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My Pet World: What to do when a cat licks and chews clothing

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

I have a rescue kitten that was born June 2017. He was picked up on a freeway underpass. He weighed about 1-1/2 pounds and was 5 to 6 weeks old. I adopted him in July. He is thriving and uses the litter box, but he "eats" clothing. He started with shoe laces. He chewed the laces off my husband's shoes while my husband slept on the couch. We put our shoes away now, but the clothing has been more of a problem. He likes to jump into laundry baskets and eat several items. We bought a new hamper with a lid, but he can still pull items through the hamper holes. I find the items chewed up on the floor next to the hamper.

He also has learned to open the dresser drawers, where he eats my night shirts. He only eats soft cotton or soft sweaters. He must be swallowing this material because I don't find any pieces on the floor. He ate a pair of leggings that literally had 12 large holes up and down the garment.

He coughs like he is trying to throw something up, and occasionally I find grey matter and/or what appears to be shoe laces. My veterinarian took X-rays when I was fearful of a blockage, but he was fine. Maybe he is passing stuff through his stool, but I am not finding it.

He eats and drinks normally and is otherwise a very active, affectionate and adorable kitten. But I am at my wit's end. I bought one of those devices that is supposed to keep cats out of the room by emitting a high-pitched noise; he just walks right past it.

If there is someone in Tucson that you recommend I consult with, please let me know. I have had many cats during my life, as has my husband, and neither of us has ever experienced anything like this. He is now 7 months old and weighs about 10 pounds. -- Brenda, Tucson, AZ

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Dear Brenda,

It's not unusual for a cat to chew and suck on things. While no one knows the reasons why, there are a few theories. Some cats might do this when they are weaned too early. Most cats are weaned around 6 to 7 weeks old. Since your cat was a stray found around 5 weeks old, there's a possibility the interruption in the weaning process lead to this behavior. Your kitten may outgrow this behavior by the time he is 2, or it could remain a lifelong habit.

Your kitten also could just have a compulsive need to lick and chew, which is something your veterinarian can address. Ask your veterinarian about medications to treat compulsive behaviors, which should reduce the licking and chewing, regardless of the reason. Ditch the device that emits a loud noise (that sounds unpleasant) and opt for gentler corrections instead. Gently tap the cat on the nose or spritz a little water on his face and say "no" while taking away the clothing or laces.

Since he has been examined and no clothing has been found in his body or passed through his stool, he may be just making holes in everything. But just to be safe, get a hamper that doesn't have big holes in it, and childproof your dresser drawers. Spray Bitterapple for Cats (available at pet stores) on the shoelaces. You might also buy him a few stuffed animals, like you for dogs, to give him an alternative to clothing.

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