How Can I Stop Cat's Suckling Behavior?

Hear how a cat behavior consultant recommends you transfer cat's object of affection.

By Marilyn Krieger | Updated: May 6, 2015, 11 a.m. EST

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Curb Cat Suckling
Q: I have a spayed 8-month-old mixed-breed cat. She is obviously mixed with Persian because of her huge fluffy tail. Her problem is very strange to me.  Her chosen way of showing affection is sucking and biting my hands or arms. She wants to do this when we are playing in the morning and when I'm looking at TV at night with her on my lap. Have you ever heard of it before, and have you any suggestions to cure this behavior? 

A: Sucking and kneading are instinctual behaviors that all kittens must do in order to nurse. Kittens usually nurse until they are 4-6 weeks old, then mom weans them and they transition to eating solid foods. Sometimes the mom will let kittens nurse longer, for comfort and reassurance. Kittenhood is the time where kittens who are lucky to be with their mother and siblings feel the most protected and safe. Mom keeps them warm, secure, well-fed and out of harm's way.

Many cats who were taken away from their mother and bottle-fed or weaned too early will suck on their human companions or on fabrics. It’s a comfort behavior, typically accompanied with purring, and is usually done when cats feel safe, secure and content. Some of these cats will suckle on their own tails or other parts of their body. I have a 7-year-old cat who suckles on his right dew claw whenever he curls up next to me on the sofa.

There was an online survey that was conducted on cats who suckle as adults. Based on responses, the conclusions were that cats who suckle as adults most likely were separated from their mothers and siblings at 8 weeks old or younger. It  also concluded that most of these cats suckled throughout their lives, though some of the cats suckled less frequently as they aged.

Because having your hands and arms suckled on isn’t the most ideal situation for you, gradually transfer the behavior on to a safe object that your cat can not ingest. There are cat-safe toys that will work. Make sure that the new object doesn’t have eyes, noses, whiskers and other pieces that can be chewed or sucked off. Also, the fabric needs to be a nontoxic substance that the cat can’t ingest. I know someone who transitioned her cat so he would suckle on a teddy bear. Before transitioning your cat to suckle another object, rub the object on your arms and hands, transferring your scent to the object. Whenever she starts suckling on you, present her with the preferred object. Be patient and gentle with her; with time she should suckle the approved object.

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Reader Comments

Karol    San Jose, CA

7/7/2015 1:04:50 PM

Help, my 12 week old kitten continues to suckle on his sibling (both are neutered). He does it day and night. He doesn't suckle humans. How can I stop this behavior? It's so frustrating because we can't sleep with the loud suckling

Leeia    Boca Raton, FL

5/31/2015 1:11:59 PM

Stop ear lobe sucking by putting a dab of Vaseline on each ear lobe. Be prepared to offer an alternative object.

amt    north kingstown, RI

5/6/2015 8:55:42 PM

My cat sucks on my ear lobe

Erika    Champaign, IL

5/6/2015 5:13:35 PM

One of my 11 month old cats suckles on my 8 year old cat, usually near his "armpit". He just lets her do it, and they both purr and seem to like it! The other 11 month old girl doesn't do it all, nor does the third of the litter that now lives with a friend. The litter of three lost their mama around 4-5 weeks and I cared for them from that point on, so definitely too soon but couldn't be avoided.

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