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How It Begins
A cat's obsession with chewing human hair can range from biting and batting at long swinging locks to chewing and swallowing clumps while their human sleeps. This is natural feline behaviour. Mother cats groom their kittens before their eyes are open, and kittens respond by licking their mother's and siblings' fur. For a kindle of kittens, chewing is play and demonstrates trust and affection. When a kitten goes to a new home, she can transfer this affectionate grooming to her human. If it is accompanied by purring and nuzzling, it means your cat accepts you as a littermate. Kittens who are weaned too early may respond by chewing hair. Hair chewing is more prevalent in Siamese and other Asian felines. Some suggest that these breeds are more anxious and chewing hair relaxes them. Some cats may stop chewing hair around age 2; for others it is a lifelong habit.
Rule Out Medical Causes
Consult a veterinarian to eliminate any physical problems that might cause hair chewing. If the behaviour is combined with vomiting, diarrhoea or lassitude, a vet can check your cat for an intestinal obstruction. Anemia or diabetes should also be ruled out as a cause for chewing behaviour. Increased dietary fibre or greens (catnip, grass, sprouts) may help. Cats are fastidious, and their constant self-grooming means hair is a natural part of their diet. Adding some human hair, while not dangerous, may increase the frequency of hairballs.
Early intervention is best. At the first sign of chewing, tap the cat's nose gently and say firmly "No!" to show it the behaviour is not acceptable. Offer a chew toy as a substitute or distract it with play. A can filled with pennies or a spray bottle of water can be used to startle your cat, but it must be immediately connected to the hair chewing to be understood. Harsh punishment can make a cat lose trust and change your relationship. Owners have tried using hairspray or conditioner--even pepper spray--that the cat doesn't like, cutting or tying back their hair or shutting kitty out of the bedroom with varying degrees of success. A plug-in diffuser called Feliway available at pet stores or www.catcontrol.com sends cat pheromones into the air to relax cats and may work. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medications for your cat to reduce stress.
Another response for ailurophiles (cat fanciers) is to wear a hat to bed--or to just accept chewing as their cat's way of showing affection.
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