Is Blanket Sucking a Warning of a Bigger Problem?

It might seem cute to see a kitten or a grown cat sucking on a blanket. It certainly looks odd as well as cute, and there are a number of cat owners on feline forums asking about this strange habit. It could be harmless enough, but the wool sucking habit can damage blankets and sweaters. Even if your cat prefers an old wool item you don’t need anymore, you may wonder if this habit has gone too far or be a sign of a deeper problem. What causes the cat wool sucking phenomenon?

There are a number of possible explanations for this behavior. It doesn’t take a feline version of Sigmund Freud to tell you that in some cases, the cat or kitten might have mommy issues. If your cat was separated at an early age from its mother or if its mother died, it can be understandable that your pet is regressing to kittenhood. Many people who adopt cats are aware of their pet’s history, but if you found your cat at a shelter, there might not be a clear indication of family traits. If you do find out that your cat was separated from its mother and had to be bottle fed, this could clear up the mystery as to why your cat likes to “nurse” on blankets, sweaters and a variety of soft objects.

Other clues that this behavior could be a compensation for a lost mother are that the cat purrs loudly and steadily and does a kneading gesture with its paws. Both of these behaviors are associated with kittens. Cats are born blind and purr as a way of communicating with non-visual cues. The kneading motion with the paws is a throwback to when the kittens with their eyes still closed need to search for a teat to nurse from. The combination of sucking a blanket with purring and kneading motions with the paws may be signs of regression. A cat does not need to have lost its mother to regress—just as humans who had intact families might regress to childhood behaviors in times of stress.

Cats don’t need to actually be orphaned to suffer a disadvantage from separation from their mothers. Kittens ideally should stay with their mothers until they reach the age of eight weeks. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize this and give away kittens as young as six weeks. Although the kittens may be able to eat on their own, they may suffer developmentally from such an early separation, and this could lead to blanket sucking as a kind of compensation. Unfortunately, many people who are blessed with kittens may be tempted to give away the kittens as soon as they have located potential owners. The very earliest kittens can live without their mothers is four weeks, but it is not a good idea to separate them so early. It isn’t just food that a kitten needs from its mother, but it requires guidance on how to socialize and get along in the cat world. Littermates learn from each other and provide mutual affection and comfort, but there is no replacement for an actual mommy cat. In addition, a very young kitten may feel insecure about its surroundings and that may also cause it to suck on blankets and sweaters and regress to kitten behavior.

One way to reduce the likelihood of this insecurity that can lead to regressive behavior is to make sure your kitten’s transition to your home is a smooth one. Try adopting two littermates to give each other company and be gentle in introducing the kitten to its new surroundings. Make sure the room is warm enough. If you have a demanding work schedule, it is a good idea to take two kittens instead of one. Cats are independent creatures, but they still need companionship, particularly young kittens. Two kittens can be a handful, so kitten-proof your home to make sure they stay out trouble.

Another reason your cat may be sucking on the material is because of its breed. Siamese, Burmese, Tonkinese and other breeds associated with Asia have a tendency to suck on material because they require a longer period of time for weaning than other breeds. It is particularly important to keep these breeds of cats with their mothers for sufficient time before adopting. Although these cats may take slightly longer to develop socially, they are playful and entertaining and are known to be extroverted cats.

Sucking on blankets and other wool materials may be the feline equivalent of biting nails in humans. It can be seen as a nervous habit or a way of soothing stress. One way to tell is to notice when your cat engages in this behavior. If it is preceded by a stressful situation or sudden anxiety and seems to calm him or her down, releasing anxiety is probably the cause of the behavior. There may be nothing wrong with self-soothing behavior in felines and humans, but it can be a question of degree. If your pet now and again sucks on a blanket and you don’t mind the behavior, it may be fine to simply disregard it. However, if your cat is engaging in this behavior repeatedly and seems to be doing this as a way of relieving distress on a regular basis, it is a good idea to investigate the possible causes of stress and try to relieve it.

Cats are thought to be high-strung creatures and can suddenly jump up and run across the room at a slight provocation or with no stimulus that is apparent to anyone but the cat. There is a difference, however, between ordinary feline edginess and cases where cases where a cat may be suffering undue distress. This might lead to jumpiness or a repeated urge to suck on blankets or sweaters. Introducing a new cat or pet suddenly into the home may make your cat feel as if his territory is being threatened. This also may be true in the case of a new baby, but more often, cats will feel threatened by the addition of another pet rather than a new person. Since cats are territorial by nature, they may also experience stress if their owner moves to a new home. There are many stories about cats who travel scores or even hundreds of miles to a former home after their owners have moved. Since cats are strongly attached to places, they may feel anxiety if suddenly placed in new surroundings.

There is not much you can do about these kinds of transitions except reassuring you cat regularly. Make sure you give your cat more attention and affection as needed and provide catnip to calm her down. If you are concerned about your cat’s possible reaction to a new cat, be sure to introduce the new pet gradually to prevent your existing cat from feeling threatened. Don’t be surprised if your pet clings to a sweater or blanket and claims it as theirs. They want to make sure their new cat doesn’t take over stuff, similar to the way a human child behaves when a new baby is brought to the home.

There is no reason to jump to negative conclusions when you see your cat suck on your sweater or blanket. Rather than expressing anxiety, your cat may be chewing on your sweater or blanket because he feels comfortable with you. Your sweater, blanket, and other wool items may contain your scent and your cat may want to be surrounded by you the way she was surrounded by her mother’s fur as a kitten. Cats mark their territory with their scent although most of the time—except in unfortunate cases when a cat sprays—we can’t detect it. Simple movements such as a cat butting his head against your leg or rubbing against a cabinet may seem like a desire for physical contact, but it is a way of your cat marking his territory. Cats have scent glands on their heads, its cheeks and throughout its body, and they rub these areas against things they want to “claim.” Although sucking on a sweater isn’t related to leaving their own scent, you cat may be reacting to your scent and want to own something that is associated with you. Observe your cat’s general behavior to determine whether he or she is anxious or calm. If there are no other signs of agitation, your cat may be nursing on your wool items as a way of establishing a bond.

Another explanation for the behavior of sucking on wool is that your cat may be bored or want companionship. A common view about cats is that they are highly independent and can cope well on their own. While this is somewhat true, it isn’t the whole story. Felines, like most other creatures, need companionship and stimulation on a regular basis. If you adopted a kitten and spend most of your days and some evenings at the office, your kitten may be chewing on wool objects because it misses other cats, is bored and needs companionship. You can remedy this situation by spending more time at home with your cat or finding a feline companion.

Introducing a new cat to your existing cat may be tricky, given their territorial nature. That is one reason many suggest adopting two littermates at the same time rather than trying to introduce a cat later on. Make sure you don’t overwhelm your existing cat, but start out by keeping the cats in different rooms. Place them in carriers in the same room so they can see each other and note their reaction. If the cats hiss at each other, they should remain in separate rooms, but if the reaction is positive, you can move to the next step. Open the cage to the carrier and allow them to explore the area and each other. Bring them back into their separate areas if they start to feel tense, but gradually, your cats should get used to each other. You may notice that your cat may stop sucking on sweaters and blankets if it has a new feline friend in the house.

Boredom is another issue that can lead your cat to suck on wool and fabric. Cats tend to make their own fun, but they also have a sense of play and many remain kittens at heart even though they are several years old. Look for items that captivate your cat’s interest, such as perches on several levels so your cat can jump, scratch and explore. Look for a mechanical mouse your cat can chase or balls filled with catnip. Try a want with a feather and small bell at the end for a fun game you can play with your pet when you come home from work.

If your cat is sucking on wool items for comfort, unless the behavior seems compulsive, there may not be a cause for alarm. However, if you notice that your pet is actually eating the wool, that could be a sign of a pica problem. It might be hard to determine whether your cat is nursing on wool objects for the same reason someone would bite their nails or is actually trying to consume it. If you watch your cat’s behavior closely, you may notice that he or she is actually eating the wool. A cat with pica may not only eat wool but can even chew on and consume plastic items, paper, and houseplants (beware that some house plants can be toxic to cats, so watch this habit and check the kind of houseplants you have).

Some cats have a genetic predisposition to eating non-food items. Siamese and Burmese cats are more likely to have Pica than other breeds of cats. If you know your cat’s family history, watch out for signs of pica if you know that one of your pet’s relatives had this issue. Pica can be an obsessive-compulsive disorder with a psychological cause. Cats, like humans, can suffer from psychological abnormalities, so Pica can exist for similar reasons. It can be harder to provide psychological treatment for cats since they are not able to talk, but there are some pet therapists you can speak to about this issue.

In the worst case scenario, Pica can signal a more serious problem. It can be a sign of anemia or other vitamin deficiencies. Some vets report that they see cats eat their own kitty litter because of lack of iron. In addition to anemia, a thiamin deficiency is common in cats and can lead to strange behavior and other symptoms. While not getting enough thiamine is more likely lead to sluggish movement, seizures, and confusion than to bizarre eating habits, developing pica may be your cat’s way of trying to get the vitamins and minerals it needs. If you suspect a vitamin deficiency, take your cat to the veterinarian. Your pet will most likely be given a blood test if anemia is suspected and you will be asked about its symptoms. If a vitamin deficiency is found, your veterinarian will prescribe nutritional supplements, advise you on dietary changes and will suggest a new kind of cat food.

Pica can also be caused by severe issues, such as leukemia, immunodeficiency problems, diabetes, and tumors. Feline leukemia is the second most frequent cause of death in cats after accidents. When cats are diagnosed with leukemia, they rarely live with the disease more than a few years. Anemia can be a symptom of leukemia and the disease can also cause problems with the immune system. Therefore, if your cat develops Pica as the result of anemia, the underlying problem may be more severe. The good news about this ailment for owners whose cats do not venture outside is the risk for this disease among indoor-only cats is very low. However, the risk of transmission of the virus is elevated if there are multiple cats living in a home.

Feline immunodeficiency virus may be another cause of pica. When a cat is infected with this virus, he may live with the infection for a long period of time without showing symptoms. Signs of the illness can show up gradually or be sudden. Irregular appetite, dental and eye problems are all signs of feline immunodeficiency syndrome. Behavioral changes is another sign, and one of these behaviors may be consuming non-food items. Diabetes is common in older cats and can also cause felines to start eating strange things. Cancer is the worst-case scenario and can also alter behavior and eating patterns dramatically. It is important to consult your vet if you are concerned about behavioral changes in your cat and to have relevant tests to rule out serious conditions.

You love your cat, but it is your home, and after all, you have a right to having the items you want and need available in good condition. There is no need to take the path of least resistance because you feel that your cat can’t be trained or coaxed to do the right thing. It is a widespread myth that cats cannot be trained. Although cats are more independent than dogs and are less eager to be trained, positive reinforcement works with animals of any species and sometimes the most stubborn humans. Many cat owners have saved their sofas and kept their relationship with their pets intact thanks to a few training methods. If many owners can get their cats to stop scratching—and scratching is a more instinctual behavior than blanket sucking—you can encourage your cat to lay off of your personal objects.

Positive, rather than negative, reinforcement is the name of the game. It is also essential that you provide your cat with an alternative to chewing or sucking on your items. Observe the kind of things that your cat likes to chew or suck on and get your cat an item of her own. Lay the cat’s item side by side with similar items and reward your cat for chewing or sucking on her own item with catnip or a treat. With practice, your cat will learn to love his or her own woolen items and may leave yours alone. As long as your cat isn’t actually eating the wool, the behavior is relatively harmless and need not be stopped altogether.

Human beings can sometimes have nervous habits or behaviors that are a sign of regression to childhood, and cats are no different. If you notice your cat sucking on a blanket or chewing on your socks and sweaters, he may simply be reliving his kittenhood. This behavior may be more common among cats that were separated from their mother too early. You may consider getting your cat a feline friend or providing more stimulation his environment. If the behavior seems compulsive, talk to your veterinarian to rule out a medical problem. You can train your cat to chew on only his own woolen items and to leave yours alone. Most of the time, blanket sucking is not something to be concerned about, but talk about your concerns to a pet professional.


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