Cats can be enthusiastic chewers throughout their lifespan, from when they’re teething as kittens to gnawing on a cat toy as an adult for mental stimulation. These are normal, healthy behaviors for cats, but in some cases, chewing can be a sign of concern.
Whether it’s cat pica, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or an indicator of periodontal disease, it’s good to know what to look for, so you can find answers, like contacting your veterinarian or introducing them to cat dental treats.
Here are some answers when you find yourself asking, “why does my cat chew on everything?”
Cat Eating Habits
Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must have meat in their diet to survive, but that hardly means meat is the only thing they’ll eat. When it comes to non-meat food items, there are many things that might end up on your cat’s menu if it’s offered to them. Berries, carrots, spinach, rice and bananas, are all things many cats will eat.
Strange as it may seem, even corn on the cob can pique the interest of your cat, even though it has no dietary or health benefits for felines. The likely reason for this is cats will eat foods that smell or taste pleasing to them or perhaps they enjoy the feel and texture of what they’re eating.
Why Is My Cat Chewing on Non-Food Items?
Cats’ food choices may sometimes surprise us, but when they start chewing on non-food items, it can get weird and, in some cases, become a cause for alarm.
If you find yourself asking, “Why is my cat chewing on non-food items?” it’s important to keep in mind that teething kittens will chew on anything they think looks chewable, which is completely normal.
Aside from taking the critical step of making sure they aren’t chewing on potentially hazardous objects, like cell phone chargers, electrical wires or something like a plastic cord, chewing is a kitten’s way of easing the discomfort of having their baby teeth start to grow.
Kittens and adult cats love to chew on toys, of course, and this behavior should be encouraged with appropriate toys. Chewing is mentally stimulating for cats and can help boost their dental health by removing tartar buildup and promoting blood flow to the gums. Cat dental treats are also a good option for boosting cat oral health.
Not-so Healthy Chewing
Cat chewing can become worrisome for various reasons, one of which is they may decide it’s okay to chew on something of value to you, like a houseplant or a wool sweater.
Cats may also chew on harmful or toxic items (certain houseplants or items with chemicals could harm their sensitive digestive systems) or things that can get caught in their digestive tract (string, yarn, tinsel). There are a few reasons why cats may choose to chew on these items other than a natural desire to chew.
Let’s look at some potentially abnormal causes for cat chewing.
Just like people, cats can have a condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This is when a cat engages in certain repetitive rituals that seem to lack any meaningful purpose. The cause of this disorder in cats is not fully understood, but some experts believe there may be a genetic component.
Common signs of OCD in cats are repetitive tail chasing, constant pacing for no apparent reason, excessive grooming and/or an overabundance of chewing.
These also can be signs of anxiety from a variety of causes—whether that be fear-based, separation, etc.
Excessive grooming can also be due to flea allergy, atopy or food allergies. This reinforces the importance of consulting with your veterinarian.
If you suspect your cat is displaying symptoms of OCD, contact your veterinarian for a formal diagnosis and a recommendation for treatment. Sometimes natural remedies can be helpful. Other times, treatment may require prescription medication.
If you’re asking yourself, “Why does my cat eat plastic?” the first thing to do is to stop your cat from eating plastic, of course. The second is to consult your veterinarian about pica. This disorder is when cats not only chew, but also eat non-food items. It’s most common in breeds like Burmese, Oriental, Siamese and Tonkinese cats.
This habit may start as early as kittenhood or appear later in life and should be addressed immediately. Cats with pica may eat plastic, cardboard, rubber, wool, cellophane, Styrofoam, leather and more.
Pica—or any behaviors that seem consistent with it—should be immediately brought to your veterinarian’s attention. Depending on the material, your cat can get an upset stomach, an intestinal blockage that may require surgery, may eat something toxic or damage household items.
Pica can be caused or exacerbated by:
- A genetic predisposition
- A dietary inefficiency that causes hunger
- An underlying feline disease
The sooner you talk with your veterinarian, the sooner you can help your cat curb this behavior and return to a healthy lifestyle.
Cat Periodontal Disease
Cats experiencing periodontal disease may chew on objects to soothe pain from swollen gums. In this case, your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning for your cat under anesthesia to remove plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth.
Signs of Cat Periodontal Disease
- Persistent bad breath (halitosis)
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty while chewing
- Pawing at their mouth
- Redness, swelling and bleeding of the gums
- Tooth loss
How to Stop Your Cat from Chewing
Here are some ways to reduce your cat’s chewing behaviors:
- Remove tempting items: Cat cord chewing is a common issue, so make sure electrical cords, phone and computer cords, and cords hanging from blinds and shades are out of reach or covered. Put away anything your cat might be tempted to munch on and, if necessary, use child locks on cabinets to keep cats from getting ahold of something they shouldn’t.
- Training: In some cases, you can use clicker training to help train your cat to be less prone to chewing. Also, redirecting your cat toward a toy or something more acceptable to chew on might steer them to more healthy options in the future.
- Anti-chew spray: Cats are not fond of certain smells and flavors, which is why using cat anti-chew sprays featuring unappetizing and bitter (but non-toxic) flavors can be effective.
Hopefully this article has given you a good overview of why cats chew and some of the steps you can take to alleviate chewing when it starts to become a problem. While this is an excellent start when it comes to cat chewing tips, remember there’s no substitute for an experienced and knowledgeable veterinarian.