By Julia Williams
I had a gray tabby cat named Binky who was the sweetest, most affectionate feline I’ve ever known. Binky was my kitty companion for 19 years, and I loved her dearly. But Binky had a bizarre habit – she sucked on my blankets and sweaters until they became a soggy mess. Like countless other cat owners confronted with such odd behavior, I thought something must be mentally wrong with Binky. Should Binky see a cat therapist, I wondered? I opted to consult with my vet instead, who informed me that Binky’s behavior was actually fairly common. It even had a name: wool sucking.
What causes wool sucking in cats?
Some cats, like Binky, become fixated with sucking, licking or chewing on fabrics. Because wool is generally the fabric of choice, this behavior became known as wool sucking. Although there is no definitive answer as to why cats engage in wool sucking, it is believed to be a misdirected, compulsive behavior related to nursing and too-early weaning of kittens. Genetics may also play a part. Although many people wonder if there might be something missing in the cat’s diet that causes them to be wool suckers, my vet said this was highly unlikely.
For survival reasons, a young kitten’s drive to nurse is quite strong. Healthy kittens nurse vigorously until they are about six to seven weeks old. After that, the momma cat usually rebuffs the kittens when they try to nurse, until they are completely weaned and eating solid food on their own. As the kitten grows older and naturally progresses to solid food, their drive to nurse fades. But in some cases, when a kitten experiences abrupt early weaning while their nursing drive is still strong, they may turn to non-nutritional substitutes that have the same feel as Mom, such as that soft wool blanket on your bed.
Is wool sucking dangerous for your cat?
Wool sucking is a strange behavior, to be sure. Having spittle -soaked blankets is no picnic either. But is wool sucking harmful to your cat? As long as the behavior stays at the wool sucking stage and doesn’t progress to the chewing and swallowing stage, it may not be a problem that requires intervention on your part. The kitten may also outgrow the behavior in time. If they don’t, and the wool sucking turns to chewing and swallowing, the behavior could be dangerous for your cat because they could suffer intestinal obstruction from the ingested fabric.
What can you do about wool sucking?
As I said, sometimes the wool sucking will subside on its own. It may go away completely, or your kitten or cat may only engage in wool sucking in times of stress or conflict. If your cat engages in wool sucking, the right course of action would be to have your cat examined by your veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for the behavior. Then, depending upon what your vet recommends, you may want to consider consulting with a cat behaviorist.
If your vet feels that your cat’s wool sucking is endangering its health, they may suggest one of the following treatments:
Aversion – If your cat only sucks on one or two objects, you can try a pet deterrent spray. Just be sure to test it on a small, inconspicuous area first to make sure it won’t harm the fabric.
Eliminate or reduce sources of stress for your cat – Some possible stressors include: separation anxiety, conflicts with other cats and dogs in your household, neighborhood cats coming into your yard, rowdy visitors and loud noises.
Redirect the wool-eating – When you see your cat chomping on your favorite sweater or blanket, offer it something else to suck on, such as a fuzzy sock or a soft cat toy.
Drug Therapy – Your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as anti-anxiety or anti-depressants.
Discourage the behavior – If you catch your cat in the act of wool sucking, gently tap them on the nose and say, “No” in a firm voice. You can also help to discourage the wool sucking by not giving them access to the objects they like to suck on. For example, keep all clothes picked up and put away, and always make your bed so the blanket is covered up.
I found Binky in my backyard when she was only about five weeks old, so the theory that wool sucking is caused by abrupt early weaning makes sense to me. Binky never did outgrow the wool sucking behavior completely, but since she did it less frequently as she got older and never progressed to wool eating, I viewed it more as an annoyance rather than a problem which required treatment. As in all cases where your cat exhibits strange behavior, you should discuss it with your vet to determine if treatment is necessary.
Read more articles by Julia Williams
The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.