Pet owners expect dogs and puppies to chew, but it’s somehow much more surprising when a cat starts chewing. Cats that chew often target books, lampshades, curtains and other similar household items. This can be frustrating to a pet parent who has never dealt with a chewing cat before. More frustrating still, most cats are very particular about what they chew and are difficult to redirect toward more appropriate items.
Why Cats Chew
Cats may chew for a variety of reasons. Kittens, like puppies, experience pain when teething and may chew to relieve this pain and pressure. Adult cats with dental problems sometimes chew for the same reason. Few cat owners are fortunate enough to have a cat so placid that its teeth can be easily examined without sedation or the assistance of a vet. For this reason, many feline dental problems go unnoticed until the cat starts chewing problematically or suffers other health problems are a result of dental disease.
Many kittens who were orphaned at a young age chew. Some of these kittens continue to chew throughout their adult lives. This is a self-calming behavior learned in kittenhood to replace the suckling that would be normal for a kitten with a living and attentive mother. Habitual suckling of blankets and human hands or clothing may also occur.
What to Do About Cats Chewing
Adult cats that chew should see a veterinarian to determine whether or not a health problem is responsible for the behavior. In many cases, dental disease is to blame and a dental procedure will correct the behavior easily. If no medical problem is found that relates to the chewing, behavior modification can be attempted. Redirecting cats’ chewing requires patience and consistency above and beyond that required to train dogs.
Behavior modification should start with making the inappropriate chewing objects inaccessible or unappealing as much as possible. Sprays like Bitter Apple dissuade some cats from chewing. If possible, simply move the objects the cat has been chewing into a room or closet where the cat can’t get to them.
Next, provide alternatives and reward your cat with praise, attention and treats if she chews them. Several manufacturers now sell chew toys designed for cats. If you can’t find these or your cat doesn’t like them, you may be able to convince the cat to gnaw something as simple as a frozen washcloth or a wad of paper.
Each time you find the cat chewing an inappropriate item, gently remove it and replace it with an appropriate chew toy. Praise the cat for taking the new toy. If she is too upset about losing her prize to pay any attention to the replacement item, distract her with a play session and then offer the new chew item again. This will need to be repeated over the course of anywhere from a few weeks to several months before the cat will consistently chew her possessions rather than yours.