Help! My Cat Is Addicted to Paper!

Learn why cats shred and eat paper and how you can curb the craving.

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“It was like this when I found it.” Via Justin Baeder/Flickr
“It was like this when I found it.” Via Justin Baeder/Flickr

Cats intrigue, delight and puzzle us with sometimes bizarre behaviors, such as their toilet paper attraction. My own Karma-Kat needs an intervention for his T.P. addiction, and he’s not alone. My Facebook friend Grace Simpson’s cat pined for paper money — the cat “would take money and hide it,” she says.

Why do cats shred paper, especially the roll from the bathroom tissue dispenser? Many cats not only claw and shred but also chew up and swallow a variety of paper. At least Karma doesn’t do that.

Are these paper-obsessed felines just trying to create a party atmosphere by making kitty confetti? Is it dangerous for the cat, or just obnoxious to you? Here’s the scoop on why Karma (and perhaps your cat) targets paper, and how I’ve managed the situation — and you can, too.

7 Reasons Cats Target Paper
You may think your cat is crazy for loving paper, but there are actually some pretty good reasons as to why they target the material.

  1. Spinning Delight: Cats love movement, and predatory play triggers on the motion of the prey. When the cat paw taps the toilet paper roll, it spins, rewarding the cat with more motion that tempts the claws and teeth to join in the fun.
  1. Marking Mayhem: Cats use claws to mark territory, and the tender surface of the toilet paper roll offers a blank surface that’s easy to claw. Shredding marks the paper with a “Kitty Kilroy was here” message that cats want the world to see.
  1. Noisy Fun: Depending on the type of paper, it can make exciting crinkly sounds similar to squeaks of mice or prey scurrying through the undergrowth.
  1. Feels Good: Biting and clawing just feels good to cats, and it’s self-rewarding. Frankly, I’d much rather Karma-Kat bunny-kick the T.P. roll into submission than attack my ankles.
  1. Fishing Ops: Your cat may enjoy exploring trash containers and fishing out wads of crumpled paper. Admit it. You’ve crumpled up balls of paper or even tin foil for him to chase. Paper is light weight, easily snagged by a reaching paw-claw, and bats across the room for fun cat Ping Pong marathons. I call these types of toys cheap thrills.
  1. Gnawing Problem: During teething, kittens try to relieve gum discomfort by chewing on a variety of objects, and paper can be a target. Usually, young cats outgrow this behavior, but a few continue into adulthood and can use gnawing to relieve tension.
  1. Fiber Forage: A small percentage of cats turn paper chewing and eating of inedible objects into an obsession, called pica. Oriental-type breeds such as Siamese, Burmese and Oriental Shorthair cats tend to have a higher incidence of obsessive-compulsive issues, including wool-sucking, in which they target fabric-type objects.

How To Curb Those Paper Problems
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to stop your cat from gnawing on cardboard boxes or shredding T.P. But, if your cat is actually eating the paper, you should contact your vet first.

If your cat eats too much paper, it could cause a dangerous blockage. Small amounts probably will pass through OK, but craving fiber like paper or other inedible items needs evaluation by a medical professional. There has been speculation that pica could be related to anemia. Your vet may recommend a higher fiber diet, such as one designed to control hairballs, which may help control the cravings.

Once your cat is in the clear, medically, try these tips:

Close The Door. “Rule No. 1 in my house is the bathroom door stays closed,” says Karen Alison, my longtime friend and an experienced cat owner. Keeping the bathroom door shut is the simplest solution to foiling feline T.P. attacks.

Protect The Paper. “Our toilet paper lives in the vanity,” says Sally Bahner, an animal behavior consultant and another friend of mine. If you can’t keep the bathroom door closed, and your cat opens cupboards, there are toilet paper protectors available commercially. Some are pricy, and often a feline Einstein still gets his pound of paper despite these devices. One DIY option is to use the plastic cylinder lid from CD/DVD canisters, cut off the top and slide it over top of the roll. Or simply place the TP on the CD spool and slide the plastic lid over the top, so it’s protected when it sits on the back of the commode.

Protect your toilet paper to stop cats from chewing it up. Photo Courtesy of Amy Shojai

Protect your toilet paper to stop cats from chewing it up. Photo Courtesy of Amy Shojai

Manage The Chewing. For kittens eager to relieve teething discomfort, put away temptations like cardboard boxes and set waste baskets behind latched doors. Our pets train us to be better housekeepers by picking up items before they can target them.

Offer Legal Options. Sorry, but you won’t stop the clawing and biting, and if the paper goes away, I guarantee that your cat will find something else to target. Pick up a small-size rawhide chew, available for dogs (don’t tell the cat!). Dip the rawhide chew in warm water or chicken broth, zap in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften, and offer that for a healthier chew outlet.

Take A Breath. When your cat is bored, you’re otherwise engaged and he wants attention, even bad attention is better than being ignored. Cats quickly learn what gets us humans to do fun things like chase them around the room. Instead, take a breath and ignore the bad behavior so the cat gets no reward from it. Offer your cat some positive attention but only after he’s stopped the forbidden behavior. Then toss him a toy or treat as you say “Good, kitty!”

Provide Playtime. Bored cats look for entertainment, and there’s nothing better than stringing T.P. out the bathroom, down the stairs and around the living room. Interactive play with you trumps solo play every time, so make an effort to engage your cat in play every day. Listen to what your cat likes. Puzzle toys stuffed with tasty treats, fishing pole games of chase, flashlight tag, or even dropping a Ping Pong ball inside the empty bathtub give your cats better options. Karma likes to surf on towels, so I drag them along the floor and he leaps and flops on them, clinging on like Velcro as he’s pulled around the house like a skier.

By understanding why your cat relishes the paper chase, you can offer alternatives that still float his kitty boat and keep him entertained. The mornings that I play chase-the-feather tag with Karma, he spares the toilet paper. And that’s a relief in more ways than one. Ahem.

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Cats

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