Whenever company comes over, I always get funny looks and questions about the pile of cardboard in the corner of the living room. When I’m finishing ensuring them that I haven’t developed a new habit, I explain that the cat likes to play in them and chew the corners of the cardboard boxes. My last visitor asked why, and I offered a few explanations.
Some cats are just plain bored. Maybe you’re gone all day for work, busy with other things, the cat is stressed or doesn’t have enough toys. Chewing on the box is something to do and allows them to make a mess.
Cats also have a predatory instinct to hunt and kill, and in the wild cats may tear and rip off parts of their prey before eating them. Chewing off parts of the cardboard box or ripping it apart with their claws may be mimicking this behavior.
But the behavior can also be related to health issues. Cats can have inflamed or irritated gums that need rubbing or itching, and a cardboard corner does just the trick. Kittens also teeth and lose teeth like humans do, so that could be the culprit in younger cats.
Diet can be another concern. Is your cat getting enough nutrition? Is the food you buy adequate for your cat’s needs? Check the label of the cat food to see what’s in it. Some foods have additives for taste more than actual nutrition for your cat.
Just as dogs like to “mark their spot,” cats can leave their scent on things also. Chewing on the cardboard may be the cat’s way of saying “I was here” or “This is mine.”
The smell of the box can also be a factor. What was in the box before it was empty? Certain foods or strong smells may linger, and your cat may be picking up on this. If you’ve recently moved, and a box was used to transport items from the old house, your cat may still smell the old house and be drawn to that particular box.
But your cat’s habit could be totally related to texture: your cat may simply enjoy the texture of the cardboard when chewing or ripping it with its teeth.
What to Do
First, make sure your cat is not ingesting a large quantity of cardboard. While there may be a reason for the behavior, it’s not healthy for a cat to keep eating it. Check the lips, teeth and gums for inflammation, bleeding, lost or loose teeth or any cuts. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian to schedule a dental checkup and possible cleaning.
More toys can provide a fun way to spend the time for your cat, so evaluate the toys you have and see if a few more additions will help.
Try to add in some one-on-one play time, too. We all get busy with work and recurring demands and sometimes only do the minimum work needed to keep our pets going. A few minutes a day playing with your cat or showing them affection may ease his need to attack the cardboard so frequently. You can also remove the boxes out of your cat’s reach and replace with toys, a new bed or hiding place.
These cats are clearly chewing the cardboard for reasons other than food, since they spit out the pieces: