All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

Listen To The Pet Place Radio Show with Marie Hulett

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cat Eats Paper

Dear Marie,
My friend, who is working and too busy to write, has a trusty old cat, Ben, who eats any paper he can find. Newspaper, bags, envelopes, magazines, you name it. He chomps on cardboard boxes. Not just once in awhile but pathologically, ALL THE TIME. She has to scour the house and put any scrap safely away. It's exhausting and she's both worried about him and exasperated. Our vet hasn't a clue. It's gone on for a few years. Any idea why he does it and/or how to stop this behavior?
Dear Kathryne,
Though cats are domesticated, they still have plenty of wild instincts. Spend five minutes with a playful kitten and you can observe keen hunting behaviors like stalking, pouncing, kicking and biting. It’s really very impressive. What you are describing may be connected to these basic instincts.
I am assuming that your vet has ruled out health issues. Sometimes this behavior is indicative of serious physiological problems. If your friend hasn't already had blood tests run, you might want her to schedule a general physical examination, just to be on the safe side.
But if this has been going on for years, then it seems that this is a behavioral rather than a physical issue.
Because we give cats their daily meals instead of making them hunt for food, our little feline friends often crave something they don’t quite understand: quite simply, being able to find prey/food on their own, and then tear it up.
In the wild, cats have to bite through feathers, fur, scales and skin. Since house cats get served dishes with mushy food or little bite sized chunks of vitamin fortified kibble, they sometimes search out alternate items to satisfy their predatory needs. In the case of your friend’s kitty, paper products seem to do the trick. The texture of these objects and the feeling the cat gets when he tears and shreds them must come very close to the sensation he’d have if he was working on prey he caught himself.
There are a number of things your friend can do to redirect her cat’s attention to more appropriate items. I would recommend getting toys that are filled with crunchy, dried catnip. You can even make these playthings yourself with scraps of burlap, home-grown catnip, a needle, and thread.
Another fun alternative is to fill various cat-treat balls with dry food and hide them around the house. The kitty will then need to “hunt” for his food and bite and kick and gnaw to allow the food prizes to be released. Be sure to purchase a cat-treat ball that doesn’t release its prize too easily. The kitty needs to work for his reward so he can feel like a successful predator.
I also like to grow cat grass that kitties can graze on. You can get starter cat-grass kits from most pet supply stores. This will give your cat something to chew when he just feels like he needs something other than food. This will be a good replacement for paper.
Feather toys on flexible poles are a must for every cat owner. But just having the toys around isn’t enough. Cat owners need to schedule playtime with their little buddies—at least 15-20 minutes a day. It’s a great way to bond and it burns off a lot of extra feline energy.
Sometimes cats chew on unusual things because they are bored or are feeling neglected. If the cat gets attention from your friend when he chews on paper and cardboard, his negative behavior is being reinforced by getting what he wants—his person’s company and interaction. You said your friend is too busy to write. So she may be too busy to spend enough quality time with her cat. Maybe you can help her out in that area. Offer to spend time with the little guy and get him started on all of these play activities. I bet your friend will decide that you guys are having too much fun without her and join in as well—and that will be great for everyone!
I hope these suggestions help. Please write in again and update us on how everything is going.