Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Curious Problem, Simple Explanation

A family came to me with a problem that left me stumped. Their 8-month-old male cat had developed an odd habit.

He would suck on his own nipples very noisily, leaving his entire belly area wet with his saliva. While sucking, he would get an erection. Then the cat would fall asleep.

The family says that he does this very often, especially just before bedtime when he is most relaxed. They can't understand it because he was just recently neutered and all 'desire' should have been drained from him.

At that time, I had no advice to offer the freaked-out family. But after talking to fellow volunteers and googling for answers, I now know the reason behind this seemingly perverse behaviour.

You see, kittens are usually weaned when they are 6 or 7 weeks old. That is when their mother would gradually leave them for longer and longer periods of time. Some kittens may continue to suckle for comfort.

A kitten will retain his suckling instinct until he is about 10 to 12 weeks old. It is believed that ideally, kittens should stay with their mother or other role-model cats for at least 12 weeks.

Most people, however, feel that at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, the kittens are old enough to be separated from their mother. Unfortunately, this results in the kitten's suckling instinct being left unsatisfied.

Orphaned kittens, including those weaned too soon, are more likely to exhibit inappropriate suckling behaviours later in life. Cats like this will very often suckle on things like blankets, pillows, other cats, even people (especially their ear lobes, as they look like a teat to the kitten).

A fellow volunteer has a grown cat that still suckles on his brother's paw pads. This behavior is called non-nutritive suckling and is harmless. It is similar to a baby sucking on a pacifier.

Normally, cats outgrow this by the time they are 2 years old. Sometimes, they don't. But, we should let them outgrow the habit on their own for detering the cats from it may actually exacerbate the problem.

If you choose to try and discourage the habit yourself, Bitter Apple or similar sprays and gels made specifically for taste aversion might just do the trick. Apply a little of it on the cat's favourite suckling area or object. The unpleasant taste should repulse the cat.

Kneading, an instinctive action kittens make to get more milk from their mother's breast, can also be carried into adulthood. I have been told of a cat, now more than 10 years old, who enjoys kneading his owner's tummy. While he does that, he will salivate... A LOT. And this too is a natural occurrence.

I offered this explanation to the family and helped to reassure them that their cat was NOT sexually gratifying himself. Besides, he was just recently neutered. Maybe he needs a little time for his hormones to settle and the habit may then go away.

He is merely a poor thing -- orphaned at too young an age and misses suckling his mother.

~5-Cat Style


Elaine said...

Hi! This is Elaine, the girl who left a msg regarding Oreo, the kitten with high fever. Thank you so much for your concern and kind words. Oreo's fever has gone down but she has a loss in appetite now. My classmate kept the kitten wrapped in blanket as it usually helps her get recover faster. I read that fever stimulates the body's immune response by activating white blood cells, so it's not appropriate to try to lower the fever. And also if we wipe the kitten with cold water, the body might try to raise the temperature even more because it senses that the surrounding is cold. Thankfully, Oreo is better.

My classmate is waiting for her elder sis to bring the Oreo to the vet. However, because this is our study break period, I seldom see my classmate and can't check with her regarding any progress. She also doesnt really like pple to ask so I try not to probe. When I hear of any news, I will share it... :) Thanks again!

=^..^= said...

Hi Elaine,

Thank you for the update.

Please ask your classmate to take the kitten to the vet right away. The fever may have subsided, but it could come back up again. And a fever needs to be controlled, not by blankets, but by proper medication.

A fever is usually a sign of an infection and must never be ignored. The kitten needs to be properly examined by a doctor.

When Bombay showed signs of a fever, I took him to the vet that very evening. His fever subsided after two days and he regained his strength after five. So with proper care, the kitten can make a fast and full recovery.

Do also ask your classmate to make sure the kitten does not dehydrate. Especially since it isn't eating, there is a high risk of dehyration which could prove fatal.

I know I must sound like a broken recorder, but it really is the best thing you can do for the little kitten... please take her to the vet without further delay.

I look forward to hearing good news from you.

~5-Cat Style

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Anonymous said...

I know that this comment comes a year later, but my cat Spike a ginger tabby, suckles on my neck.

He is only 11 weeks old so is still a baby.

I know its something he does for comfort but I was just trying to find out more about it and see if I could find anyone else who has a neck suckling cat or kitten.

I came across this blog while looking at it was very informative. Thank you.

~ Spikes Mum ~

=^..^= said...

Hello Spike's Mum,

There are many other cats who suckle on necks, arms, even bellies.

Here's another cat whose Mum is concerned about her cat's kneading and suckling habits.


~5-Cat Style

Anonymous said...

I just wanted you to know that this article is still helping folks with suckling kittens and cats.

Our sweet baby wakes us up at night suckling our ears, moving from me to my husband. It's frustrating, but I understand his need a bit more now.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I also have a 7 month old sphynx cat who sucks on his own nipple, usually before going to bed then falls asleep. It's kinda freaks me out a little but hopefully he grows out of it one day. Good to know that I'm not the only one who's cat does this :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this post. We just got 2 cats from the shelter yesterday and the 5month old male does this. I have never seen it before but am glad to know it is "normal" odd behavior. Most of the posts I've seen have been about makes. Is it more common in males?