While kittens suckling from their mother for nourishment are normal, adult cats doing the same on objects, fabrics or even people certainly aren't. If you notice your furry buddy is suckling on things he shouldn't, you may want to discourage this behavior or consult your vet about it.
As youngsters, kittens find comfort when they suckle from their mother. She keeps them safe and warm, her presence a constant comfort to them. Early weaning and separation from their mother, prior to 8 weeks of age, deprives your little one of this comfort and he may continue the behavior as an adult. Adult kitties under stress may also revert to this childish behavior later in life to soothe themselves, reminded of the safety of childhood. Kitties who feel ill or are bored with nothing to do may also revert to suckling as a way to comfort themselves. Suckling for kitties is much the same as thumb sucking in human children -- it simply makes them feel better.
Is it Dangerous?
Suckling is generally not dangerous, unless your kitty begins to ingest fabric or other nonfood items when he suckles them. This is common in cats that suck on fabrics, a behavior known as wool sucking. Ingested materials can wind up causing an intestinal blockage, a medical emergency, so it's important to deter this behavior in kitties that eat such things. Another possible issue is a furry feline that sucks on his own tail, paws or other body parts, causing irritations or sores. He might also do this to another pet in the house or even your arm while he sits on your lap.
Discouraging the Behavior
Provide another outlet for your kitty's constant suckling, such as a stuffed animal or rubber chew toy. When your furry buddy begins to suckle, simply redirect his attention to the substitute and praise him when he suckles on it. You may also want to engage his attention in some fun play and games to distract him from his desire to suckle and to keep him active. Enrich his environment with plenty of toys and climbing trees for him to sit on and keep busy with. The more active he is, the less he'll want to nurse on inappropriate objects.
If your kitty's suckling on your skin is painful or annoying, use citrus-scented creams on the area, which won't taste good to your little guy, to discourage him. Scent-repellent sprays can be used to discourage sucking on fabrics and other objects.
In some kitties, the suckling behavior becomes compulsive and constant. This isn't healthy for your little one and requires veterinary attention. Your furry buddy may need some prescription medication to calm him and deter the behavior, according to VetInfo. Feeding your kitty a high-fiber food, such as dry kibble, in food puzzle toys can also reduce this behavior, recommends the Rockford Animal Hospital. It prolongs the feeding process and keeps your furry friend busy during the day.
To reduce the chances of your kitty developing problems with suckling later in life, make sure he stays with his mother for his first eight to 12 weeks and doesn't start weaning until around 4 to 5 weeks old. Bring him to the vet if he begins showing signs of suckling as an adult because this could indicate that he's suffering from a medical condition. Conditions such as hypothyroidism can cause behavioral changes, such as suckling behaviors, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.