A Cat of the Cloth can Quit Cold Turkey

cat chewing cloth

Question:

My cat is 17 months old. He is a neutered male named Woody. He is a very nice kitty but not a cuddler. He is obsessed with chewing fabric, especially cotton fabric. We have tried to keep cloth away from him. Our veterinarian has started a fluoxetine trial. What will be the endpoint? Do we try to reintroduce a piece of fabric and see what he does? We already have holes in our clothes.

Dr Nichol:

You are being socially responsible in getting Woody’s problem under control. Trying to explain to an arresting officer that your cat ate your clothes just won’t fly; they’ve seen and heard it all.

Often called wool sucking, chewing any fabric is a true compulsive disorder of cats. It’s hereditary in “oriental” breeds like Siamese, Himalayans, and Burmese but not all of them do it. Others, including mixed bred kitties like yours, can be afflicted.

Besides decimating your wardrobe, blankets, curtains, and rugs Woody can swallow bits of fabric, leading to an intestinal blockage. A sudden onset of vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy would be a blaring alarm that your boy needs emergency treatment.

Compulsive behaviors are feedback loop disorders of the brain’s circuitry. Stressors like multiple cats or being a solitary pet, inadequate feline-specific activities (climbing, perching, hiding, scratching, hunting), and separation anxiety can advance this vicious cycle in a cat like Woody.

You have done the right thing by removing fabric from this kitty’s life. Playing with him using stalk, hunt, and pounce toys and providing all of his nutrition from challenging food-dispensing toys and puzzles (lose his food bowl) can make a difference. Chew toys, including rawhides and cat grass, and increasing dietary fiber helps some cats. Fluoxetine (the Reconcile brand is best) has reduced this problem in many cases.

I wish there were a cure but Woody’s compulsive cloth chewing will be a lifelong challenge. Reintroducing fabric later would very likely trigger a relapse. Forget punishment and reprimands; they won’t rewire the kid’s brain.

He needs to quit cloth cold turkey.

For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (drjeffnichol.com). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Email pet behavior or physical questions to drjeffnichol@drjeffnichol.com or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.

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