While you're oohing and awwing your litter of tiny newborn kittens, you might notice one little fur ball trying to nurse off a littermate. Redirect him to a mother's teat. Although it's technically normal behavior, sibling suckling is something you should nip in the bud as quickly as possible.
Why They Do It
Kittens are born blind, deaf and mostly helpless, but the one thing they can do for themselves is suck. They latch onto one of their Mama's nipples and nurse every few hours in those first few weeks as they develop and grow. For the most part, kittens are pretty indiscriminate suckers -- some little ones will “nurse” off anything they get their mouths around, which may be a littermate's belly, limb or nether regions. Kittens separated from Mama too soon may develop this inappropriate suckling behavior, as can orphaned little ones. The act ostensibly offers the kittens a feeling of comfort, as they associate it with feeding from Mama.
Why They Shouldn't Do It
Besides the possible “ick” factor, dry suckling can be detrimental to both the suckler and the sucklee. The kitten doing the suckling may be hungry but will not receive the benefit of Mama's milk. The unlucky kitten on the receiving end of this inappropriate nursing can develop lesions and other injuries. Dry nursing can develop into a habit, becoming harder to break as a kitten matures.
How to Stop It
Only one thing will stop a kitten from nursing inappropriately -- separation. When you notice two kittens connected in a way that no two kittens ever should be, gently pry them apart and separate them. Supervise the nursing kitten to make sure he won't simply turn to another littermate. Split them up every time you notice this nursing until the behavior fades.
Balance Separation with Socialization
As easy as it would be to simply remove the trouble-making furball and call it a day, you walk a fine line with young kittens. They need socialization to learn proper kitty behavior, and for healthy mental and physical growth and development. You can socialize a kitten by spending regular time with him, but he needs his siblings and Mama to learn how to act like a cat. Supervise playtime regularly with his kitty comrades to make sure the sibling suckler gets his much-needed litter interaction and keeps his mouth off his mates.
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.
Jane Williams began her writing career in 2000 as the writer and editor of a nationwide marketing company. Her articles have appeared on various websites. Williams briefly attended college for a degree in administration before embarking on her writing career.