Cats’ chewing can be an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) behavior, or it can be caused by other factors, both health-related and environmental. You can look at the cat’s physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct to help figure out what’s going on and find solutions. Think of this as the H.I.S.S. Test.
Dental issues certainly can be an issue with chewing. Cats that have painful mouths may indulge in gnawing behavior to relieve the discomfort. Up to 70 percent of cats develop periodontal disease by age three, so it is important to address this possibility with veterinary dental checks and cleaning.
Obsessive-compulsive disorders that involve chewing and gnawing behavior most typically develop in Oriental-heritage cats (Siamese, Burmese, Oriental Shorthair cats). These felines develop the strong urge to chew, suck, and sometimes eat inedible objects. Wool sucking 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.
If your cat is older, she may have a combination of issues that prompt the chewing behavior. Nearly all cats develop some degree of arthritis in older age, which can result in cats drastically reducing 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.
At an older age, there may be metabolic issues such as hyperthyroidism that increase activity level, or anemia that increases the urge to gnaw. A blood screening panel may reveal a treatable issue that resolves the behavior, too.
In rare instances, a nutritional deficiency has been associated with eating of odd objects (termed pica). It is speculated that the cat instinctively understands something is missing and seeks to replace that—but may not choose appropriate items to ingest. Some cats that suddenly begin targeting inedible objects have been found to be anemic.
Stress can prompt a wide range of odd behaviors. In these cases, the chewing serves to relieve the stress and simply makes the cat feel better emotionally. Reducing anxiety can help eliminate the need for chewing.
S: Symptoms, Signs, and Solutions
You should take your cat to the veterinarian for a check-up if it has this chewing behavior so any underlying health problems can be discovered and addressed.
Chewing electric cords could be deadly, so you will need some immediate solutions. You can cover the cords, such as running them through PVC pipes. You can make them less appetizing by painting them with hot sauce or with a commercial bitter apple substance. Smearing forbidden targets with Vicks (menthol) can also keep some cats at bay since the smell can be quite off-putting. The Ssscat motion detector that “hisses” if the kitty comes close, also can be a humane deterrent.
You can offer 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.
A percentage of cats reduce their chewing activity or even stop altogether if you add digestible fiber to the diet. 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 also may work, as they simply increase fiber in the ration.