Wool sucking is a behavior that some cats engage in when they were weaned too abruptly or too early as kittens. You may notice these cats sucking on shoelaces, earlobes, other companion animals’ tails, wool blankets, socks, etc. In many cases, the cat eventually outgrows the wool sucking behavior but in other cases, it becomes a life-long habit. Some Oriental breeds are predisposed to wool sucking behavior. Although you may not like having soggy shoelaces or having your ears tickled by your cat’s whiskers as she sucks on your earlobe, it’s usually not a dangerous behavior. When wool sucking advances to pica though, it can put kitty at risk of developing intestinal blockages. So if your socks or blankets go from just being soggy to now resembling Swiss cheese, it’s time to take action.
Pica is the term used for the behavior of eating non-food material. The most common material associated with Pica is usually wool such as blankets, socks, jackets, etc., but some cats will nibble on just about anything from plastic grocery bags to litter.
What Causes Pica?
There are many possible reasons for Pica behavior such as:
Deficiencies in the diet. Some veterinarians and behavior experts believe that inadequate amounts of fat or fiber in the diet can lead a cat to crave these nutrients from non-edible sources. Some cats who are anemic may try to eat litter.
Boredom or stress. Cats who are living in a stressful environment may try to self-soothe by engaging in Pica behavior. A bored cat who is not receiving adequate mental and physical stimulation might begin munching on non-food items just for something to do.
Underlying medical problems. Certain diseases or brain disorders may be associated with Pica behavior.
Genetics. Some Oriental breeds are predisposed to wool sucking behavior and that can advance to Pica.
Have your cat examined by the veterinarian. If there is an underlying medical problem it will need to be diagnosed and addressed.
Dietary adjustments. Your veterinarian may make a recommendation for supplementing your cat’s food with increased fiber or something else. Don’t make any dietary adjustments without consulting with your veterinarian. An inappropriate amount of fiber added to the diet can cause major intestinal distress.
Remove temptation. If kitty is munching on socks or items that shouldn’t be accessible, make sure temptation is removed by keeping clothing in drawers, closets or in hampers with lids. If your cat is chewing on plants, remove them from the indoor environment. Do your best to keep items of temptation out of your cat’s reach.
Provide mental and physical stimulation. A bored cat will look for something to do and that something might include chewing on a non-edible item. Increase environmental enrichment by providing puzzle feeders, activity toys, scratching posts, cat trees, and other forms on stimulation. Consider using one of the several cat entertainment DVDs available on the market that showcase birds, bugs and other prey. Place a cat tree near a window so kitty can watch the outdoor activities. If you think your cat would enjoy some exposure to outdoors, consider purchasing or constructing a safe outdoor enclosure. Some of them are just enclosures that can be installed in windows and others are more elaborate and have walkways for kitty.
Interactive play therapy. Engage your cat in a couple of interactive play therapy sessions per day. When you use a fishing pole-type toy you can control the movements so your cat is able to truly benefit both mentally and physically. She gets to get the “mighty hunter” and enjoy stalking, pouncing and capturing.
Safe alternatives for chewing. In addition to puzzle feeder toys, try growing some safe kitty greens (rye, oat or wheat grass) or catnip for your cat. You can find kitty greens kits in your local pet product store. You can also buy an already-grown square of grass from many organic/natural food stores or grow your own. Don’t offer grass from your lawn because it’s often treated with chemicals and fertilizers.
Reduce stress. Use your detective skills to determine what is causing stress in her environment. Is there another companion cat causing tension? Is there stress in the family? Have you made changes to your cat’s environment? Stress triggers can be big and obvious or they can be small and easy for humans to overlook. Work on creating a more secure and comforting environment for your cat. Make sure she has cozy little hideaways for napping, elevated areas so she can look over her environment, has a secure feeding station location and a secure litter box area. Look at the environment from your cat’s point of view.
Get professional help. If you can’t figure out what might be triggering the Pica or have been unable to redirect your cat away from the behavior, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a certified behavior professional.
Need More Information?
Note: This article is not intended as a medical diagnosis. If you’re experiencing a change in your cat’s behavior consult your veterinarian.