Carol and Ed live with a fourteen-year-old spayed cat, Sass, and eleven-year-old Sparkle. The two cats have three litter boxes on three different levels and sleep wherever they want. Sparkle was adopted from a co-worker at about two months old, and Carol says she’s healthy. A third cat was recently euthanized, but Carol says, “Sass never cared much for this cat anyway.” For the past year, Sass has developed a puzzling and dangerous behavior.
“Sass is a small, black shorthair with Siamese-like behavior as she "talks" like a Siamese, etc. She is the Alpha cat of the house. She chews on electric cords, and really loves chewing on paper and cardboard. We have covered cords, and have even sprayed them with hot sauce. We’ve provided her with her "own" paper/cardboard. She will even walk under a table lamp and "tooth" the shade (she prefers new ones!). She has had dental checks and cleaning.”
Cats’ chewing can be an OCD behavior, or it can be caused by other factors, both health-related and environmental. We can look at the cat’s physical and emotional health, as well as traits of instinct to help figure out what’s going on and find solutions. Think of this as the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers. It appears you’ve already looked at some of these issues, but my answer may revisit options to help other readers as well.
Dental issues certainly can be an issue with chewing. Cats that have painful mouths may indulge in gnawing behavior to relieve the discomfort. Up to 70 percent of cats develop periodontal disease by age three, so I’m delighted you’ve already addressed this possibility with veterinary dental checks and cleaning.
Obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) that involve chewing and gnawing behavior most typically develop in Oriental-heritage cats (Siamese, Burmese, Oriental Shorthair cats). These felines develop the strong urge to chew, suck, and sometimes eat inedible objects. Wool sucking behavior isn’t completely understood and multiple causes have been suggested. Since your cat does have Siamese-like tendencies, the chewing may be influenced by genetics.
In rare instances, a nutritional deficiency has been associated with eating of odd objects (termed pica). It is speculated that the cat instinctively understands something is missing and seeks to replace that—but may not choose appropriate items to ingest. Some cats that suddenly begin targeting inedible objects have been found to be anemic.
Stress can prompt a wide range of odd behaviors. In these cases, the chewing serves to relieve the stress and simply makes the cat feel better emotionally. Reducing anxiety can help eliminate the need for chewing.
S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions
At age fourteen, I suspect that Sass has a combination of issues that prompt the chewing behavior. Nearly all cats of this age develop some degree of arthritis, which can result in cats drastically reducing their activity level.
When a cat isn’t able to move around and exercise, explore, or interact as much with the world, boredom and the resulting stress may cause the cat to seek other outlets. At this age, there may be metabolic issues such as hyperthyroidism that increase activity level, or anemia that increases the urge to gnaw. A blood screening panel may reveal a treatable issue that resolves the behavior, too.
Of course, chewing electric cords could be deadly. Covering the cords, painting with hot sauce, or with a commercial Bitter Apple substance can help. Smearing forbidden targets with Vicks (menthol) can also keep some cats at bay since the smell can be quite off-putting. The Ssscat motion detector that “hisses” if the kitty comes close, also can be a humane deterrent.
Bravo to you, offering some “legal” alternatives.
Some cats also enjoy gnawing on the smallest-size canine rawhide chews—dip in warm water and zap in the microwave first to soften a bit. A percentage of cats reduce their chewing activity or even stop altogether if you add digestible fiber to the diet. Fresh cat greens, green beans, lettuce added to the cat’s food bowl may do the trick. Some of the “hairball formula” commercial diets also may work, as they simply increase fiber in the ration.