Many times, young kittens who have recently been weaned off of their mother's milk will return to her to try and nurse. If she's not around, they'll find a substitute, such as your comfy t-shirt. Such behaviors may be annoying to you and, in some cases, dangerous to him.
Kittens who suck on fabrics suffer from a condition known as wool-sucking. This name is somewhat misleading because the kitties don't just suck on wool, but rather on a variety of fabrics -- they're not picky. The behavior is most common in cats under 2 years old, according to VetInfo. If you see your little buddy nursing your clothing, even while you're wearing them, this could mean that he's feeling a little stressed. For a kitten that's recently been weaned, the behavior could indicate he's just missing the chance to nurse from mom. Many times it clears up on its own by the time your feline friend reaches about 6 months old.
Kittens are typically weaned from their mother between 4 and 10 weeks old, during which time they transition between her milk and solid foods. After this time, they may occasionally try to nurse on soft, mom-like items, including clothing, especially in times of stress. Nursing is comforting for them, so they return to such behavior when feeling anxious. If your kitten was weaned too early, though, he is much more apt to start sucking on fabrics than if he was properly weaned. Because Oriental breeds, like the Siamese, start weaning at 12 weeks old, sometimes they are weaned too early, according to the University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine. This makes them more likely to wool-suck than others.
In addition to early weaning, a stressed-out little kitty may start nursing on fabrics in an attempt to calm himself. Lots of things can bother your little guy, including separation from you during the day, his new environment, a lack of things to do or even another pet in your home. Because medical conditions can also cause your furkid stress, bring him to his veterinarian for a checkup if you see him nursing on fabrics. The vet can give you some useful advice about the behavior as well; in serious cases, he may even prescribe some anti-anxiety medication to control the behavior.
When It's Dangerous
While wool-sucking type behaviors are typically not dangerous to your little guy, they can be if he ingests any of the fabric. Ingestion of the fabric leads to a behavior known as pica, where your kitty develops an appetite for non-food items. If you notice that your kitty has chewed holes in your clothing large enough to indicate he's snacking on the fabric, it's time to put a stop to the behavior for his own safety. Otherwise, your little one could wind up with an intestinal blockage consisting of fabric and thread, which is a potentially life-threatening emergency.
Stopping the Behavior
Eliminate your kitten's access to all of your clothing, including tops, bottoms, socks and underwear. Put everything away in drawers or hang them up in a closet and close the door. A cat that sucks on fabrics may also start nursing towels, blankets or furniture throws, so keep him away from those things as well. If it's not practical to put the items away, such as in the case of bedding, carpeting or furniture covers, spray them with a pet taste-deterrent. These non-toxic, bitter-flavored sprays are found in most pet supply stores. If you catch the little guy in the middle of sucking on fabric, a quick squirt of water from a spray bottle can also help deter this behavior. Switching your kitty to a high-fiber diet can also help cats with wool-sucking issues, as it makes him feel full during the day, according to PetPlace.
A bored kitten is a destructive kitten, so it's best to engage your little buddy's attention with fun, acceptable activities, rather than unwanted ones. Lots of cat toys to play with and cat trees to climb keep your cat busy playing, instead of sucking on fabrics. Hide your kitty's food around your home so he has to "hunt" to find it. When you're home with him, be sure to spend lots of time with him and engage him in play with some fun cat toys. Before you know it, his somewhat annoying behavior should be a thing of the past.
- VetInfo: Stop Your Cat From Wool Sucking
- PetPlace: Compulsive Behavior
- PetPlace: Wool Sucking
- Cat Behavior Associates: Wool Sucking Behavior in Cats
- University of Saskatchewan Western College of Veterinary Medicine: Wool Sucking in Cats
- The Cat Behavior Clinic: Cat Compulsive Disorders
- Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Compulsive Behavior
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Weaning
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.