Why Do Cats Suck Wool and How Can You Stop It?

Kitten playing with red ball of yarn, close-up

Although not all cats have the need to lick soft fibers like wool, for some it may become an addiction. This is most prevalent in kittens that have been separated from their mother too soon. It can also become a habit in older cats that are frightened or stressed out and seek consolation from sucking wool.

While it may appear to be a harmless habit, you don't want your feline companion to ingest wool, so you may need to intervene. The good news is that your cat's sucking has a reason, and understanding it may lead to treatments that will help.

Why Do Cats Suck Wool?

Genetics might be a factor. Wool sucking is particularly common in kittens that have been separated from their mothers before they are fully weaned. Kittens should be maintained with their mother cat until they are at least 8 weeks old and ideally 12 weeks old. Many kittens continue to try to suckle the mother cat for a few weeks after being introduced to kitten food.

You become the surrogate mother if you adopt a kitten younger than 12 weeks. Because the mother's nipple is no longer available, the kitten may seek out alternative "nipples," such as kneading while sucking your earlobe. This would be a natural progression for the kitty.

Wool or other comparable textiles can readily become a cat's second preference due to their silky warmth and resemblance to the mother cat. Some cats may attempt to suckle other cats or even their own fur, a behavior similar to a human infant sucking their thumb.

Even for mature cats, wool sucking may become a regular behavioral issue or a habit that periodically comes and goes. Other factors that may provoke or help sustain this behavior are:

  • Breed: Oriental breeds, such as Siamese, have been identified as more likely to suck wool and other soft fabrics. It's unknown how genetics are involved, except that Siamese kittens require more time before weaning than other breeds of cats.
  • Stress: Just as thumb-sucking children may grow up to be nail-biting adults during times of stress, cats that seem to have given up their wool-sucking habit may return to it . If this happens with your cat, examine the kinds of changes in your household that might have triggered this response.
  • Environmental changes: Many cats are stressed out by change, sometimes to the point of reverting to old behaviors that may be induced by life-changing events, such as a new baby or pet or . Even something as simple as rearranging the furniture can have a big impact on some cats.
  • Sudden aggression: If a cat in your family suddenly becomes aggressive toward another, the victim may turn to wool sucking. The sucking cat may not be able to take on the aggressive cat, so instead redirects the or finds comfort in sucking.
  • Death of a family member: The death of any close friend—whether human, feline, or otherwise—can be stressful to cats. In some cases, a cat may retreat to its most comforting habit during kittenhood.

How to Stop Wool Sucking

You may merely want to accept your cat if it has never swallowed any of the items it has suckled on. Allowing it to have that little bit of comfort, especially if it's not compulsive or destructive, and it only happens when the cat is around you, may not be worth the trouble.

Ingestion of cloth or other materials, on the other hand, might result in a hazardous stomach obstruction. Wool-sucking pets are more likely to eat other tiny objects, so keep small items like hair ties, floss, and bits of string away from cats. If they consume unsuitable objects, such as blankets, surgery may be required to remove them. Please contact your veterinarian right once if you feel your cat has consumed improper items.

Some things you can do at home to help try to prevent and distract your pet from wool sucking include:

  • Remove temptation: Remove all throws, blankets, and clothing that have been your cat's favorite sucking objects and lock them away. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Provide Alternative Substrate to Suck or Chew: finding alternative substrates for your cat to play or suck on instead that are large enough the cat won't ingest and also not a wool or cloth substrate can be helpful.
  • Environmental Enrichment: enriching your cat's environment can be key. You can do this in a variety of ways. Developing a daily routine of engaging activities can help. Be consistent. This can be done by trying multi-day feedings in food puzzle or scheduled interactive games like laser chasing, hide and seek or wand play which may divert its attention long enough for the impulse to pass.
  • Relieve stress: It's important to try to remove or correct the source of the stress first. But if your cat still seems to need suckling, try a calming pheromone such as Feliway.
  • Consultation with a veterinarian: always involve your vet if you are worried about any behavior your pet is having. If you are worried about wool sucking in your cat, discuss with your veterinarian to see if an anti-anxiety or antidepressant drug might be indicated.

To help your cat stop or reduce its wool sucking, you may need a lot of love, patience, and creative trial and error. Keep in mind that if the behavior isn't harmful to your cat, you may just need to prioritize his mental well-being and learn to tolerate it.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.