You come home from work to find frayed electrical cords, severed shoelaces, and hole-filled socks. While the guilty party sleeps comfortably at the top of her cat tree, you begin to pick up the pieces and throw away the leftover mess. What are you to do when your cat chews your stuff?
While all kittens will chew as they lose their baby teeth and grow their adult teeth, some of them never stop - or they begin this habit later in life. Excessive chewing is known as pica. While "there is not a single, consistent cause of pica in every afflicted cat, . . . Veterinary professionals have narrowed it down to a few possibilities, including dietary deficiencies, stress, boredom, and underlying medical issues" ("Assisi"). If you have tried some basic problem-solving techniques that have not been successful, then you want to take your cat to the vet to see if the vet can determine a problem.
The first task in resolving destructive chewing is to provide appropriate toys for cats to chew. If you notice your cat likes to chew on a particular texture, then look for toys that could duplicate that texture. For example, if your cat likes the plastic of cords, get it some Wiggle Worm toys. These toys feel like a plastic wire, so they make a safe substitute. If it prefers to chew on fabrics, try the Dental Health Chew toys or combine both plastic or material in the Chew Wheel toy. If your cat chews on items but doesn't swallow them, cardboard can be an excellent chew item; however, if your cat eats some of the items, chewing cardboard could cause intestinal damage if too much is swallowed. You may also try Organic Cat Chew Sticks with your cat, but remember to stay away from rawhide as it contains chemicals that are dangerous if consumed.
The next step is to remove what you can from the environment and deter your cat from chewing on those items you cannot remove. Deterrents can come in a couple of different methods. Spraying a Bitter Apple Spray on the things you do not want to be chewed is an effective way to keep them away. You can also purchase pet-proof electrical cords or a cord protecting sleeve to place around your wires. Another deterrent is to place a motion-activated air canister near the items that you want the cat to stay away from. For example, if you desire your cat away from your computer while you are gone, place one of these canisters on your desk. Within ten to fourteen days, the cat will learn not to go to your desk anymore.
It is important to consider is that "cats also may feed on items due to behavioral compulsive disorders. Boredom and lack of stimulation may drive cats to seek entertainment elsewhere, which may lead to compulsive grooming or eating weird things" ("Recognize"). What does your cat do all day when you aren't home? Bengals are known for being one of the most intelligent cat breeds, and due to their higher intelligence, Bengals are prone to boredom. If your cat enjoys a cat wheel, that is a bonus as then it will exert its energy. With Bengals being a high-energy cat, most need a physical outlet for their energy. But it may need mental stimulation as well. Having a window perch with a bird feeder outside is an easy way to stimulate your cat's mind. You can also have an aquarium - real or artificial. Food puzzles work well for many Bengals too.
When you are home, it is crucial to have your cat on a routine play schedule. Routine brings serenity to any anxious animal. Since anxiety is a possible cause of over chewing, trying all the simple tricks that may help solve the problem is worth it. Create a routine play and feeding schedule. Your cat's body's natural cycle is to hunt, catch, eat, groom, and sleep several times a day. Recreate this cycle in your home. Play for ten minutes before work, then feed. Play when you get home from work, feed again. And play before bedtime and leave out the most abundant feed of the day for overnight consumption.
Like boredom, stress can also cause a cat to become a compulsive chewer. "The methodical sucking and chewing may prompt the release of endorphins, stress-relieving neurochemicals. Anxious cats or those exposed to stressful environmental events may use these behaviors as a coping mechanism" (Bollen). Take some time to observe your cat's relationships and interactions with other animals in the house. Watch your cat's body language when it interacts with other animals in the house. If it is isolating itself from other pets, it is likely stressed. Stress can also be the result of environmental change, so take a moment to think about whether or not there have been any changes in your home. Stress can be reduced with the routine play schedule mentioned above and by increasing the house's amount of desirable territory. Expand your cat's vertical territory with cat trees, walkways, and perches. The more cat-desirable real estate you have in your home, the more territory you give your cat to claim.
There is some thought that excessive chewing could have nutritional causes. Some veterinarians believe "diets lacking in fat and fiber" (Assisi) could encourage excessive chewing or pica. A pure raw diet, which we do encourage, is not high in fiber. One thing you can add to raw food that also adds fiber is pumpkin. If you suspect this may be the case, adding .5 to 1 teaspoon of pumpkin to your fresh blend daily will add some fiber to the diet. You can also find some quality cat food with pumpkin in Cats in the Kitchen wet food in pumpkin soup. Cats need higher fat foods, so when you are making protein choices, consider the fat content. Chicken thigh, for example, has a higher fat content than chicken breast. Using proteins with high-fat content will help. Another way to add some healthy fat into the diet is through salmon oil in the food, which increases the Omega 3, or offering canned sardines in tomato juice or water. In addition, some believe that pica could "stem from mineral deficiencies." By adding a supplement with bioavailable ingredients, such as Nuvet, to your cat's diet, you can make sure that you get all of the trace minerals that your cat needs.
Of course, you should never ignore that excessive chewing could be indicative of a medical condition. While it is okay to implement some of the above tips before going to the vet, if there is no improvement, the cat needs to see a veterinarian. "Gastrointestinal disorders (parasitism, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies) and endocrine disease (diabetes, kidney, and thyroid problems) are among the medical conditions that could contribute to this behavior" (Bollen). Only a vet can rule out any internal issues that we are not able to see.
"Assisi Animal Health Discusses the Causes and Dangers of Pica in Cats." PR Newswire, Feb 02, 2017. ProQuest.
Bollen, Kelley. "Hard to Swallow Behavior." Animals, Spring 2002. Vol.135, Issue 2. Mas Complete.
"Recognize Pica in House Cats." Daily Record, May 26, 2018, pp. 9. ProQuest.