Cats do many things that make our minds wonder a great deal. As we get to know our cats more and more, we begin to see their quirks and the silly behaviors they do that often leave us scratching our heads. When cats are just wee kittens, suckling is an instinctual behavior that they perform as they nurse from their mothers. For tiny kittens, this suckling is something that reminds them of the calmness that they felt in the presence of their feline mommy. But what about an adult cat still suckling? Here we will decode why cats perform this behavior, what it means, and if you as their pet parent should be concerned.
What is kitten suckling?
This necessary action is performed when newborn kittens nurse as a means to stimulate their mother’s milk supply. Additionally, a kitten will suckle when separated from their mothers too early. This, among other reasons, is why it is suggested that a kitten is to remain with his/her mother until 8 weeks of age.
When this kitten suckling occurs, it is often done on soft items, i.e. blankets or towels. Kittens and cats may also attempt to suckle on you, their humans. Typically this kitten behavior is perfectly harmless and used as a way to further relax themselves. And we often see it as silly and don’t think too much of it assuming that our kittens will grow out of it.
But, in some instances where a kitten has found themselves away from their mother and placed into a high stress environment, a kitten might suckle as a nervous habit in hopes to relieve their intense stress levels. And worse, these stressed out kitties can suckle each other and potentially harm their littermates.
Cheryl Edwards, founder of the Catsifier, says:
“If the cats are in a humane society situation or a cat rescue, there are a lot of kittens there, and they will suckle on each other…I’ve heard of cases where they’ve had to put the kittens to sleep because they do so much damage. Sometimes [suckling is] cute; sometimes it’s life threatening.”
Why do kittens suckle even as they mature?
This behavior can seem odd to us, but to cats, it can serve a few purposes. Basically, a cat or kitten will suckle as a sign of stress, compulsive behavior, or as way of expressing their contentment. When cats suckle, their eyes are usually closed and they are purring loudly—regardless of age.
My cat Pepper does this, and he will even find a blanket and drag it to where he wants to sit and goes to town. Knowing his background provided to me by the Houston SPCA, I know that he was found as a kitten alone without a mother anywhere in sight and no littermates to speak of. While he is still a kitten, he continues to display cat suckling behavior as he grows. But for his situation, it goes in line with the theory presented above about being separated from his mother at too early of an age.
Do you have an adult cat that is still suckling? This is why…
While kittens have a strong desire to suckle, it is still a natural instinct that all cats possess. But obviously for some cats, this desire is much stronger than others. And those fuzzy, warm blankets/towels/rugs that they choose to suckle on? Well, that just reminds them of the time when they were still a nursing kitten.
An adult cat will still suckle because performing this behavior can provide them with a sense of comfort. And, as we mentioned above as is with some kittens, adult cats can also suckle as a way to ease their stress.
Interesting cat suckling fact: There are certain cat breeds that are at a higher risk of performing this behavior. Oriental breeds are more prone to adult cat suckling than North American or European cat breeds. Examples of these are the Tonkinese, Siamese and Balinese.
Just as in humans, when cats are stressed, they can display obsessive compulsive behaviors. A cat may neurotically suckle to cope. And their obsession with suckling can turn into a behavior that they become dependent on. Other coping behaviors for a highly stressed cat include, obsessive grooming, licking or intense and repetitive meowing. It’s important to monitor your cat’s sucking behavior if it should become obsessive. Because ingesting foreign objects can be potentially deadly!
Remember, more times than not your adult cat still suckling is entirely normal. If you happen to notice it in addition to any of the stress signals listed directly above, talking to your vet is in their best interest!
REMEMBER: ADOPT, DON’T SHOP; FOSTERING SAVES LIVES & SPAY AND NEUTER!
Related Story: New Study Suggest That Cats Mirror Their Owner’s Behavior–Both Good And Bad!
Related Story: “Naughty” Cat Behaviors That Shouldn’t Be Discouraged
Our Cosmo does not suckle, but he did try to have offsprings with a soft pillow or a blankie. That was quite difficult to eradicate, since we had to find the cause first. He is not a kitten anymore (3 years old), he cannot have kids (neutered) and he wasn’t neutered too early in his life (~4-5 months old).
Finally we figured out it is a stress-reducing behaviour (and he is a very anxious young lad indeed).
I placed his (mine, but his) blankie by my bed and in the evening, when he acted out, I started to give him belly cuddles (which are his favourite form of cuddles). Slowly his sexual behavior has shortened and now he usually relies on belly rubs to calm his nerves in the evening.
What a relief (you may laugh, but before I started to worry his neuter wasn’t complete and that vets left a testicle inside or sth. now it sounds ridiculous, but think of having your cat reproduce with a blanket every single evening.. pretty worrysome)
Anyways, hope sbd will find my lenghty story helpful 🙂
My cat only suckles on my earlobe; he never does it on any blanket of anything. He just likes to do it when he’s super happy and wants to relax. Heck, sometimes he’ll follow me around, screaming at me nonstop, because he wants me to pick him up, and as soon as I grab him, he’ll start purring and make a beeline for my earlobes. I think it’s pretty cute (a little gross but cute nonetheless), and he shows no signs of stress, so I think he’s just a happy smol bean and was separated from his mom too early ?
I just received my Catsifier that you mentioned in this article and my favorite blanket is finally saved from my little Murphy! Thank you so much Catsifier and you as well Modi! Now I need to find some friends with suckling kittens so I can buy some for Christmas presents, it’s just too cute! 🙂
pups are ok to leave mom at 8 wks, but kittens should stay with mama til 10 wks…Siamese, 12 wks…..prevents all sorts of behaviour problems! (some vets/breeders think of kits as small dogs…they’re not…) cheers!
Yes I have a Calico female cat 5 month old that suckles ….she is spayed and she only does this when she sleeps it’s still winter and my house is has tile floors so it’s colder so she sleeps on my bed in her bed of coarse it’s sherpa lining so she suckles on that….I have 3 beds small one for my dog Molly, and one for the cat Lilly and a extra I placed in the kitchen because they both like to be where I’m at and in a warm bed…. but when I’m on my bed so are they now due to the suckling my dog will not use step in her bed because lilly the cat has ruined it by suckling I bought a small sherpa blanket to place in her bed so that way I can just wash it in the laundry we will see how that works but between her suckling she reaches her legs out to touch me for reassurance …and so I can massage her head and caress her she feels safe. then she’s back to suckling till she falls asleep she goes as far as sits on top of my stomach for a few minute then back in her bed strange but cute sad @ the same time because she is and was and abandon along with her 3 siblings a few days after they were born found in a drive way I adopted her she was given to me by a friend trying to find homes for…. she is and always will be my indoor cat I will keep her safe hopefully it gets better after she is a year….I pray.
OK so I’ve read all these comments and article, So let me tell about my boy Clancy. He is in his 6th month now and as I foster cats and kittens I was called when his mum gave birth to take all 4 of them (mum and 3 kittens) to care for until adoption became and option.
So mum and the other 2 kittens have all been adopted and I have adopted Clancy – My first and only foster fail out of around 50 that have lived here over the last few years. God he’s adorable ! So I know he was not taken from mum too soon and I know there is nothing here that he fears, and I know he loves and trusts me, – maybe a little obsessively sometimes. But he was the first born the biggest and the ‘Cry Baby” of the litter since he learned how to make noise. If mama was absent the he would screech in his little kitten way till she came running.
I get the security and mama replacement thing though but he comes to my pillow at night while Im asleep snuggles deep in under my neck to begin kneading on my neck/shoulder and while he doesn’t actually suck my neck he makes a sucking sound in his mouth accompanied of course by super loud purring and kneading.
Ive tried a few things like putting a scent on my neck that he wont like , like lemon or stinky creams haha but I also don’t want him to stop being so loving. I do just as you said and put my hand between his mouth and claws and my skin and just say ‘No’ and he stops but keeps his motor running as if he’s waiting for me to go back to sleep, which he is – the little vampire.
Will it work if I persist … I would be delighted if he would choose a toy or blanket to suck and stop waking me up every night
My 7 year old cat socks his paw and kneads only when near me
My 7 month old male/neutered baby will not stop suckling. While its sweet, it also tickles & wakes me up. He was with his mom & siblings til 8 weeks old. He is not stressed. He seems very very happy!! And i don’t fuss him, but how can i get him to stop??