While owning a kitten is a fun and rewarding experience overall, it is fair to say kittens also present their fair share of problematic and challenging behaviours. In my experience, one of the most frustrating of all is the tendency for some kittens to chew on electrical cords, cables, or wires. Of course, because of the dangers involved, it is also extremely important that you take decisive action to prevent it from happening.
Nevertheless, there are a number of other approaches which can be effective and I will cover some of these below. It can also be useful to understand the various reasons why kittens feel compelled to chew on electrical cords in the first place, as this can open up a number of more specific remedies or solutions for your kitten.
Ways to Prevent Kittens Chewing on Cords
A kitten chewing on the electrical cords in your home can be a frustrating problem to tackle, not only because of the potential damage caused to household electronics but also because of the dangers it poses to your kitten. It is, therefore, important to take swift action and there are two basic approaches: pre-empt the problem and take steps to prevent your kitten from accessing cords, wires and cables; or take steps to correct and deter the behaviour.
In terms of pre-empting the problem, the best option is to keep your cables and cords out of the way as much as possible. Many cords can be hidden behind furniture in ways that can prevent your kitten from getting to them, while others can be kept covered by running them through PVC pipes or similar protective materials. In some cases, you may also be able to use baby gates or other obstructions to prevent kittens from accessing certain rooms.
Once the behaviour has already started, however, it is usually more effective to take steps to deter or correct it. On the most basic level, you can interrupt the kitten’s attempts and then give them a clear and firm ‘No!’ to try to teach them that the behaviour is unacceptable. The limitation of this is that it cannot help in instances where you are not in the room, and some kittens are too stubborn to listen and learn from this.
A highly effective method is to actually coat your electrical cords in a repellent substance. Commercial products are available for this, but there are also a number of home-made solutions. A combination of red pepper, lemon juice and petroleum jelly or Vaseline is one such example. Kittens find both the lemon juice and red pepper to be repulsive, while the petroleum jelly helps to create a suitable base, allowing it to be smeared on uncovered cords.
Some kittens can be prevented from chewing on electrical cords – and any other unwanted item within the household – through the provision of replacements for them to chew on. Simple options here include cardboard or toilet roll tubes, although more expensive alternatives, like chew toys, can also be highly effective as well.
If the problem is confined to one specific location, such as the area behind your television, I would recommend investing in a motion-sensor deterrent. Many pet stores sell devices which can detect movement near them and which emit a noise which scares cats or kittens away. If this is placed in the right location, it can act very quickly to deter your kitten, and to teach him or her that that area is out of bounds for them.
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Why Do Kittens Chew on Electrical Cords?
Aside from seeking solutions to the problem, you may also be wondering why kittens often feel compelled to chew on electrical cords within the home in the first place. Certainly, knowing the most common explanations for this behaviour can help you to pinpoint why your kitten is doing it and that, in turn, can help you to choose the best method for resolving the problem, based on the individual circumstances.
The single most common reason for kittens chewing on electrical cords is teething problems. Essentially, when kittens experience pain in their mouths caused by teething – or indeed any other dental problem – their instinct is to chew. Electrical cords, while one of the worst things the can choose to chew on in terms of danger, are often extremely convenient for them, because they fit into a kitten’s mouth easily.
With that being said, there are other causes too. One of these is a type of obsessive behaviour, similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. This type of behaviour sometimes manifests in a compulsion to chew on things and this is especially common in certain breeds, such as those with Siamese or Burmese heritage. If this applies to your kitten, providing an alternative to chew on, like cardboard, may be the most effective solution.
Stress can also be a significant contributing factor, meaning that chewing on electrical cords might be more likely at times of intense change for your kitten. Examples of this include introducing a new pet into the household, or moving house. In these instances, the behaviour may cease after the stress subsides, although the risk is that it may become a learned behaviour, which the kitten will continue out of pure habit. A firmer deterrent is usually best here.
The Dangers and How to Spot the Signs
At this stage, you might also be questioning just how dangerous a kitten chewing on electrical cords is, and the answer to this is that it is potentially extremely dangerous. In the worst case scenario, it can lead to electrocution, but even without this, it can cause electric shocks, burns and other physical damage. Of course, it can also lead to problems with your household electrical set up, potentially making fires more likely.
One of the major challenges is your kitten opting to chew on electrical cords at a time when you are there to see it. Indeed, I have personally seen situations where kittens have caused significant damage to cords without their owners being aware of the problem, as the chewing has occurred overnight, or when the owners have been out.
The most obvious sign that your kitten has been chewing on electrical cords is physical damage to the cords, so you should regularly check all cords that could feasibly be accessed by your cat or kitten and check that they do not have teeth marks or other signs of chewing-related damage. Yet, in households with more than one cat, one of the limitations of using this method is that it will not reveal which cat has been chewing on the cords.
There may also be signs on your kitten, such as sores in and around the mouth. In terms of behaviour, a sudden and unexplained reluctance to eat could be another symptom, while in the most serious instances, the chewing could lead to serious harm, which might manifest as difficulty in breathing, or a persistent coughing.
It is essential that you seek veterinary advice if your cat has signs of harm caused by chewing on electrical cords.
Tips For Kitten-Proofing Your Home
Finally, regardless of the precise reason for your kitten chewing on your electrical cords, I would recommend that you take clear steps to kitten-proof your home. Much like when welcoming a new baby into a household, there are certain precautions that can be taken to minimise risk and prevent problems from occurring.
The most basic step is to try to keep your cables, wires and cords as clean and tidy as possible. Obscure them as much as you can through the intelligent placement of furniture and try to keep as many of them as you can in one general location within each room. This can help to confine the issue to a few specific places. It is also worthwhile to invest in things like PVC pipes and cable tidies. This avoids having lots of visible cables on show, enticing your kitten.
You might also try to minimise the problem by reducing the total number of cords and cables that are actually in your home. Get rid of electronic devices that you are no longer using, or at least place them in a room that your kitten cannot access. There is no point having a DVD player that you do not use in the living room because it unnecessarily worsens the problem and poses an additional hazard to your kitten.
While it can be expensive to completely kitten-proof your house, it is an important investment for long-term safety. Even if you are unable to afford to kitten-proof every single room in your house, you should ensure as many rooms as possible are safe for the kitten and try to prevent access to the others. At the bare minimum, you need at least one completely kitten-proof room, where your cat can be safely left unattended.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.