Since adopting Reginald we have moved twice. During the moving process his favorite thing to do was to chew, lick, and rub his face on the boxes strewn across the rooms! We still have a few of those cardboard boxes stored in the basement, and when Reginald gets the chance he goes straight to them! There’s no worries if your cat does this too. It’s pretty normal cat behavior and generally safe as long as they are not ingesting it! I wondered why cats do this and after doing some research I came up with several answers….
Cats like to chew on cardboard for these 7 main reasons:
- Their gums are sore
- They are bored and under stimulated
- Predatory behavior
- They have pica
- They are Artists
- They are marking it as their territory
- They have Stress and/or Anxiety
Your Cat’s Gums are Sore
Diseases of the teeth and gums are common in cats because of the way their gums form around their teeth, plaque can easily get underneath them causing inflammation and/or infections. Cats can even develop dental problems by the age of three!
Your cat may be chewing on cardboard because they want to relieve the pain or inflammation of their gums caused by teething (kittens), gingivitis or periodontal disease. It’s like scratching an itch! If you think this is why your cat chews on cardboard, your vet can do a quick dental checkup.
Cats also might be chewing on cardboard to help clean their teeth and massage their gums. Though, this shouldn’t be a substitution for brushing your cat’s teeth! Although it may be difficult, it’s important that you brush your cat’s teeth regularly because plaque can build up quickly and become hardened tarter.
It is also a possibility that your cat’s gums and teeth are healthy, but they like the sensation of cardboard massaging their gums.
Your Cat Is Bored
Chewing on cardboard may be your cat’s way of getting their pent up energy out. Some cats are left alone for long periods with no humans to entertain them and so they resort to chewing boxes. In addition to feeling good on their gums, it’s easy to chew and tear up with their claws so they might find this destructive action to be an outlet for their energy, relaxation, or even fun.
If this sounds like your cat, and you don’t want them to chew up your boxes, look into getting cardboard scratchers for cats, or foraging toys that allows them to work for their treats (this will keep them occupied). Cat grass is also a good substitution for something to chew on. Otherwise, if you don’t mind them chewing on your boxes, that is fine too! Just allow them to have various choices to entertain themselves for when you are not home.
Although uncommon, your cat may have a disorder called pica if they are chewing and eating bits of cardboard, among other random things such as litter, paper, and plastic.
Pica can be a sign that there is a nutritional deficiency, or a sign that a young cat was weened from their mother too soon. It is also associated with diseases such as anemia, diabetes, hypothyroidism, leukemia, and FIV.
Pica could also be a genetic disorder commonly seen in breeds like the Siamese and Birman. If you find your cat chewing (or eating) more than just cardboard, it’s a good idea to bring them to the vet to find any underlying causes. Click here if you want to learn more about cat Pica
Your Cat is Designing!
This point may sound ridiculous but hear me out… If your cat likes sitting and relaxing in boxes, they might be chewing it for functionality and comfort! So take note on any chew patterns and where your cat is chewing their box.
Although this might be the least likely reason your cat likes to chew on cardboard, there are plenty of cat owners on the internet sharing evidence of their cat carving custom made beds, or dens.
If your cat is a designer, you might find that they are making a half circle from the top of the box so they can rest their head or limbs on it more comfortably, or a hole so they can peep through the box (makes them feel safer).
Next time observe any patterns that your cat may form while “working on” his favorite box. If your cat does this, then he is one crafty kitty! Help him out with their comfy abode by throwing in a little blanket!
Your Cat Is Claiming the Box as Theirs
Cats purposefully put their scent on their humans and objects by rubbing against them to claim it as their own. Another way they leave their scent on things is through biting and chewing. This is because they have scent glands around their face and also use their saliva to leave their scent. This is why you may see your cat not only chewing on the box, but also rubbing their face on the corner of a box flap (one of Reginald’s favorite activity involving boxes).
Cat behavior specialists say that cats feel safer with familiar scents such as their own. If your cat is marking the boxes in any form (spraying, chewing etc.) it may be becuase they are anxious or stressed. They find that cats who are more timid or insecure may chew up boxes more than secure cats.
Cats who are anxious or stressed not only tend to chew on cardboard boxes, but generally display behavior that humans perceive as naughty or destructive, such as peeing outside of their litter box, overgrooming and chewing their fur off.
If your cat is chewing on boxes because he is stressed, he might appear to have formed a habit out of it. If this sounds like your cat, I would look into the source of your cat’s stress by bringing them to the vet to eliminate health issues. Also identify if there was any household changes.
Also, just like with a bored kitty who is chewing on boxes, provide him with more interactive toys, cat grass, cat nip, a scheduled time for playing, and perhaps a cat tree that will make them feel safe and confident.
Add comfort to your stressed cat’s senses with calm music, and a plugin you can buy that releases pheromones that mimic their mother’s scent.
Your Cat Is Upset And Wants Attention
Similar to anxiety we want to find the source of what is upsetting your cat. Maybe they need more attention? Some cat breeds are more attention seeking than others and THRIVE on social interaction. When they don’t get it, they get upset and act out. It is common for cats to display destructive behaviors when they are not happy. Also consider that cats may be under stimulated from the lack of social interaction that some thrive on, and need to take out their energy on in other forms.
Is your cat is the kind of cat who thrives on social interaction, and loves following you around and doing everything you are doing? If this sounds like your cat, but you have other obligations outside the home that requires a lot of your time, it is a good idea to schedule play time with them as much as you can or find them a new cat friend so they are not alone (if they play nice with others). And again, plenty of toys, foraging toys, cat trees, cat grass etc. might hold your cat over until you come home!
Cats have many deeply ingrained instincts from their wild cat ancestors. The three main steps that wild cats (and domestic cats) take in the process of hunting prey is to capture, kill and consume. During the consumption part, wild cats tear up their prey with their teeth and claws into smaller pieces so it is easier to consume. Domestic indoor cats still exhibit this hunting process with their toy mice. I’ve seen Reginald shake his head with mouse in mouth, in attempt to tear his mouse apart. Tearing the cardboard into bits and chewing on it might be an outlet for your cat’s predatory instincts. It is common to find cats shredding toilet paper, tissues, and letter paper as well.
How Do You Stop Your Cat From Chewing on Cardboard?
Chewing on cardboard is normal behavior for cats. So if you don’t mind them chewing on your cardboard boxes and the cardboard is harmless (no sharp edges, staples, or shiny coating or chemicals on them), then let your cat enjoy this activity.
However, if you don’t want your cat to chew on cardboard, here are some actions you can take:
- Remove the cardboard if you can.
- Use a deterrent spray such as apple bitter spray.
- Use compressed air that makes a hissing sound to deter your cat from the cardboard.
- Train them to respond to a deterrent word such as “nuh-uh” or “tsk”
- Of course review the main reasons for cardboard chewing mentioned above, and take action to direct that behavior elsewhere. For example, giving your bored cat a different outlet for their energy.
Why Do Cats Like to Chew on Cardboard? Final Thoughts
Chewing on cardboard is one of the many universal quirky traits that cats exhibit. They do it for a variety of reasons whether it’s good or bad. We can’t read a cat’s mind or communicate with them, so we need to be proactive with their physical and mental health if this behavior becomes a habit, or they start ingesting the cardboard. In other words, bring them to the vet! Otherwise, letting your cat chew on cardboard is pretty harmless.
How many of you cat parents have a kitty that loves to chew on cardboard? Have you identified the reason yet? Feel free to let me know in the comments section below and feel free to checkout our latest cat behavior articles here