Fabric chewing in cats may be like thumb sucking in infants

Fabric chewing and eating in cats may be the equivalent of thumb sucking in infant humans. The process is soothing and may occur when the cat is stressed. Babies suck their thumbs to soothe themselves.

Siamese, Burmese and the Oriental cat breeds are known to be susceptible to engaging in a particular form of pica which is the eating of non-nutritional substances.

Lilac Siamese eating wool
Lilac Siamese eating wool. Photo: copyright Warren Photographic
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Although some random bred cats have versions of pica such as chewing on elastic bands, a proportion of pedigree Oriental cats chew and sometimes eat fabrics. Their favourite is wool. Cotton and synthetic fabrics are less popular.

The cat starts by chewing on the fabric and then eating the chewed bits that have fallen off. It looks like the cat is treating wool as a food.

Dr Bradshaw in Cat Sense writes that he has seen a Siamese cat drag an old sock onto his food bowl and then alternately eat the food and then the sock.

The theory is that as fabric sucking purebred cats come from a certain genetic pool this abnormal behaviour is likely to be inherited. However, in tests Dr Bradshaw writes that the behaviour does not seem to be inherited directly. Neither did tests confirm that the fabric eating infants where imitating their mothers.

Apparently, for Oriental cats, the chewing and eating of fabric may set in a few weeks after being rehomed which indicates its link to stress. This behavior can also happen when the cat is about a year old even when his environment has not changed. This may be linked to stress again as at this age the cat is becoming sexually mature and entering into conflict with other cats for territory.

Another now redundant theory behind fabric eating was that the cats had a craving for the natural lanolin in the wool. Dr Bradshaw has disproved this in tests.

6 thoughts on “Fabric chewing in cats may be like thumb sucking in infants”

  1. It is also potentially linked to the fact cats today aren’t eating food that still has the skin on so they are lacking a particular texture that is good for their teeth. I haven’t tried it, but it’s possible that cats allowed to chew on large raw or cooked bones (beef, lamb etc but not poultry) or who chew on RAW chicken wings (with skin on) might be less attracted to textiles. Mine used to get lab or beef bones from next door’s roast (before my elderly neighbours died) and loved to chew on them on the back doorstep or on a large sheet of unprinted paper.

  2. Michael, I have one who likes to suckle blamkies when he is bedding down to sleep. He is a British Shorthair mix. None of my Siamese kitties (all gone now) ever suckled things oddly enough. But Rusty is my only blankie suckler and only does it when he is ready to go to sleep. ♥♥♥

  3. Yes, I have a tortoise-shell cat who has done this all her life. She’s always been a little bit off (behaviorally/mentally/emotionally). I don’t know whether she does it to calm herself or is a sign that she is calm. I think the latter, because when she’s stressed she just runs outside and climbs on the roof. It’s a flat roof and I can hear her galloping up there.


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