Why Does My Cat Eat Paper and Cardboard?

Last Updated on: October 7, 2020

We all know our cats like to eat weird things sometimes, but what if you catch your cat chowing down on paper?

This is actually a common problem. Some cats also seem to develop a fondness for certain types of cardboard. One cat might develop a preference for the box that your cereal comes in, while another cat seems to prefer the box carrying your goodies from an online shop like Chewy (which makes sense if it’s been packed with treats!)

But should you be worried if your cat is regularly trying to destroy and devour that cardboard box as soon as you open it? Let’s find out.

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Reasons your cat might eat strange things

Let’s first take a look at the broad reasons that your cat would want to eat anything that isn’t their kibble!

The technical term for any species eating non-food items is “pica.” This can occur in cats for several reasons, including:

  • Medical issues. The first thing to do if you notice your cat chewing regularly on paper or cardboard is to schedule them for a check-up with your veterinarian. Pica can be triggered by certain medical conditions, including feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia. Confirming that your cat isn’t suffering from an underlying medical issue is the first step toward figuring out why they’re eating something that they shouldn’t be.
  • Diet deficiencies. If a cat is missing a vital nutrient from their diet, they may try to compensate by eating something they shouldn’t. While many cats will chew on grass occasionally, regularly eating something else could be a sign that their diet needs re-evaluating.
  • OCD: Some cats can develop OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder. While it’s though this might be genetic, some cats will start carrying out particular behaviors until they become an obsession. This might be something to speak to an animal behaviorist about if you think your cat might fit into this category.
  • Environmental factors. If your cat doesn’t have enough mental or physical stimulation, they may look for something to do to stave off the boredom. If shredding and chowing down on cardboard starts to look like a fun option to your cat, then it’s time to re-evaluate their environment and start adding more enrichment.
  • Pica: Some cats are genetically predisposed to pica. It may be that your cat is one of them.
Cat and Crinkled Paper
Image Credit: Lisa Zins, Flickr

Why would my cat choose paper and cardboard to eat?

Pica can be a soothing activity for your cat to carry out, and given that we all have cardboard and paper lying around our houses at some point or another, this means it’s an easy thing to get hold of!

Let’s now take a look at a few reasons that your cat may have taken a shine to your newspaper or delivery box.

They might be teething

If your cat is still young, then they may be teething. Chewing something like cardboard can soothe their gums and help the new teeth break through.

For an adult cat, chewing cardboard could help relieve sore and irritated gums. It’s worth taking a look in their mouths to see if there’s any redness or inflammation that could signal gum disease.

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What if my cat rips and shreds the cardboard first?

If your cat is ripping and shredding cardboard and paper, then this can simply be a sign that they’re practicing their skills as a mighty predator. Our domestic kitties don’t get as many opportunities to hunt prey as their wild cousins! So, their shredding cardboard can be a way for them to use their claws.

Your cat might not be eating that much of the cardboard, but it’s certainly difficult to tell how much of a box is left once it’s been reduced to shreds!

They could be marking their territory

If your cat is rubbing along a cardboard box that’s just been delivered or lying across a new book, they might be marking it with their scent. Biting a cardboard tube or hardback book cover can be a way of letting any other cats in your house know that they’ve claimed that particular object as their own, and no other cat can have it!

Your cat might be bored or anxious

Chewing non-food items can be a sign of anxiety or boredom carried out as a displacement activity. Your cat might be trying to burn off energy after a long nap or simply be of a generally nervous disposition.

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Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

Consider providing more enrichment, like a cat tree, a selection pack of exciting new toys, or an interactive toy that your cat can play with when you’re not home.

For anxious cats, using a pheromone diffuser is a good way to help them feel calmer and less likely to shred that important letter when it comes through the letterbox.

Make sure your nervous cat has plenty of places to hide within the house, so they can retreat if they feel unsafe.

Putting a cat enclosure outside and letting your indoor cat watch the world go by is also a great way to add enrichment.

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What to do next?

Only by closely and carefully observing your cat while they’re destroying a cardboard or paper item will you be able to figure out if they’re ingesting it.

It might be that they’re shredding it to the point of destruction but not eating it.

If they are definitely eating it and in large quantities, then it’s probably time to schedule a veterinary appointment. Too much paper or cardboard in your cat’s intestine could cause a potentially life-threatening blockage.

You’ll also want your veterinarian to run tests to check that your cat is in overall good health and not missing any essential nutrients or suffering from an illness.

Your cat might also be eating toxic inks along with the cardboard. It could be time to start hiding those boxes that come in the mail!

Lastly, you may want to speak to a certified applied animal behaviorist to get to the root of the exact reasons your cat has decided that cardboard makes a good meal. They will be able to help you work out why this might be happening, as well as provide more solutions to prevent it in the future.

As responsible cat parents, it’s easy to worry when we see our cats doing something that we don’t expect. By taking the time to figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing, we know that we’re taking care of their mental and physical health as best we can.

Featured Image: lumini.kl, Flickr