Have you ever had a cat who nursed on everything in sight? I never have, but in some ways I almost kind of wish I had. There’s something ridiculously cute about watching a cat knead and suck on blankets while purring his fool head off. Need proof? Check out this video!
Of course, if you live with a blanket or clothing sucker, I’m sure it’s not nearly as cute to you. If you’ve suffered from kitty spit-soaked bedding or ruined sweaters, I totally get that you’d probably trade your wool sucker for one of my feline family members.
You’ve probably also wondered why on earth cats get so excited about wool sucking. Well, wonder no more. Here are some of the most common beliefs about the origins of this behavior.
This theory makes sense in some Freudian way, but I’m not sure it holds water. I adopted my cat, Siouxsie, and her twin sister when they were just six weeks old because back then I didn’t know kittens should be kept with their mothers for at least eight weeks. Neither Siouxsie nor Sin├®ad ever sucked fabric, though. I don’t know many orphaned “bottle baby” kittens, so I don’t know if this behavior is more common for them than for other cats.
Siamese and other Oriental breed cats are more likely to nurse fabric than other cats. Although there doesn’t seem to be any genetic cause for this, it’s well known that Oriental breed cats require a longer weaning period than most others.
Like thumb sucking in little children, nursing wool is a behavior that provides a sense of comfort and safety. A sensitive kitten may grow up into a fabric-sucking cat because that behavior reminds her of being safe and surrounded by her mother and littermates.
If your cat takes to sitting in your lap and nursing your clothes, she’s showing you that she feels complete faith in your ability to protect her from harm. It takes a lot of concentration to nurse, and it would be hard for her to focus that intensely if she didn’t feel safe.
It seems counterintuitive that nursing behavior could show total trust or total freak-out anxiety, but it’s true. When a cat starts using behavior that reminds her of the safety of her kittenhood as way to comfort herself when she occasionally feels stressed, that’s cute. But when anxiety pervades every aspect of her life to the point where she’s suckling constantly in an attempt to self-soothe, that’s a problem.
So, what should you do if your cat is suckling on fabric and you’re concerned about it? First, you’ll need to get to the root of the stresses in her life and try to resolve them. Add vertical and horizontal territory for your cat, use interactive play as a tool to help her gain confidence, and perhaps even give her a short course of anti-anxiety medication to keep her from getting triggered into the nursing behavior when she feels stressed.
Have you had a fabric-sucking cat? Do you think it’s cute or icky? Do you know what caused it? What, if anything, did you do about it? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.
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