Do you have a cat who loves to ingest yarn while you're knitting?  How about a kitty who likes to eat the tinsel off your Christmas tree?  Have a plant-free household because your feline likes to chew on their leaves?  Ever wonder WHY your cat likes to play with and consume such odd household items?

My cat was notorious for eating ribbon off of wrapped presents.  We also lived in a rubber band-free household, because she was obsessed with consuming them.  Cats chew on all sorts of odd things, including plastic, fabric, latex, wood, and cardboard.  But why on earth would this interest our kitties???

Cats are incredibly investigatory, and they often use their mouths to explore.  Most people probably can figure out that things like string and ribbon dangle and move, resembling prey and encouraging your cat's instinct to stalk and chase.  Sure, that thread may look like a mouse tail and trigger your cat's prey-drive... but ever wonder WHY they try to EAT them?

If you look into the carnivorous hunting nature of the cat, it's actually pretty gross (says the 20+ year vegetarian!).  The long-standing theory as to why cats can eat foot upon foot of long, linear objects like yarn, is simply instinct.  When a cat kills a prey animal, it will consume pretty much everything but the head.  This includes the entrails, or the long, thin intestines of the animal, which provide great nutritional benefit to the cat.  So when your cat starts to eat that rubber band or a piece of ribbon, it mimics the ingestion of a prey's entrails.  See, told you - gross!

Studies have proven that some of these chewing behaviors in cats can actually be a form of compulsive behavior.  This means there could be a genetic predisposition behind why your cat suckles on fabric or chews on grocery bags.  For example, did you know that Siamese and Burmese cats are the most prone breeds of cat to exhibit these behaviors?  Or that wool is the most common fabric for kitties to consume?  It's been shown that cats who excessively chew on household plants tend to be strictly indoor cats with no access to grass or other vegetable matter.  So this investigatory nature to explore different textures via their mouth can actually be a familial disorder!

Though it may appear cute, this type of play and chewing behavior can be incredibly dangerous to your cat!  Felines can become obstructed or seriously injured when they chew and consume various household times like string, rubber, or plants.  Long, thin objects like ribbon, string, yarn, thread, or rubber bands can cause an intestinal blockage.  This can quickly become life-threatening, and require a linear foreign body surgery to remove them.  In my 8 years of veterinary experience, I've seen a lot of weird stuff that cats have consumed.  We once pulled an entire string bikini top out of a cats stomach during one of these exploratory surgeries!  I've seen a cat with a needle stuck in the roof of it's mouth, the end result from eating several feet of mom's sewing thread.  I remember several cases of cats with severe burns in their mouths from chewing on electrical cords around the house.  Commonly we would see cats with horrible intestinal upset, or even poisoned, from eating plants around the house that can be toxic to felines.

The moral of the story: SUPERVISION IS KEY.

Step 1 to help manage your cat's destructive chewing behaviors is to keep your environment free of these coveted chewing objects, or simply restricting your cat's access to them.  For example, if your cat is a plant-eater, do not have indoor plants, or keep them some where that your cat will not be able to get to them.  Allow your cat to play with prey-like toys, but only when you are present.  Go out and buy that cat dangler toy that your cat loves so much... but don't leave it out for your cat to get curious and ingest!  Instead, bring it out for designated playtime, and put it away in a drawer or closet when you're done.

Step 2 is to offer your cat APPROPRIATE chew objects.  Interactive play toys and puzzle games will help keep your cat's mouth and brain busy in all the right ways.  Provide your cat with some chewy dental treats or toys.  Some cats will even chew on dog rawhides for fun!  In addition, try offering a "go hunt" game for your cat during mealtime.  Instead of feeding her out of a bowl, try hiding little piles of kibble all over the house, so she has to sniff and find each little meal!

Step 3 is making the target chew objects unpleasant, or use environmental "booby-traps".  You can try marking the objects with taste deterrents, like Bitter Apple spray.  A client of mine would spray her plant leaves with water, then sprinkle cayenne pepper on them to stop her cat from chewing her philodendrons.  She also invested in a motion-activated alarm to place on her plant shelving, to discourage the cat from even jumping up near them.  Try hiding around the corner, and when your cat starts to chew on that plastic bag, blast him with a little water from a squirt bottle.  Perhaps place a balloon under the fabric your cat suckles on, so the next time he tries to chew it, the pop will deter him from going back.  They now have electrical cord covers for pets who like to gnaw on these dangerous objects.  Get creative and be proactive by managing your environment.

Step 4 is to talk with your veterinarian about your cat's destructive chewing.  Rule out any possible medical reasons, and discuss safety and common household hazards.  And if your cat possibly has a genetic compulsive problem, behavioral modification drugs and treatments can be addressed.  Educating yourself is going to be the best form of prevention!