If your cat is air-chewing, you are likely wondering what’s going on. Besides, it’s a little bit strange, isn’t it, especially if your cat has only started to do it. So it naturally helps to understand why cats air chew and if it is anything to be concerned about or do anything about. Well today, we are going to be looking at exactly these things.
So, why is my cat air chewing? Cats usually air chew because of a medical condition, most likely dental or oral in nature. Though sometimes it can be because they’re obese and can’t reach all of their fur to groom. In rare cases, its a quirk.
There are around 11 different medical issues that it could be, which we will be taking a look at in the next section.
So keep reading!
Reasons Why Cats May Air Chew
Your cat is most likely chewing air because of a medical condition, so it’s worth a vet visit. Obese cats will also chew air, as they can’t groom themselves effectively.
Your Cat Is Obese
Obese cats can’t get to all areas of their body to groom themselves, so some of them may nip at the air or their legs while trying to reach those elusive areas of fur.
Obesity can lead to many serious health conditions and problems, such as:
- Hormone imbalances
- Feline diabetes
- Urinary disease
- Shortened lifespan
Get help for your cat to help them lose weight (see tips below).
Your Cat Has A Medical Issue
There are many medical issues that can cause cats to chew air. Here’s a list of the most common problems:
This is the most common cause of cats’ air chewing and is a disease affecting your cat’s gums, teeth, and other areas of the mouth.
It’s usually caused by bacteria and is a serious disease that can cause pain in the mouth, inflammation, and infection.
If left untreated, it can badly affect your cat’s mouth, teeth, and surrounding areas.
Feline Chronic Gingivostomatitis (FCGS)
This is usually a consequence of untreated periodontal disease. Your cat’s gums become swollen, and ulcers develop inside the lips and mouth.
This disease is very painful, and your cat won’t be able to close its mouth properly, causing difficulties eating.
FCGS usually requires dental extraction of all the molars and premolars, so prevention is essential!
An Abscecced Tooth
As with other oral infections, an abscessed tooth is usually painful for cats.
The infection can fill the teeth and gums with pus.
Your cat won’t be able to eat and will eventually become weak, with potentially fatal consequences.
A Broken Tooth
As cats get older, teeth can break as they weaken – especially the canines.
If a tooth breaks or falls off, the nerves and blood vessels inside the tooth pulp out, which is very painful.
Imagine trying to eat with an exposed nerve in your mouth!
A Stuck Foreign Object
If a foreign object gets caught in your cat’s mouth, it may chew on air to try and dislodge it or ingest it.
If you suspect there’s a foreign object stuck in your cat’s mouth or throat, take your cat to the vet quickly.
You can sometimes pull it out yourself, but depending on the situation, you might cause damage to the sensitive areas of the mouth and throat.
A Mis-Shapen Tooth
Malocclusion can occur in younger cats when their teeth don’t grow properly.
As a result, chewing can become painful.
While this problem isn’t very common, it can occur in some breeds, such as flatters and Persians.
Air chewing can be an early sign of nausea – consider whether you’ve changed your cat’s diet recently or if they could have eaten something that they shouldn’t.
Nausea is also a symptom of more serious conditions, such as heatstroke or gastrointestinal problems.
A Sign of Seizure
In rare cases, cats can experience a type of seizure, either because of a neurological condition or from exposure to a chemical (usually pyrethrin).
Pyrethrin is present in a lot of flea medicines, cat shampoos, and cat sprays, and some cats don’t tolerate it.
Focal seizures can cause what’s known as fly biting, when your cat snaps at the air as if they’re trying to catch invisible flies.
A highly contagious virus, feline calicivirus can cause oral or respiratory diseases in cats (as well as other pets).
Your cat can feel suffocated and can’t close its mouth properly, so it may chew on air as a result.
Feline calicivirus is treatable, but the effects can last for quite some time.
Although rare in cats, they can get tonsillitis.
Tonsillitis in cats is hard to spot because the only signs you’ll see are air chewing and a loss of appetite.
If left untreated, tonsillitis can lead to tumors and other serious problems.
This disease of the lymphatic system (the white blood cells) can occur anywhere but is most often found in the lymph nodes.
You may notice weight loss in addition to air chewing.
There are several forms of lymphoma – your vet will perform blood tests on your cat to determine which one is present and what treatment is required.
Should I Be Concerned About My Cat Air Chewing?
Whether or not you need to be concerned about your cats air chewing is ultimately dependent on the underlying cause.
When You Probably Don’t Need To Worry
If your cat is chewing the air only infrequently, you usually don’t need to worry.
Check if your cat is either:
- Overstimulated (in which case, look for ways to calm them down), or
- Full of fleas (which isn’t a cause for worry, but which does require treatment which tends to be straightforward)
One sign your cat could be overstimulated is if they chew air when you try and pet them. Your cat could be saying, “Enough, please! This is too much!”
When You’ll Need to Be Concerned (and Do Something)
If your cat has a medical issue or a serious behavioral issue, or anything else causing them discomfort, then you’ll need to be concerned and do something to help them.
Anytime your cat is air chewing compulsively or often, it means something is wrong.
Because there are so many possible medical conditions that can cause cats to air chew (see above), it’s essential to get your cat to the vet for the correct diagnosis.
The sooner you get your cat to the vet, the better the chances of finding something that’s treatable easily.
What To Do About Your Cat Air Chewing
What to do about your cat’s air chewing depends on the cause of the problem. Some things you can take care of yourself, while others require a vet visit (and possibly treatment).
If Your Cat Is Obese
It’s essential to help your cat lose weight if they are obese – obesity causes many health problems in cats, and your cat isn’t comfortable with all that excess weight.
Start with a vet visit to determine how much weight your cat needs to lose and what the best diet is for your cat.
At home, you can also implement the following tips:
Encourage Exercise By Hiding Foods & Litter Tray(s)
You can hide your cat’s food and litter box each day so that your cat has to go exploring, getting exercise at the same time.
Try putting them on a different floor (for split-level homes) if your vet says your cat can climb stairs (if they don’t suffer from arthritis, for example).
Go For A Walk
If your cat is happy to walk on a lead, you can take them outside for a stroll.
Get A Feeding Ball Or Treat Toy
Make your cat work for their treats – you’ll be making mealtimes more fun while providing mental and physical stimulation for your cat.
Your cat will also be encouraged to eat more slowly (and often eat less).
Try An Automatic Feeder With A Timer
If you want to provide your cat with small meals while you’re not at home, get a feeder with a timer that allows you to program the number of calories and times your cat eats during the day.
Offer Several Small Meals Rather Than One Large One
One big meal per day encourages cats to overeat because they feel they need to stock up.
Your cat will also be less likely to be hungry (especially with a new food regime).
Add More Water To Your Cat’s Food
Adding a bit of water to your cat’s food will help them feel fuller, even with less food than they had before.
Keeping them hydrated will also assist with weight loss.
Play For 30 Minutes Each Day
Cats love playtime, so see what kinds of toys your cat likes and have daily play sessions – these will strengthen your bond with your cat, too.
Note: If you have more than one cat, separate them at feeding times so they don’t feel the need to compete for food.
If Your Cat Is Overstimulated
Your cat will display a certain type of body language if they are overstimulated.
Overstimulation can cause your cat to chew air as well as display potentially aggressive behaviors.
Common signs to look for are:
- A twitching or wagging tail (as opposed to the end waving back and forth)
- Skin twitching – cats will twitch their back skin when irritated or nervous
- Paw swatting
- Raised hackles
- Ears turned back – this is a signal to stay away before you get scratched
- Turning their head towards your hand – this can sometimes be to lick you, but an anxious cat can bite or lash out
Here’s how to help your cat if they are overstimulated:
- When you see any of the above signs of overstimulation, walk away first to give your cat room (and time) to relax. Some cats only need a few minutes, whereas others need as much as an hour
- At playtimes, use regular, interactive play with toys that keep you a distance away from your cat (such as feathery toys on the end of a wand, lure toys, balls, etc.)
- Provide your cat with their own space to relax where they won’t be disturbed (preferably high up, as cats feel safest when they can see everything below them)
- Give your cat a lickable treat – licking calms most cats
You can help prevent your cat from becoming overstimulated in the future if you:
- Keep petting sessions short and soft. Use your fingers rather than your whole hand.
- Let your kitty take the lead by showing you how long they like to be touched. A minute is more than enough for most cats. If your cat shows any signs of approaching their stimulation threshold, stop.
- Get to know your cat’s favorite spots to be touched (it’s usually the part of their body that they rub against you).
- Don’t pick up your cat if they don’t like it – some cats prefer to stay on the ground.
- Don’t use your feet or hands as toys. Your cat may then later attack your feet or hands to initiate play, which can be a bad habit. Especially if you’re trying to sleep!
- Treat your cat after they let you pet them. They’ll soon learn to associate petting with good things and are more likely to allow you to pet them in the future.
If Your Cat Has, Or You Suspect, A Medical Issue
If you even suspect the slightest possibility of a medical issue, get your cat to the vet asap.
Other Things To Know About Cats Air Chewing
Sometimes – in rare cases – air chewing can be a behavioral quirk, though it’s best to get your vet to do a check-up to rule out any health problems.
Your Cat Could Simply Have a Quirk
One ginger kitty called Nacho has a habit of air chewing while he purrs and squints. This behavior caused his person to wonder if he was ill.
The vet checked and explained that because Nacho purrs and squints while he chews air, it’s his little quirk that communicates he’s happy and comfy – he just wants food!
You can see Nacho in action here.
Note: Nacho’s person took him to the vet first – don’t ever assume your cat has simply developed a new habit if they start air chewing. There are too many potentially serious problems that could cause him to munch on air, so the risks aren’t worth avoiding a vet bill.
Other Less Common Reasons Your Cat May Chew Air
Sometimes your cat can chew air because they’re trying to tell you something.
If you have checked with your vet and your cat is healthy and happy, it’s likely your cat wants to communicate something to you by air chewing.
In Nacho’s case (see above), he uses air chewing to ask for food.
Other reasons your cat might air chew could be:
- To ask for playtime (perhaps you play with toys that they chew and they’re looking to repeat the experience)
- To express happiness and comfort (perhaps your cat is purring while chewing the air). This is a bit like people who make contented noises during a good meal!
As we have discussed today, air chewing can be the result of something relatively non-serious, or a symptom of something much more serious going on.
Nevertheless, if your cat is air chewing, something is certainly up. Especially if it’s a new behaviour, or is accompanied by other behavioural changes or symptoms, too.
At this point, I would strongly recommend you consult a vet. They will be able to advise here.
And you do not want to take any chances.
Other related cat guides you may want to read:
- Why Does My Cat Make Gulping Sounds?
- Why Does My Cat Lick My Hair?
- Why Does My Cat Squeak Instead Of Meow?
- Why Does My Cat Flip Her Food Bowl?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.