2 year old house cat chewing cords and straps in half.
September 20, 2010 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Why is our cat chewing cords and straps in half; and may eat small pieces of it, but mostly leaves it? (Shoelaces, Bra Straps, Tank Top Straps, iPhone cords, etc.) Aside from the idea that cats seem to enjoy chewing and licking leathery things or plastic things, like plastic bags, is there a greater reason? Maybe psychological? He is fed 1/3 cup of food twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, I doubt he is hungry. Any ideas on a replacement? More inside.

So, more details; he is a 2yr old orange tabby, your basic house cat I suppose. Every once and a while (maybe every month?) we will discover he has chewed part of my shoe lace, or part of her bra strap; and he seems to swallow parts of it, but not a lot; just seems to chew it in half and leave it. He has also, once, chewed my iPhone charger cord, but didn't swallow any of it, just chewed it in half.

A theory is that he is angry if we feed him late or aren't home a lot; another is that maybe he needs more exercise? Does anyone have experience with either of these things, or maybe he needs a healthy replacement; any recommendations? He does enjoy the kitty grass.
posted by sir_rubixalot to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ours used to chew giant holes in nylon socks. Not cotton, just nylon dress socks.
We thought that it probably felt good on his gums.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:27 PM on September 20, 2010

My cat does this exact thing and she has food available all of the time and I work out of my house and am home a lot. One night she crawled on top of my chest and started chewing the spaghetti straps of the night shirt I was wearing.

I have no answers but a lot of sympathy.
posted by murrey at 1:31 PM on September 20, 2010

Have the cat's teeth checked out by a vet - they can chew on stuff if their teeth hurt.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:33 PM on September 20, 2010

My cat licks plastic bags if they have any water droplets on the outside. Also, she has chewed through leather straps, elastic straps, headphones and cables.

She also LOVES toys that involve a string, e.g. a bunch of feathers on a string or a catnip mouse on a string. Maybe if you play with him using a string toy, he will learn that is the toy and other things are not.

To be honest though, I was never able to break my cat of the habit. I just put my dress shoes, headphones and bras in a drawer and am really careful about what I leave lying around.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:38 PM on September 20, 2010

Cats like long stringy things -- some cats really like them. Who knows? Maybe it reminds them of worms or snakes or something. But it's a pretty common cat trait.

But eating such things can be very dangerous for them, so please be careful of what you leave lying around. The string can get trapped in their digestive system and end up doing horrible things like strangling their intestines. I forget the details -- the string can get trapped somewhere in their esophagus or something, and then just "trail through" their body, unabble to pass.

IANAV. But our cat ate a ribbon -- ordinary curling ribbon, for wrapping presents -- and almost died. Not to mention the expensive surgery she almost had to have. We're now really careful about ribbons, elastic cords, rubber bands, etc.... but sometimes I give her a "string" of something digestible (like a carrot shaving) to play with.
posted by kestrel251 at 1:39 PM on September 20, 2010

P.S. I meant to add: our vet was completely unsurprised by what had happened. She said that both the eating of the stringies and the bad consequences of doing so are common.
posted by kestrel251 at 1:40 PM on September 20, 2010

No solutions for you, but I want to suggest you not take this too lightly. I had a pet bird once, that electrocuted itself by chewing through a power cord.
posted by jon1270 at 1:41 PM on September 20, 2010

Does your cat have lots of toys, and do you play with him regularly? I have a 6-month-old kitten who gets into all kinds of mischief, but I find that if I play with her 2-3 times a day with her toys that she's a lot less inclined to go after my stuff (and she also has a great predilection for electrical cords).
posted by stennieville at 1:44 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is instinct driven.

Mouse and rat tails, you know.
posted by jamjam at 1:56 PM on September 20, 2010

Yes, try to keep these things out of the way when you aren't around. I have a basket with a lid in which I keep all the long, stringy cat toys.

Rubber bands are bad, too -- a friend's cat had to have surgery after swallowing one of those.
posted by vickyverky at 1:56 PM on September 20, 2010

My cat ate 24 inches of string from one of those string toys, but he ate it in short, two inch sections. I ended up taking him to the emergency vet because I thought he had eaten it whole. Eventually it all came out from one end or the other. (I know because we laid the pieces from end to end to make sure it was all out. Yes, it was just as disgusting as it sounds.) In his case, he was both hungry and bored. On the advice of the vet, I changed his feeding schedule to four times a day, and I now spend a lot more time playing with him. His general chewing problem has gotten a lot better ever since. Maybe you could play with him a more and add a third feeding so he has something to chew that he's allowed?
posted by Mouse Army at 2:00 PM on September 20, 2010

I have two healthy middle-aged cats who get played with at least a couple times a day.

One, if left unsupervised, will neatly sever the headphones from the cord of any pair left lying around, guaranteed. The other will chow down on curly ribbon and bite rubber bands into a few pieces. Both will lick photographs if they are left in an accessible spot. Both will lick stray droplets of water off plastic bags. They have now trained me to not leave curly ribbon, rubber bands, headphones, photographs, plastic bags I don't want licked or like substances around.

The best solution, unfortunately, is probably to train yourself to secret those sorts of things away in drawers.
posted by charmedimsure at 2:02 PM on September 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the fact that you should have his teeth looked at by a vet, especially if he's somewhat lethargic (and thus in pain from tooth decay). The elastic/rubber/plastic in the types of items being chewed sound like they'd provide satisfying resistance for aching teeth.
Otherwise, this is pretty normal behavior. My cat likes licking the finish off of photos, and my mom's enjoys chewing (but not eating) fake flowers. Cats are extraordinarily quirky animals. Please keep the wires up out of reach if possible, or somewhere he doesn't usually jump to.

But please try not to leave long, thin edibles around, like strings or ribbons, anything that might be ingested whole and could tangle up his intestines. I can't tell you what it's like to catch a cat eating string and having to slowly pull out a few inches out of their mouth.

I also agree with the above that your cat needs some serious playtime on a daily basis. The chewing is his trying to amuse himself (if his teeth are in good shape). The "string theory" (see what I did there) totally applies to larger play toys, so let him exercise that instant with big stringy non-dangerous things - my cat loves to chase after the canopy tiebacks and bathrobe sashes.

First thing though - teeth checked by a vet. (though he's pretty young)
posted by mostlybecky at 2:04 PM on September 20, 2010

Cats have such weird idiosyncrasies. Diversion is usually the best bet rather than trying to stop it or figure out why he is doing it--there might not even be a reason.

I had a cat who was a cable chewer. Best solution was to protect as many cables and cords as possible (especially live wires!) and to leave a guitar cable on the floor that he seemed to like. It pretty much worked--he just wanted to chew and he went for the one that was available to him.

(Oddly enough, he's been gone for years now but I still treasure that cable because it is riddled with my favorite cat ever's teeth marks.)
posted by quarterframer at 2:13 PM on September 20, 2010

Yeah, good luck with that one. The list of things our two year old Maine Coon has destroyed is epic - a $200 dress, a tapestry, sheets, panties, towels, many, many pairs of ear buds, shoelaces, phone chargers, speaker wires... Somehow she seems to know to stay away from anything high voltage, but last Christmas we were sitting at the table with my parents, heard a loud pop, and looked down to see the cat looking surprised and the tree light wire severed.

I think she's getting a little better with age, but we've gotten much better at keeping things away from her so it's hard to tell. Our vet told us basically what I'm telling you - good luck! She also said that though she generally thinks pet insurance is a borderline scam, she recommends we get it and not mention the chewing, which she would leave off our cat's chart!

This cat also eats watermelon, fries, cabbage, cheese, and caramels, and drinks White Russians. Freak.

As a side note - we also have two kitties who went through a period of chewing weird things because they have the cat tooth allergy thing, and the things they chose to chew were very different - mostly hard, smooth, cool things like metal window hardware.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:14 PM on September 20, 2010

Oh, one thing I forgot. During the peak of the chewing we were able to distract the cat a little by leaving Red Vines (the candy) strewn about the floor. We'd find them cut into tiny pieces. It wasn't an ideal solution, but it's something.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:15 PM on September 20, 2010

Our cat loved to chew on cords. I freaked out a little after it chewed through the cord to my brand new graphics tablet (fortunately I was able to repair it). Nothing we did seemed to have any impact on the chewing, but we did notice a pattern. The cat almost exclusively chewed on cords that were new. New HDMI cable? Chewed. New tablet cable? Chewed. Old iphone charger? not chewed.

Our solution was to just not leave the cat alone with new cords until she got used to them. Worked ok but she still chewed every once in a while.

Then we got a second cat.

All chewing immediately stopped and never returned. She was a biter too before the second cat and that stopped as well. Seems that sometimes cats need a buddy to stop them from getting neurotic.
posted by cirrostratus at 2:19 PM on September 20, 2010

These answers are brilliant! Thanks to everyone who answered.

He is not showing any signs of sickness; lethargy, vomiting, or otherwise; so I am not worried there. We are taking him to the vet for his yearly check up so we'll mention it and get his teeth checked, as well as possible try the red vine solution and we've been thinking about a second cat anyway, so maybe that's another solution.
posted by sir_rubixalot at 2:59 PM on September 20, 2010

I have one of these cats too. Be careful. She once ate a toy that she somehow unraveled into a large piece of cord (it was a sisal mouse, covered with the sisal cord that my cats love).

Anyway, I came home one day to find my floor covered in cat puke. In the last pile, most of the aforementioned sisal cord. In another room, one very sick cat, covered in puke and hiding in a laundry basket.

An emergency vet trip, $300 extra for xrays and a 2 day poop watch later, I now no longer leave anything string/cord laying around for any of my cats.
posted by cgg at 3:11 PM on September 20, 2010

There is a recording studio in my house thus there are hundreds of cables to choose from....
My Cat ONLY chews White iphone cables and White Apple headphone cables......

Nothing else..... (except cardboard boxes)

She has been through 7 of them so far...
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 3:16 PM on September 20, 2010

PS: i read that when they chew things regularly, they want more company/stimulus.

A second cat usually remedies this.
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 3:19 PM on September 20, 2010

This is called a Pica. That's what the vet told me when we couldn't get one of our cats to stop licking, chewing, and then eating plastic bags.

A Pica is a type of fetish, I guess. It's annoying but OK until the animal starts ingesting potentially harmful materials.

Our solution was to keep plastic bags out of reach. Good luck with the cords and strings - that's a tough one. It could be worse...

I had a cat who only loved scratching anything vinyl, leather, or suede. scratching posts were useless to this animal. For many many years there wasn't a jacket, purse, upholstered couch, upholstered chair, or piece of luggage that escaped scratches and holes. That was one very expensive Pica!
posted by jbenben at 3:49 PM on September 20, 2010

We have three cats, so don't count on the companion cat helping! It's a good idea anyway though, fun for them and fun for you.
posted by crabintheocean at 5:44 PM on September 20, 2010

My cat does this too. I have lost track of the number of bras and tank tops she has ruined! I have to keep yarn hidden away because she will chew through it and start swallowing it. I have pulled 6' (yes, that's feet) long pieces of yarn out of her tummy just after she has swallowed them. She also loves to lick plastic bags. My theory is that she's just a little needy and neurotic, and needs extra attention sometimes. My other cat is more well-adjusted, apparently.

In sum: cats are weird.
posted by apricot at 5:48 PM on September 20, 2010

My high-strung female cat does this (the more laid back male does not). She's probably used up a few of her nine lives, as I've found teeth marks on power cords. She also chews hair elastics, shoes with straps, speaker wire, coaxial cable. When I talked to the vet about it, all she said was "that's her vice". She has gotten a bit better since getting older/getting a companion cat, but still can chew. I've tried the bitter spray, and Vaseline, but have gotten mixed results. About the only thing that really works is to keep the kind of stuff she chews on out of reach. Good luck.
posted by weathergal at 8:01 PM on September 20, 2010

This is a fantastic thread. One of my cats (also an orange tabby) chews through so many, many things. Once it was the power cord to my laptop while it was still plugged in. That hasn't happened again. But ear buds, elastics, bra straps, all the above mentioned things (oh, the sheer number of ear buds!).

Plus the licking of plastic bags.

I thought he was insane. I've never had another cat that did this.

I still think he's insane, but now I know he has company.
posted by aclevername at 10:18 PM on September 20, 2010

Our boy cat used to do this a LOT, specifically with power cords. He destroyed a very expensive treadmill, among other fairly expensive things.

Our best guess is it's stress-related. Once, during a period of moderate chewing, we tried Feliway—the kitty pheromone thing—and while it seemed to have no effect, its removal had a HUGE effect: the moderate chewing became epidemic for a couple of weeks. Some people swear by Feliway, but in our experience it was all withdrawal and no high.

Since he's a big attention whore, we are now careful to play and cuddle with him frequently. We have also had to take some unusual cord-concealing measures, such as buying hard plastic tubing and snaking cords through it when they can't be run behind something.

In your case, I wouldn't bet on being able to find a permanent solution, so you'll have to adapt. Remember, the cats own you, not the other way around.
posted by AugieAugustus at 5:42 AM on September 21, 2010

My cat does it too. We thought she'd electrocute herself. But you can't hide all the power cords in the house, so all we could do was hope and be vigilant.

She does it much less now, though. What seems to have made the difference is that she's found a substitute: The blue stretchie. This is an elastic cord from a lady's swimsuit. Cat can't get enough of it. The best part is it's fun for both of us to play with. She gets on one end and tugs, hunching and hauling back like a dog does when you play with him with a rope, so the blue stretchie stretches. I get on the other end and stand there. When she lets go, the blue stretchie shoots away and she chases it. More fun than it sounds. Whee.

Ex GF is having a hard time keeping her swimsuit up, though.

Cats are weird.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:18 AM on September 21, 2010

OK, so you get the point that this is quite common. Here's our little technophobic bastard. (He even attacks his own tail.) Here's our solution.
posted by desjardins at 11:24 AM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have four cats one of which is a chewer. He is also an orange tabby and the highest strung one out of the bunch. He has ruined phone charger cords, speaker cords, headphone cords and mouse cords. I have seen toothmarks in other, tougher cords. He has chewed through two different pairs of Crocs shoe straps and chewed through various shoe laces. The mister and I try our best to keep cords out of the way, but it's not always possible. The only saving grace to the whole thing is that he doesn't eat any of it. I'm going to get a wireless mouse set-up in the next few days because of his latest chew-fest.

Cats are bastards in fur suits.
posted by deborah at 6:07 PM on September 21, 2010

I have the same chewing problems with my cats! I asked my vet about it at their yearly checkup a few weeks ago, and he had an interesting suggestion: put roll-on deodorant on the cords they tend to eat. Apparently aluminum tastes pretty awful to cats. I tried this, and while it seemed to work at first, the effect didn't last long... Then again I didn't reapply with much consistency.

My cats also chew things like lamp shades, book corners, the edges of my laptop, and thick metal things. Weird.
posted by Betty's Table at 8:05 PM on December 15, 2010

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