Cat loves her blanket a little too much

Q. My cat has developed this really weird habit of sucking on fabric. She seems to be in a trance while she’s doing it, almost like she’s on a drug. The cashmere throw at the end of our bed attracts the most attention, and it has three places where there are “sucked-up” areas that are pretty much ruined. Before I replace it, I’d like to cure her of the habit. How can I do that? 

A. The behavior you’ve described is generally called pica, which is an abnormal desire to eat inedible things. Wool chewing or wool sucking is not at all uncommon in animals who have the disorder, especially in the so-called Oriental breeds such as the Siamese. Though the target is often a soft fabric — such as wool — some cats prefer other objects, such as plastic grocery bags. We’re not really sure what causes the behavior, but since it is more common in some breeds than others, it is believed to have a genetic component. It was long believed that wool chewing was a result of a kitten who was separated from her mother too soon (probably because the behavior can look like nursing), but that’s not believed to be the case today. Nor is it believed to be linked to dietary deficiency.

Best guess: It’s a habit (like people who chew fingernails, pop knuckles, chew gum) that relieves stress and brings comfort.

Unfortunately, there is no 100 percent effective cure for it. Things to try:

  • Talk to your vet. If your pet is ingesting odd items, even if it isn’t a health crisis yet, it is important to keep them in the loop.
  • Put away heirlooms and cashmere. If your cat is attracted to soft wool fabrics, put your finest pieces up and keep drawers closed. Keep bedroom doors closed to protect your good blankets.
  • Use deterrents. Set out some decoy blankets (along with the already ruined one) and apply Bitter Apple, Tabasco, hot pepper oil, etc. Spraying fabrics lightly with perfume is also a common recommendation.
  • Increase dietary fiber. Adding more fiber to your cat’s diet may help. This is easily accomplished by mixing a teaspoon of plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) into your cat’s wet food a couple of times a week. You can also ask your veterinarian about special diets with higher levels of fiber. Bonus: More fiber also helps with hairballs.
  • Encourage exercise. Daily play with your cat may also help deter him — and it certainly won’t hurt. In addition to interactive play, bring in food puzzles to keep your cat busy and entertained.
If all else fails, ask your veterinarian if she’d recommend medication to help with compulsive behavior.

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