If walking into your bathroom keeps giving you flashbacks of TP-ing houses in high school, you’re not alone. Feline roommates have been known to go after rolls of toilet paper, shredding them into flaky confetti. What causes this odd behavior? We spoke with Dr. Mikel Delgado, a certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a postdoctoral veterinary fellow and Smalls’ resident cat expert, to find out more.
Cats and claws
First, it’s important to understand your cat’s relationship to her claws. The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society says even though house cats don’t need claws to hunt and catch prey, they still share those instincts with their wild, big cat relatives. All cats’ claws are retractable and provide traction as they run and climb. Dr. Delgado adds, “Scratching is a natural behavior that allows cats to mark their territory, stretch their back muscles, and condition their nails.” Paw pads excrete scents unique to each cat; when they scratch something, they leave traces of their smell behind.
Claws are also a feline’s best defense against predators. This is why cats who have been declawed, a practice now understood to be inhumane, may have behavior issues. It makes sense that felines who have been robbed of the parts they need to defend themselves, mark their territory, stretch, run, play and scratch are prone to develop unhealthy or destructive behavior.
Is shredding toilet paper considered a behavior issue in cats?
Of course, just because a cat’s claws are intact doesn’t automatically mean she’s a perfect angel. Quite the contrary! Anyone with a kitty knows how much they enjoy digging nails into furniture, rugs, shoes and anything else they can grip.
“All cats need to play and scratch,” says Dr. Delgado. “If they don't have appropriate outlets for these behaviors, they may target items around the house to ‘attack!’”
Shredding toilet paper could be a symptom of a larger behavior issue, but more often than not, it’s your cat’s way of saying, “I need more stuff to scratch.”
Why toilet paper?
Funnily enough, shredding toilet paper closely resembles the act of hunting. According to Dr. Delgado, “Cats likely feel satisfied when whatever they are ‘hunting’ is changing in physical form. These signals of physical change (e.g., a loss of feathers, destruction of body tissue) sends a signal to cats that their hunting attempt is successful. This is probably why cats enjoy shredding cardboard and toilet paper.”
It also may explain why they gnaw and claw their favorite toys to pieces.
Is shredding toilet paper unsafe?
It’s all fun and games until someone swallows the toilet paper. Tearing up tissue isn’t cause for concern on its own, but as soon as it seems like your kitty is eating bits and pieces of the paper, you need to draw the line. Dr. Delgado notes ingesting any non-food items can cause dangerous intestinal blockage or vomiting in cats. So, keep a close eye on kitty if you find her regularly going for the TP.
How to flush destructive behavior down the drain
If shredding toilet paper has become your pet’s favorite pastime, there are a few things you can do to stop this habit in its tracks. First, make sure your kitty has ample feline-friendly scratching posts around your home. Dr. Delgado recommends posts that are tall and sturdy, with textures that appeal to cat instincts, like sisal rope or cardboard.
Place these scratching posts or toys in the areas your cat tends to destroy. Yes, this may mean dangling a hanging cat scratcher from the bathroom door knob for a few weeks, but it’s worth it. In my own home, I’ve saved two specific couch arms from hours of scratching by plopping a heavy duty sisal scratching post in front of the spots my cats’ revisited over and over. Now, they prefer the post (most of the time).
Second, invest in a pet-proof covered holder for your toilet paper. This will actively prevent your cat from getting to her forbidden toy.
Finally, nothing beats healthy outlets for your cat’s energy. Spend time interacting with your cat, even if it’s simply dangling a fabric wand around for a few minutes every day. Provide interactive solo toys or treat dispensers that challenge her mind and body.
As Dr. Delgado puts it, “An enriched environment and lots of exercise are key to having a happy, well-behaved cat.”