My Cat's Suckling Fabric

Occasionally, cats get into behavior cycles that can be difficult for them to break out of.  Fabric eating, also referred to as wool eating, is just such a behavior.  Diane C. writes:

Should I be concerned about the fuzz my cat Bailey may be ingesting when she suckles on a blanket?

Diane, the short answer is yes, you should be concerned.  Not panicked or upset, but concerned.  When a cat ingests fibers, especially longer ones, they increase the possibility of intestinal blockage.  Just as cats should never be left alone with strings, they should not be allowed to suckle on fabrics like wool or fleece.

There's lots of conjecture about the causes for this suckling behavior.  Some think it's caused by early weaning and others think it's breed related.  Some also think it's due to malnutrition.  It also seems to be a stress response in that it comforts the cat when he or she suckles.  But the truth is that we just don't know for sure, so we need to treat this behavior with a multi-pronged approach.  

The first step toward breaking the cycle is to remove the items that Bailey likes to suckle on.  Don't worry - there are plenty of comfy places for her to sleep.  She won't miss the blanket too much.  If she chooses to suckle on something else, remove it as well.  Be diligent and make sure she can't get her paws on anything that she can extract fibers from.

Second, we want to address the underlying issues.  If Bailey is on an all-dry diet, now's the time to switch her to a high-quality wet food.  You want to make sure she's getting the best, high-quality proteins, lots of moisture, and no fillers.  If in doubt, you can see our cat food recommendations here.

If Bailey is an indoor-only cat, she may be bored.  It will definitely help her in many ways to have a couple of long (30+ minutes) play times each day.  If her temperament will allow, and she doesn't already have a kitty friend, it might be a good time to consider adopting a companion.  The important thing is to get her up and active and help her to build her confidence.  If she doesn't already have lots of places to climb and/or hide, you can add cat trees or boxes to enrich her environment.  The overall goal is to increase her stimulation.

You also want to make sure she isn't being stressed out by her surroundings.  She should have safe places - places where not even humans will touch her or move her.  These can be designated areas or enclosures where Bailey retreats to.  She should have a clean, open litter box that doesn't make her feel like she's trapped in a corner when she needs to go.  She should have plenty of windows to use to survey her territory.  

If you have multiple cats, Diane, make sure each has adequate resources, with their own individual window spots, litter boxes and feeding areas that aren't in the same room.  Just like a bully, an insecure cat may suckle inappropriately if there's a perceived lack of resources.

Look at Bailey's world from her point of view and you'll be well on your way to discovering exactly what's bothering her.  We wish you both all the best!