Fabric eating by Oriental purebred cats may be due to stress

Dr. Bradshaw who wrote the book Cat Sense discusses the reason why the Oriental breeds have a predisposition to eating wool. Because the Oriental breeds - by which I mean the Siamese and the Oriental Shorthair and associated breeds within the Siamese family - are predisposed to this form of pica, Bradshaw says that it must have a genetic origin. 

Lilac Siamese eating wool. Photo: copyright Warren Photographic
Lilac Siamese eating wool. Photo: copyright Warren Photographic.

And if it does, it is not inherited directly. He did a little survey for himself it seems of 75 kittens produced by seven mothers. Three of the mothers were fabric eaters while four of them were not. One third of the kittens had become fabric eaters. But many had normal mothers i.e. they were not fabric eaters. Therefore, he couldn't explain fabric eating in these kittens on the basis of genetics or their mother's behaviour.

SOME PAGE ON WOOL SUCKING

He also found that many of the fabric-eating cats had other forms of abnormal behaviour. These included fighting their owners and excessive scratching. And he found that among Oriental cats the desire to eat fabrics starts within a few weeks of the cat entering a new home. That is an interesting observation because at that moment the cat is going to be stressed and the stress might last quite a long time in the average domestic cat.

Also, the beginning of the desire to eat fabric can occur at around one year of age without a move to a new home. At one year of age a cat is becoming independent which carries the possibility of conflict with other cats. When cats become independent, they want their own home range which leads to this potential conflict. And this conflict doesn't need to happen towards cats in the home. It can also be a problem if a mature cat inside the home sees a strange cat outside the home as they feel that that cat is invading their territory.

Based on these observations, Dr. Bradshaw believes that fabric eating may start "as a soothing oral behaviour that these cats adopt when they feel especially stressed rather like thumb sucking in human infants". Interestingly, you will see kittens sucking their thumbs just like humans on the Internet. This is an alternative to wool sucking.

Kitten thumb sucking an alternative to wool sucking due to anxiety
Kitten thumb sucking an alternative to wool sucking due to anxiety. Video screenshot.

It is possible that domestic cats can slide into anxiety issues quite easily because they have been shoehorned into the human home when mentally and emotionally they are still wild cats.

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