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This week's column:
One of my cats likes to nurse on a blanket. Is there some way I can break him of this habit?

Hi there, Terrific Trio.
I hope you can help me with a perplexing situation. One of my cats, Dipstick, who's about your age (I think) has a habit of "nursing" on my computer chair-blanket when I drape it over my arms to keep warm. He's been "nursing" since he was adopted from the Dreampower Association when he was six months old, and we (the family and I) have reasoned this habit occurs because Dipstick wasn't weaned properly and needs to feel secure and loved at times.

Now, I don't really mind when he does this, since normally he's a somewhat aloof cat and he doesn't drool as much as he did when he was a kitten, but is it healthy to keep allowing this? If not, is there a way to gently break Dipstick from the habit and still make him feel loved and secure, without my feeling guilty about it?

Any advice you can think of would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time.

~ Krys

Sinéad: Terrific Trio? We like that name! Mama, can we keep it?

Siouxsie: Oh, Sinéad! You know as well as I do that Mama's been calling us wonderful, marvelous, fabulous, gorgeous and terrific since the day she brought us home.

Thomas: I still like "Terrific Trio" Maybe we can use it on our blog!

Sinéad: Anyway, Krys. About Dipstick and his blanket-nursing habit. This is actually a more common behavior than you might think, so much so that it actually has a name among some cat-loving humans: Smurgling. Most experts do believe that early weaning may have a lot to do with nursing and wool-sucking behavior. However, it seems that cats with some Oriental heritage -- Siamese, Himalayan, Bombay and Burmese, to name a few -- are much more likely to suck on fabric and other unusual things than other breeds of cats.

Siouxsie:Yeah. Sinéad likes to lick plastic bags. But only certain kinds -- the ones that make a crinkly noise!

Sinéad: Stop it, Siouxsie, you're embarrassing me!

Thomas: Sinéad and Siouxsie are both glossy black cats and Mama swears they've got some Bombay in them somewhere. Of course, I'm long and skinny like an Oriental cat, but I don't suck on wool or eat plastic bags. Hee hee hee!

Sinéad: Interestingly, Oriental breeds tend to take longer to wean than non-Oriental breeds. A Siamese kitten, for example, isn't fully weaned until 12 weeks of age or so. Most kittens are placed in new homes at the age of 8 weeks. While this wouldn't be a problem for your typical Domestic Shorthair or Maine Coon, because those breeds would be weaned by that age, an Oriental or Oriental-cross cat would still need more time.

Siouxsie: And this early weaning, as Sinéad said, can contribute to wool sucking, nursing, and kneading-type behavior.

Thomas: Wool sucking or nursing shouldn't present a health risk .... unless the cat is eating whatever material they're sucking on. Some cats will actually chew holes in blankets, eat shoelaces or fiberfill batting, and so on, and this can cause major intestinal blockages that need to be treated with surgery.

Sinéad: So how can you help Dipstick stop sucking on his "blankie"? There are a few schools of thought on the subject.

Siouxsie: First, some veterinarians have had success in reducing or eliminating wool-sucking behavior by feeding cats a diet high in fiber. Some cats will eat fabric because they're not getting enough roughage in their diet and they need to eat something that will help keep their food moving through their intestines.

Thomas: But if your kitty is nursing and not actually eating the blanket, this tells us that another emotional issue is at play here.

Sinéad: We think you're right in your belief that early weaning has caused Dipstick to be a lifelong blanket-nurser.

Siouxsie: If the smurgling behavior really bothers you, there are some things you can do to help him stop without making him feel bad. The first thing to try is distraction. Whenever you see Dipstick getting ready to nurse your blanket, take some time to play with him. Have some of his favorite toys nearby, and whenever he begins to get that "I'm going to nurse" look, use the toy to distract him.

Thomas: Some veterinarians will prescribe endorphin-blocking drugs (such as those used to treat people who have overdosed on narcotic drugs), on the theory that smurgling and wool-sucking promotes an endorphin-based pleasure response.

Sinéad: And some veterinarians will prescribe anti-anxiety drugs, like "kitty Prozac," to help reduce the tension and angst that causes cats to want to engage in this obsessive behavior.

Siouxsie: We prefer a more natural approach ourselves. We think high-fiber food and distraction techniques will be of help. If you believe that Dipstick is suffering from anxiety, you may wish to try a flower essence or homeopathic treatment before you resort to pharmaceutical drugs.

Thomas:Green Hope Farms in New Hampshire makes a whole line of flower essences for animals. One of these is called Anxiety, and it certainly does work well to relieve anxiety. Mama's used it on me and on Sinead and Siouxsie as well. And it tastes good, too.

Sinéad: Flower essences and homeopathy work on what humans refer to as "the energy body." Some humans think that such ideas are pretty airy-fairy and silly, but we can only tell you from experience that these treatments do work.

Siouxsie: You might consider consulting a veterinary homeopath to see if there is a homeopathic remedy you can give Dipstick to help him feel less anxious. We think that homeopathic treatment might also help Dipstick feel better-adjusted and less aloof, too.

Thomas: Generally speaking, though, we wouldn't worry too much about this behavior unless it escalates to eating rather than just sucking or smurgling. We hope this is reassuring to you, and thank you for adopting a cat from a rescue group. If it weren't for people like you, kitties like Dipstick -- and like me -- would never find wonderful, happy Forever Homes.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail us at advice@paws-and-effect.com. None of the material in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.