Living with a cat can be like living with a tiny, automatic paper shredder. There are teeth marks in books, teeth marks on greeting cards, teeth marks on your important paperwork and teeth marks on the limited edition, VIP tour poster that you paid too much for and can not replace. The destruction is never-ending and almost nothing is safe.
Why do cats eat paper? For the same reason that cats do most things – because they can. But there’s often more to it than that.
Why do Cats Love Paper?
In short, because it’s fun and it’s rewarding. Paper is something cats can sink their clawsinto and tear to shreds with ease. Most of the time, your cat is attacking your toilet paper or rolling around in paper bags because he’s bored and paper is entertaining. Swatting the TP makes it spin, which is highly entertaining to a cat for God knows what reason. Paper bags are fun hiding places that make fun noises and nibbling on your VIP tour poster gets your attention. Quickly.
This kind of destruction is usually nothing to worry about, but some cats take it too far and actually eat paper. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out this isn’t cool, paper isn’t food and maybe there’s something wrong with your cat on top of the normal weirdness.
WTF is Pica?
The behaviour of eating things that are not food is called Pica. It’s usually associated with chewing and sucking on wool, blankets, clothing, plastic and paper and is most frequently found in oriental breeds – Siamese, Burmese, Tonkinese and whatever else ends in ‘ese’.
Other than genetics, there are a few possible causes of pica in cats and none of them are good news. They include:
- Nutrient deficiencies – some experts believe that deficiencies in fibre or fat can cause cats to seek these things out through inedible sources.
- Mental disorders – anxiety, stress, depression and boredom can cause cats to eat things that aren’t food. Attention seeking is also a common cause of strange or undesirable behaviours in cats.
- Medical problems – diseases such as leukaemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, hyperthyroidism, diabetes and brain tumours can cause cats to eat paper and other inanimate objects, though nobody seems to be quite sure why.
On top of these nasty underlying causes, there’s the obvious danger of eating things that are not digestible. Paper poses the threat of causing blockages in the digestive system and ruptures from staples that might be accidentally swallowed.
Any non-food eating should be investigated by your vet to make sure there isn’t something bigger going on, particularly if you know something sharp or pointy has been swallowed.
How to Make it Stop
Once you’ve ruled out any medical causes of your cat’s strange eating behaviour, the cure is likely to take a lot of patience and diligence on your part.
- Adjust your cat’s diet – but only under the supervision of your vet. An increase in fibre or something else might be enough to discourage eating other things.
- Remove the temptation – keep the blankets, electrical cords, papers and VIP tour posters out of reach (especially these. It’s very upsetting). If you have to keep the bathroom door closed to keep the TP safe, then do that. Anything your cat can get to is fair game.
- Provide alternatives – give your cat plenty of ‘legal’ things to chew on that won’t cause any harm. Cat friendly chew toys, raw chicken necks and rawhide are great options.
- Provide enough stimulation – pica is very common behaviour in cats who are bored or lonely. Make time to play with your cat every day, releasing some of that pent up energy will help to keep both kitty and your stuff safe.
- De-stress your cat – anxiety can cause a lot of undesirable behaviours and is also really bad for the kitty. Even simple things like visitors or new furniture can cause a feline freak-out, so try to identify the cause of your cat’s distress and do what you can to minimise it.
- Call in the experts – if all else fails, an animal behaviouralist will be able to help pinpoint the cause of your kitty’s strange behaviour.
Destroying things is fun for cats and also satisfies part of their predatory nature. Treats don’t always have to be food – if you know your kitty likes to tear paper and make a mess, then let him. Sometimes. And only under supervision. If he starts eating the sacrificial paper, quietly pack it up without making a fuss. As long as you’re sure to pick up every scrap, there’s probably no harm in a little supervised destruction. A cardboard scratching post could be a great alternative for a cat who likes the sensation of cardboard dying.
Strange behaviours and cats go hand in hand, but it’s important to remember that sometimes there’s something more going on. Anything that seems odd should warrant a visit to the vet, especially if it’s compulsive or potentially dangerous to your cat. A bit of destruction is to be expected when you have a cat around, just make sure it’s not causing any harm to your cat and everybody except the paper should survive.
Does your cat eat strange things, or destroy limited edition stuff? Share your battle scars in the comments below…