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.
“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: “Naughty” Cat Behaviors That Shouldn’t Be Discouraged