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Why Do Cats Eat Cardboard? Is It Bad For Them? What Happens?

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Why do cats eat cardboard?

While cats may not need to rip and shred their food these days, they still show an instinctual preference for doing so.

This can lead many felines into tearing up paper or cardboard when given the chance! Tearing up or chewing cardboard is harmless enough. If your cat starts to eat cardboard, a trip to the vet will be necessary or remove any cardboard eating opportunities.

I have been a cat parent since 1992 to over 40 cats. I find that all cats are equally intelligent in their own right. Cats have specific reasons for doing what they do, like, chewing cardboard. 

cat chewing the corner of a cardboard box
This is tough cardboard!

Chewing Versus Eating Cardboard

New cat parents soon discover what seasoned cat parents have known for quite some time – cats interested in eating anything, will do so if you allow them. 

Throughout the years a few of the cats in my care enjoyed chewing on plastic bags, wood furniture, or anything made from cardboard.

Of course, plastic bags and wood furniture were off-limits to my cats. Some cats eat cardboard. Why do cats eat cardboard?”

When I look around the cat toy section of the stores I may find numerous toys made from cardboard. Some, but not every cat, enjoys chewing on cardboard, let alone eating and swallowing the pieces of cardboard. 

Perhaps I may think the cat is eating cardboard when all they are doing is chewing on the cardboard. Quite often cats chew the corners of the type of corrugated cardboard cat scratchers that sit within a cardboard frame.

The action of chewing on cardboard will not hurt my fur baby and is an enjoyable pastime for my kitty. When my cat does this, I always expect to get my sweeper out to clean up the mess. As long as this holds my cat’s attention and seems enjoyable, it will not hurt my cat. 

Watch your cat, making sure he is not eating and swallowing the cardboard, which can cause a possible intestinal obstruction.

Why do cats eat cardboard
I’m nearly through!

Why Do Cats Like Eating cardboard So Much?

“Why do cats eat cardboard?” 

This action is a perfectly normal action, and a common habit for cats.

Indoor cats still have the natural prey hunting instinct. They love catching prey, tearing it apart, and eating it. Cat owners and researchers find that there may be several reasons a cat likes to eat cardboard, such as in the following examples.

  • Is my cat hungry? Answering the question of Why do cats eat cardboard? 

Some cat owners find that a cat may refuse to eat its food and return to eating cardboard. This action is frustrating for cat owners who have exceedingly picky cats when finding the right food brand and texture they will eat.

Cats also become bored with eating the same brand and type of cat food every day. It is for this reason that I buy my cats a variety of grain-free dry and moist cat foods.

  • Cat researchers find that all cats at some point develop sore gums and find that a cat chewing cardboard, soothes its dental pain and inflammation. Is this the answer to, “Why do cats eat cardboard?”

  • Kittens habitually chew on many things, including cardboard, because they are teething.

  • Boredom comes easy for cats who do not have enough exciting toys to keep them busy and interested. I always felt that cats should not exist alone and need a playmate. I currently have six fur babies and there is no room for cat boredom in my household.

  • Chewing on cardboard offers cats a way to release pent-up energy using their nails and teeth. 

  • Does the cat have a nutritional deficiency?

  • Boxes offer some element of warmth.

  • Cats may mark their box by chewing on it, making the box their territory.

  • Cats who are naturally anxious, stressed, or scared may chew on cardboard more than cats that are totally comfortable in their surroundings.

  • Cats who feel angry may chew on cardboard. In this case, the cat’s parents need to find out what made the cat angry and eliminate it.

If a cat parent can rule out some of the above reasons, the answer is found to the question: “Why is my cat eating cardboard?”

cat poking head through chewed carboard box
This is hard work!

What Happens If My Cat eats Cardboard?

If I find my cat chewing cardboard, I do not find it too concerning.

However, if one of my cats actually ate and swallowed cardboard, I would be concerned that my cat may develop an intestinal obstruction from swallowing cardboard. Has the cat eaten cardboard when I haven’t noticed?

There are a few signs that might indicate that a cat has an intestinal blockage.

Vomiting is one potential sign, as is a loss of appetite.
If the cat is having difficulty defecating, or you notice they are straining more than usual when using the litter box, this could be another sign of an intestinal blockage.

Additionally, if the cat seems unusually lethargic or is having trouble walking, this could be a sign that they are in pain and may have an intestinal blockage.

If you notice any of these signs , it’s important to take the cat to the vet as soon as possible so they can receive treatment. Left untreated, an intestinal blockage can be life-threatening. I need to remove all the cardboard and take the cat to the vet.

If one of my cats enjoyed chewing cardboard, I would monitor the cat closely to determine if they were actually eating and swallowing the cardboard or simply chewing the cardboard apart.

If I could not make this determination, I would remove the cardboard so my cat would not risk developing an intestinal obstruction and take the cat to the vet for a check up.

Cat chewed a hole in a cardboard box
Hooray! I did it!

Related: Here is a list of food that cats should NOT eat and WHY! There is also a FAQ of commonly asked questions like – Can my cat eat bananas?

Why Is My Cat Eating A cardboard Box?

For many years, I have said, 

“Why do I buy my kids and cat, toys, when free, empty cardboard boxes offer them so much enjoyment?” 

Kids and cats are thrilled to play with an open cardboard box. You may discover that your toddler and kitten enjoy chewing on the sides of the box because they are cutting their teeth. But, make sure that they are not eating the shreds and swallowing the cardboard. 

I believe that your cat is more apt to design the box more to their liking. Cats are curious creatures, and most cats will do anything if they stand the chance of being cornered by another animal or human. I have seen my cat chewing cardboard holes in the side of a box that allows them easy and quick access in and out of the box, so they are never cornered.

Our Cats Like cardboard scratchers

Manufacturers of cardboard cat scratchers and cardboard cat houses must have known something that many cat parents were unaware of- cats love to either eat and swallow cardboard or chew the cardboard, making a mess for their parents.

I have always had a cat scratcher with a round cardboard insert in the center. This toy has an outside rim that holds a small ball. My cat pushes the ball around the perimeter with its paw. 

The toy below has replacement cardboard pads and ball if the ball should get lost.

Coastal Pet - Turbo - Scratcher Cat Toy - Assorted

Two of my five cats frequently play together with this cardboard scratcher. Lil’ Luke sits on one side. Willow sits on the other side. I place a bit of catnip in front of both cats, and they spin the ball at each other.

They also use this cardboard to scratch their nails. When the cardboard becomes too shredded, I pop it out and turn it around, and it is as good as new for a while. When that side becomes shredded, I replace the used cardboard with a new one.

Related: My cat shreds paper. He has become quite an expert at paper shredding. It can be funny but it can also be a nuisance.

I have never seen any of my cats eating and swallowing cardboard shreds. I am not concerned if I see my cat chewing cardboard and not eating or swallowing the cardboard..

Sweeping up the mess takes a matter of seconds, and I find this no problem if it brings enjoyment to my cats and keeps them entertained and busy.

Cat Eating Carboard Cat Scratcher

Two things needs to be considered here. Take the cat to the vet. An internal obstruction is something to be avoided. These notes explain some of the signs of an internal obstruction and there is more detailed information here.

Remove any cardboard scratcher items from your home. It looks as though they won’t be okay for your cat.

two cats (vector image) reading
I’m not really into cardboard dear unless it’s a delivery box for me!

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