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Is ‘wool sucking’ behavior inherited in cats?

Each year, the Winn Feline Foundation receives proposals from veterinary researchers around the world who are interested in improving feline health. To date, Winn’s cumulative total in feline health research funding exceeds $4 million. Forty-four proposals were submitted by researchers seeking funding in this review cycle. This year, our team of veterinary consultants helped Winn select 10 projects for funding, for a total of $174,018. Here is one of those projects:

“Wool sucking” behavior in Siamese and Birman cats
Investigators: Nicholas Dodman, Edward Ginns; Tufts University

“Wool sucking” is a behavioral condition that involves the repetitive searching, suckling, chewing and ingestion of non-food items. While items made of wool can be the preferred substrate, cats may also seek out and chew items made of cotton, rubber, nylon, paper, cardboard and plastic. A negative consequence of this behavior is breakdown of the human-animal bond due to owners’ frustration with property damage. In its most severe form, the cat cannot be maintained safely as an indoor cat. While wool sucking behavior can occur in any cat breed, the incidence is higher in oriental breeds, suggesting a genetic susceptibility. To identify potential genetic components of the compulsive “wool sucking” behavior in cats, DNA samples will be collected via saliva from normal and affected Siamese and Birman cats. Since “wool sucking” is an excellent animal model of human obsessive-compulsive behaviors, the identification of a genetic cause could lead to development of carrier testing, as well as better treatment options for both cats and humans with these disorders.