A cat spends anywhere between 15 to 50 percent of his waking hours grooming himself by licking his body. As such, it may come as a surprise for cat owners to see their felines lick also blankets and other inanimate objects.
Why your cat licks blankets?
Cats lick blankets, clothes, and other similar objects for a variety of reasons ranging from boredom to obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Licking blankets and other objects is not necessarily bad. However, when this behavior becomes harmful, it is vital to find the underlying cause so that you can put a stop to it.
Here are some possible reasons behind this behavior.
1. Early separation from mothers
Ideally, kittens should stay with their mothers until they are 12 to 13 weeks old. This allows young cats to develop properly, grow healthy, and become well-socialized.
If you adopt a kitten earlier than this recommended time, he will likely develop the habit of sucking on blankets because it reminds him of the time he spent with his mom.
Oriental breeds like the Siamese are more prone to exhibit this behavior.
2. Comfort and relaxation
Cats licking and sucking on blankets is similar to a young child sucking on his thumbs. Both behaviors may not be necessarily healthy but both provide a good measure of comfort, relaxation, and even a sense of security.
Left unchecked, your cat may display this behavior well into adulthood because it reminds him of the time he spent with his mother and siblings.
3. A sign of trust
Cats show affection and trust to their humans in a variety of ways. One such way is to suckle on their humans’ clothes and fabrics near people.
For cats, suckling can only be done in a safe environment because this action can leave them vulnerable. When your cat licks or suckles on your clothes, he is telling you that he feels safe and protected in your presence.
4. Nutritional deficiencies
Licking blankets and other inanimate objects are sometimes a sign of pica. Pica is a condition where cats crave non-food items such as clothes, blankets, and dirt.
According to some experts, pica arises out of your cat’s need for fibers or fats. If you are not providing all of your cat’s dietary needs, he may search for these in unusual things.
In some cases, licking of inanimate objects can also be a sign that a cat has diabetes.
5. Searching for unique flavors
Cats are curious by nature and they are drawn by things that are new to them. When your cat licks an object, it is just a sign that they are flexing their curiosity.
Licking is their way of discovering the world around them. And as long as you are not exposing him to noxious chemicals, the behavior is mostly harmless.
6. Obsessive-compulsive disorder
A cat with an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD will do things repetitively for no apparent reason.
For example, it is one thing for a cat to lick himself while grooming and it is an entirely different thing to lick the same spot over and over again. The latter can sometimes lead to self-harm.
Cats that are under persistent stress will turn to OCD behaviors as a coping mechanism.
Oriental cats like the Siamese are prone to OCD. According to experts, this is likely because these cats are bred to ensure purity which in turn leads to passing down the condition from one generation to another.
Stopping your cat from licking objects
In most cases, licking and suckling are harmless ways your cat uses to relieve stress and feel secure and calm.
But when any of these behaviors become harmful, like the ingestion of foreign materials or constant vomiting, you need to take action to stop this behavior.
Here are some tips that you can try if you want to stop your feline from licking inanimate objects.
1. Provide all of your cat’s environmental needs
If you look at all the possible reasons why a cat likes to lick inanimate objects, the common thread that you will see is the unavailability of one of a feline’s environmental needs.
As much as possible, you should provide your cat with space where he can feel safe. It is a good idea to give him separate areas for feeding, sleeping, and elimination.
These spaces should also include areas where he can escape and hide, especially if you own more than one cat.
2. Eliminate stress
Identify the factors that lead to stress. After that, find a way to minimize, if not totally eliminate those factors that cause stress.
Some experts recommend the use of synthetic pheromones to minimize stress. Setting aside time to play with your pet is also a good way to help your feline to release pent up energy.
3. Provide alternatives
Licking and suckling are not necessarily harmful. What is actually harmful are the materials that he may accidentally ingest, including stands of fabric.
As much as possible, keep your blankets and other articles of clothing out of reach. If your cat likes to lick a particular piece of furniture, do not give your pet access to the area where that object is located.
4. Keep your cat mentally stimulated
Like dogs, cats need to have their minds stimulated. Boredom can often lead to destructive or harmful behavior.
Invest in puzzle toys that will help satisfy your pet’s instincts and redirect his energies to something more useful.
If you are constantly out of your home and you have available resources, you might want to consider adopting another cat who can keep your pet company while you are away.
In extreme cases where your pet licking or suckling behavior becomes destructive and harmful, your vet may prescribe an antidepressant like Prozac or Clomicalm.
Take note that you should not give any of these to your cat without your vet’s prescription.
Keeping your cat’s licking behavior in check
Cats can lick inanimate objects for a variety of reasons. While in most cases, the behavior is not necessarily bad, it is still a good idea to stop it before something bad happens to your pet.
More importantly, it is crucial to find the underlying reason behind this behavior so you can address it immediately.
Image: istockphoto.com / Konstantin Aksenov