Fabric Eating Behavior in Cats


Question from Mary Beth:

I would really like to know why my 2 year old male cat eats the bed linens (including comforters and blankets), bath towels, our clothes, socks and shoe laces? He’s otherwise healthy and loves to play.

Thank you,

Mary Beth Bear-Cub’s Grandmom

Answer from Amy:

Thank you for your question, Mary. Some cats seem to have a urge to chew, lick or suckle on fabric especially wool. Other than fabric, a few cats are found of items such as plastic bags, human hair, cardboard and shoelaces. What causes this kind of behavior? Is it harmful to cats? What can we do to discourage our cat from doing it?

Causes:

Is it medical?

The first thing we want to find out is if this type of behavior is a result of a medical condition. Cats that have anemia or diabetes may also chew or suckle on non-food items. It is a good idea to consult a veterinarian to rule out any medical causes.

Is it nutritional?

If you are feeding your cat a high quality food and your cat looks healthy and everything seems normal, it is unlikely that this behavior is caused by nutritional deficiency. Cats that are not getting proper daily nutrients, may develop the tendency to chew on non-food items.

Is it genetic or is it due to early weaning?

Many cats especially Siamese or Burmese require a longer nursing period. The standard age for weaning is around 6 – 7 weeks of age, but it is not long enough for the Oriental breeds. Kittens have a strong tendency to suckle as it is part of their instinct. Most of the fabric eating behavior is found in Oriental breeds or their crosses, this could be partly genetic, but it can also be attributed to early weaning.

If kittens lost their mother at an early age, they could also develop such behavior. However, many cats simply outgrow it by the time they are 2 years of age, though there is a number of those who carry the behavior with them for the rest of their life.

Is it Harmful?

In most cats, the behavior does not pose any harm. However, since non-food items are mostly indigestible, it is possible that it could affect a cat’s digestive system. In some cases, ingesting non-food items could lead to physical obstructions in the digestive tract which may require surgical procedure to have the mass removed. If your cat starts showing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Many cats eat grass or high fiber things to help them get rid of hairballs.

Can I Stop My Cat from This Behavior?

Though it is not an easy task to stop your cat from suckling or licking on non-food items, you can discourage him from continuing with this behavior.

1. Remove all items that you do not want your cats to suckle, chew or lick on. Keep these items in a place that is inaccessible to your cat.

2. Use Bitter Apple to apply a distasteful flavor to the items. When your cat licks it, the taste will repulse him away. Through trial and error, your cat will start developing a negative association with licking or suckling the items. Bitter Apple is completely safe to cats. It just has a taste that cats absolutely hate.

3. Find something that your cat can chew on and redirect his attention. You can give your cat a chew toy, grass or something acceptable for your cat to suckle on. That way, it will satiate your cat’s urges to chew while leaving your valuable items alone.

4. Provide plenty of exercise for your cat. By keeping your cat busy with activities, you are stimulating him with other things he can do. Sometimes if cats are bored, they may look for things to do to kill their boredom whether it is chewing on random items or scratching your furniture. A bird feeder by the windows can keep his  mind occupied for a long time.

5. For some cats, this behavior can be a compulsion which needs to be treated with medications. You will need to talk to a veterinarian to obtain a proper diagnosis and prescription if needed.

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