats to more appropriate behaviors, right? But they sure have minds of their own.

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • Enjoyed & found informative about why cat’s chew & eats paper and cardboard. Regarding lack of fiber, what can I provide to fill her insatiable desire to devour plants to cardboard? Please advise.

    Marilyn Donohoe
  • Hi Kym in Darwin! I’ve been to your beautiful country, but not to the Northern Territory. I loved hearing about Mixie! He must keep you well entertained!

    Dawn LaFontaine

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