If you’ve ever given your cat has spent more than two minutes around a cardboard box you’ve probably seen them give a good couple of chomps.
You know like this little cat here:
My cat Debbie is no exception. A nice cardboard box is a real treat for her and she loves nothing more than jumping inside and giving the edges a nice little chew. In fact, it’s safe to say that Debbie gets more joy out of our Amazon deliveries than I do!
So what’s this all about and why do cats chew cardboard at all?
In most cases, cats chew cardboard simply because it’s fun and probably feels nice on their gums. Cats are probably further encouraged to chomp on cardboard because of the attention they get from you when they do it.
But those aren’t the only reasons to explain why your cat can’t resist chewing cardboard so let’s take a closer look at 5 possible reasons.
First, we need to make an important distinction.
Chewing Vs Eating Cardboard
There’s a very big difference between chewing and eating cardboard. While a cat that loves to chew cardboard might ingest a little in the process, cats that chew aren’t actively trying to consume cardboard.
This is completely different from a cat that’s eating cardboard. Eating cardboard could be related to a complex condition called pica. Pica is the drive to eat non-food items and it can have big consequences for cats. While pica in cats is relatively uncommon, it still something to be concerned about. If your cat appears to be ingesting and consuming cardboard (instead of giving it a good chew) be sure to consult your veterinarian.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into the first reason why your cat might want to chew on some cardboard!
Reason 1: It’s Just Plain Fun!
Cats are able to find just about anything interesting. Whether that means attacking and playing with your hair, knocking things off counters, or even flipping their water bowl cats are able to have fun with just about any of the weird objects found in our human world. That includes cardboard.
While your cat might be a bit bored, they could also just enjoy the texture and sounds that cardboard makes! While it’s easy enough to just give your cat a cardboard tribute now and again it can also end up making quite a mess. If you’ve got a cardboard loving cat, you should check out this super cute cardboard scratchpad and toy on Amazon.
Reason 2: It’s Your Cat’s Prey Drive
Even though you might see your cat as a soft, cuddly meow-machine…your cat is really a predator.
That means your cat has instinctual prey drive that can be hard to shake and cardboard may be an outlet for your cat’s deep-seated need to hunt and stalk prey!
The International Cat Care website outlines 9 steps that cats take in the hunting process including capture, kill, and consume. While that might make your cat sound like the villain in a 90’s horror movie it’s a process that’s been hardwired into your cat’s brain since their ancient Egyptian ancestors first fed them fish.
So what does this have to do with cardboard?
Some cats will latch on to cardboard like they’re delivering a killing bite or just dissecting their prey a bit. Even the process of ripping up cardboard may mimic what your cat would do after a successful hunt.
If your cat seems to be tapping into prey drive they might like some toys specifically designed to satisfy these urges. This very simple (and budget-friendly) cat toy from Amazon slowly dispensed dry kibble as your cat chases it around. While your cat might not be able to chomp on a plastic toy, they do get to satisfy their urge to chase and eat!
You can also play with your cat using toys you already use and give them a nice tasty treat to simulate “the hunt.”
But if you don’t mind having a permanent open season on cardboard then you might not need any toys at all! Just make sure your cat doesn’t turn from chewing to eating cardboard!
Reason 3: It Feels Good On Sore Gums
Studies suggest that somewhere between 50-90% of cats over 4 years of old suffer from some form of dental disease. Not only does that mean tartar and plaque on their teeth but also gingivitis and sore gums. Chewing on some cardboard might make sore gums feel better- kind like scratching an itch.
While it shouldn’t need to be said, chewing on cardboard is no substitute for proper dental care! Make sure your cat regularly sees a veterinarian for a dental examination!
But if your cat likes to slowly chomp on cardboard with an almost closed bite there’s a chance they might be using your latest delivery to give their gums a little massage. Even if your cat doesn’t have dental disease or inflamed gums, they may just enjoy the feeling of cardboard on their gums!
On the other side of things, if you’ve got a kitten you could be seeing signs of teething. Teething is a normal process for humans, cats, and most mammals where the baby teeth fall out and the adult teeth start to come out. While most cats are pretty unphased by this, some kittens can find this process uncomfortable. Teething usually starts at around 3 months, so if you’ve got a cardboard chewing kitten in the house it might be a relief for teething!
Whether it’s teething or just a cat that likes to chew, it might be worth checking out this PetStates chew toy from Amazon.
Reason 4: Your Cat Is Marking Their Turf
Cats are territorial by nature and your cat may be using that cardboard box as a way to mark their turf. You’ve probably seen your cat cheek marking furniture, doorway, or you. This is also called scent marking and your cat uses this to mark their territory. Not all cats will interact with cardboard this way but you may see your cat rub their cheeks on the cardboard in between chewing it.
There’s typically nothing wrong with your cat using some cardboard to mark their turf and unless your cat is showing aggression related to being territorial, a cardboard box is probably a pretty safe place for your kitty to make a stand.
Reason 5: Your Cat Is An Artist
Some cats aren’t just mindlessly chewing cardboard. Instead, they have a clear vision of creating a more comfortable cardboard box. One that’s designed just for them.
Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme but there’s been a handful of cat owners who are convinced that their cat is creating a work of art just for them. One Quora user explained that they thought their neighbor’s cat was just aimlessly chomping on cardboard:
Until, that is, his work started to take shape, and it became clear to see that he was not just mindlessly luxuriating in the feel of cardboard against his gums, but that he was creating a piece of art.
With every cardboard box he gets his teeth into, he makes a small semi-circle. The semi-circle is just the right size for him to rest his chin on. So he can get in his box, settle down, and rest his chin on his customized shelf, and look out at the world in comfort.
So while it’s pretty unusual, your cat may be creating a tiny house for themselves. If that’s the case, try upgrading the comfort by adding in a blanket for your cat to really get the most out of their creation.
Is It Normal For Cats To Chew Cardboard?
While chewing and licking could be related to pica in some cats, chewing on cardboard is generally considered to be pretty normal. Your cat could have a variety of reasons for deciding to munch on some cardboard but the most common reason is simply that it’s fun to do!
Is Chewing Cardboard Boxes Safe for Cats?
Most of the time, chewing on cardboard is completely safe for your cat. You want to make sure your cat is only chewing (and not eating) along with avoiding any sharp edges or toxic substances just to be safe.
Let’s dig a little deeper into what you need to be aware of to keep your cardboard crunching kitty safe.
Make Sure Your Cat Isn’t Eating Cardboard
I’ve already mentioned it a few times but it’s worth repeating: make sure your cat isn’t actually eating any cardboard. Not only could large chunks of cardboard wreck havoc on your cat’s digestive system, but it could also be a sign of feline pica where your cat has a compulsion to eat non-food items. So pay close attention to your cat, especially if it’s their first time playing with cardboard.
Avoid Any Sharp Edges
Sometimes cats get just a little too enthusiastic about chewing on cardboard. So much so, that they may accidentally hurt themselves on a sharp edge. While the typical Amazon box isn’t going to be too sharp for your cat, there are some heavy-duty boxes that you probably shouldn’t share with your cat.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals
There’s a lot of controversy around chemicals in cardboard, especially those used to store and transport food. Make sure the cardboard that you allow your cat to play with hasn’t been treated with any kind of special coating or chemical in order to make the cardboard water-resistant or more sturdy. The typical clean or untreated cardboard will have fewer chemicals but should still never be eaten by your cat.
How Do I Stop My Cat From Chewing Cardboard?
Even if chewing cardboard is relatively safe for your cat, it’s not always something you want your cat to do?
So what are your options for getting your car to stop chewing cardboard?
Redirect the Behavior
When it comes to changing your cat’s behavior, it’s also important to remember that simply scolding your cat won’t make them want to do the behavior any less!
In other words, it doesn’t really solve the problem.
That means the first thing you need to figure out is why your cat is chewing on cardboard and then try your best to redirect the behavior to something more appropriate.
For example, if your cat is chewing on cardboard because they’re bored then giving your cat new things to play with or even scheduled playtime can help. Not because you’re telling your cat NOT to chew cardboard but because you’re giving them an appropriate outlet for what they already want to do!
Take some time to review the five reasons why your cat likes chewing cardboard and consider how you can provide a more appropriate outlet for your cat to express those behaviors!
Remove the Cardboard
One of the easiest things you can do is simply keep the cardboard boxes out of reach from your cat. You can always breakdown boxes right away and send them to the recycle bin or place them in a part of the house that your cat doesn’t have access to like the garage.
Deter the Behavior
While redirection or removal are better options, if you can’t do either and need to have cardboard around the house you can try to discourage your cat’s drive to chew cardboard.
To start with, there are special sprays that are used to make things taste bitter and undesirable to your cat. This Bitter Apple Spray (link to Amazon) is typically used to discourage cats and dogs from chewing their bandages but it could also be sprayed on cardboard to make the taste undesirable for your cat. These spays are specially made for cats and safe.
You could also try to catch them in the act and give them a light spray of water. Most cases don’t like to get wet and if they get a little spray of water every time they go for a chew they’ll quickly rethink their plan.
Cats are funny creatures and it’s hard to ever fully understand why they do the things they do. While a love of chewing, chomping, and playing with cardboard is almost universal amongst cats, they all have different reasons for why they find it fun!
And it’s this uniqueness that makes us love cats so much in the first place!