Why do cats suck on blankets? One underlying reason.

Cats suck on blankets because they are “wool-sucking”. There is only one underlying reason for this, in my opinion. I think we can put aside the idea that it is a demonstration of trust. However the behavior may be catylyzed by stress and therefore it can be a means for a cat to cope with stress and to relax her.

Wool-sucking alternative the owner's neck
Wool-sucking alternative: the owner’s neck. Photo: YouTube.
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A cat will find a blanket or some other soft furnishing, a person’s earlobe or neck (see above), finger or even sometimes their own thumb and settle down and suck it contentedly. The cat presses their mouth against the object and starts to suck or chew rhythmically while kneading the blanket or other object. They clearly experience pleasure and are temporarily unaware of their surroundings. There’s no harm to it except that they might ingest bits of wool.

Observing a cat sucking on a blanket you can see right away that it is an adult cat behaving as a kitten feeding at his or her mother’s nipple. The trampling movements, which are described as kneading, is intended to stimulate milk flow. The cat at this stage is treating the wool blanket as their mother. They are feeding on a “ghost-nipple” and it is the human equivalent of sucking a thumb.

Kitten sucking their thumb
This is an alternative to wool-sucking. Photo: PoC.

As mentioned above, I have seen videos of young domestic cats sucking on their thumbs just like humans. It appears to be common among young cats who have been orphaned or taken from their mother’s nipple too soon which is the underlying reason. The wool-sucking usually starts after the cat has been weaned.

Normally it will carry on for a few months but for some cats it continues for their lifetime and it can be very hard to get rid of. Apparently Siamese cats are particularly predisposed to this abnormal behaviour.

Dr Desmond Morris explains that the reason why domestic cats choose wool blankets is because the wool contains lanolin which “acts as a powerful unconscious reminder of the mother’s belly”. When the wool is sucked it becomes damp which strengthens the smell of the lanolin which keeps the cat contented.

Alternatives objects to suck will be found if wool is unavailable. I’ve mentioned the earlobe of their owner but it could be something else such as their hair and even their own fur or feet.

It is all about being removed from the maternal nipple too soon which creates this quite possibly long-term aberration in feline behaviour. We should consider how the cat is feeling. It appears to me that they need reassuring as being removed from their maternal nipple too soon may have left them inherently anxious. Wool-sucking cats, I believe, should be treated particularly generously in terms of the amount of time they spend with their owner and the care that they are given.

It seems too that there might an overlap here with Pica which is the eating of non-nutritoious, non-food objects. Although they are differnt forms of aberrant feline behavior.

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