How to Stop Your Cat From Chewing Electrical Cords

It usually stems from obsessive-compulsive disorder

Cat lying on electrical cords

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Cats’ chewing can be an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) behavior, or it can be caused by other factors, both health-related and environmental.

It may be a dental issue, where a cat is trying to relieve pain in its mouth, a way for the cat to relieve stress or just basic feline instinct which compels it to attack something that looks like a tail.

In any event, it's dangerous for cats to chew on electrical cords, not to mention it can destroy your electrical appliances. There are some ways to address this behavior.

Why Do Cats Chew Cords?

There's some mystery as to the reasons why cats choose electrical cords to chew on. One theory is that the cord resembles another animal's tail, and the cat feels compelled to attack it (this reasoning doesn't address why the cat would continue to chew the cord once it discovers there's no animal attached, however). Additional reasons may include

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) that involve chewing and gnawing behavior most typically develop in Oriental-heritage cats (Siamese, Burmese, Oriental Shorthair cats). These felines may develop a strong urge to chew, suck, and sometimes eat inedible objects.

While cord chewing may be the primary OCD behavior you observe in your cat, you may spot other symptoms as well. There doesn't seem to be any explanation for why some cats develop a particular combination of OCD symptoms.

  • Self-mutilation, particularly of the tail, and repetitive tail chasing are among the first symptoms.
  • Overgrooming, characterized by a cat licking and chewing its fur so vigorously that it starts to fall out in spots, is also common.
  • Obsessively sucking, licking or chewing on fabric, a condition referred to as wool sucking. This behavior isn’t completely understood, and multiple causes have been suggested. If your cat has Siamese-like tendencies, the chewing may be influenced by genetics.
  • Feline hyperesthesia may also afflict cats that suffer from OCD. This is a seizure disorder whose symptoms include rippling of the skin and behavior such as self-mutilation (gnawing or licking fur causing bald spots, for instance).

Dental Issues

Cats that have pain in their mouths may indulge in gnawing behavior to relieve the discomfort. Up to 70 percent of cats develop periodontal disease by the time they turn 3 years old, so it's important to address this proactively with veterinary dental checkups and cleanings.

Boredom or Inactivity

If your cat is older, it may have a combination of issues that prompt chewing behavior. As they age, nearly all cats develop some degree of arthritis, which can result in a drastic reduction of their activity level.

When a cat isn’t able to move around and exercise, explore, or interact as much with the world, boredom and the resulting stress may cause the cat to seek other outlets.

Medical Issues

At an older age, there may also be metabolic issues, such as hyperthyroidism, that raise a cat's activity level and increase its urge to gnaw. A blood screening panel may reveal a treatable issue that resolves the chewing behavior.

Pica

In rare instances, a nutritional deficiency called pica is associated with eating odd objects. It's speculated that the cat instinctively understands that a nutrient is missing from its diet and seeks to replace it, but may choose inappropriate items to ingest. Some cats that suddenly begin targeting inedible objects are found to be anemic. 

Stress

Stress can prompt a wide range of odd behaviors. In these cases, the chewing serves to relieve anxiety and simply makes the cat feel better emotionally.

How to Stop Cord Chewing

Take your cat to the veterinarian for a checkup if it displays inappropriate chewing behavior so any underlying health problems can be discovered and addressed. In the meantime, chewing electrical cords can be deadly, so take steps to keep your cat safe.

  • Cover the electrical cords, such as running them through PVC pipes. You can make them less appetizing by painting them with hot sauce or a commercial bitter apple substance.
  • Smear the cords with a menthol-containing substance, such as Vicks VapoRub, to keep your cat at bay since the smell can be quite off-putting. The Ssscat motion detector, which “hisses” if the kitty comes close, can also be a humane deterrent.
  • Offer the cat alternatives to chew, such as cardboard. Some cats also enjoy gnawing on the smallest-size canine rawhide chews—dip them in warm water and zap them in the microwave first to soften them a bit.
  • Add digestible fiber to your cat's diet, which prompts some cats to reduce their chewing activity or even stop altogether. Fresh cat greens, green beans, or lettuce added to the cat’s food bowl may do the trick. Some of the “hairball formula” commercial diets may also work, as they simply provide increased fiber in the ration.
  • Reduce anxiety to help eliminate the need for chewing: Make sure your cat's litter box is clean and that it has enough toys and playtime with you to stave off boredom.