Nursing, Suckling and Licking Behavior in Kittens

Kitten Nursing and Suckling Behavior

Kittens naturally mimick nursing and suckling behavior...but watch out for biting and excessive licking and possible skin problems.

Kitten Nurses, Suckles on Himself

Dear Simba, Our kitten is 7-months-old and we have had her for 10 weeks.
She has a habit of suckling on herself, nothing else. She does not do it to our older cat, any other object, or us. She really enjoys doing it in the middle of the night and she is not quiet about it. She also does it after we have been petting and loving her for an extended period of time.

Our two major concerns are, one, is this healthy? and two, how can we get a good night's sleep? Beau

Dear Beau - My first question is whether the licking is concentrated on any one area. I ask because, continued licking, sucking or attention to one area may be indicative of a skin problem. Another question relates to the noises she makes, are these purring noises or loud shrieks or gasps? The former indicates contentment whereas the latter is indicative of wounds or painful skin conditions. Be sure to go to your vet if you find the cause of the licking to be of concern.
It is very possible that your kitty may be simply grooming herself after petting or enjoying her own company and extending the fun she had when you petted her. You can reduce the noise at night by simply locking her out of your room. You can make her transition easy by placing her favorite cozy item in the living room or dinning room placing there at night. The other cat should keep her company and you two should be ok. Let me know what you find relating to the type of licking and keep me posted. Simba

See a Nursing Behavior video below.

Kitten Suckling on Other Kitten

Hi Simba,
I have got two, 15-week-old British Blue Kittens and they are adorable. I have a couple of little behavior questions for you.

First one - when they both curl up together one suckles on the others paw pads. Both continue purring and appear very happy, but surely the kitten's pads will become sore eventually - is this something I should stop?

Second one - one of the kittens has taken a fancy to my make-up blusher brush. If she manages to pinch it when I am not looking she get really fiesty, hissing and growling if you so much look at her. She does not normally get that protective with any of her other toys - what could be making her change so drastically. Yours hopefully, Sarah

Dear Sarah,
Do not worry too much about the suckling. As I told Licking Kitten this is natural behavior and kittens find it very comforting (it reminds them of mom and of being cozy and cared for). As for your blusher brush, I am stumped. Best bet is to keep it tucked somewhere where she cannot reach it. See the Kitten Proofing page for more tips. Let me know how things come along. Simba

Kitten Licking Kitten, People

Dear Simba,
We recently got two, 14-week-old male kittens from a shelter. One of the kittens has this habit of licking the other kitten's stomach as if he were nursing! While the kitten is licking, he will sometimes bite the other kitten. The kitten will lick the other one for so long that the other kitten gets soaking wet!

Also, when I am petting the licking kitten, he will sometimes lick my hands and fingertips and sometimes bite them. We do not know if this is due to their being taken away from their mother too early and want to nurse or if it is due to something else. We do not know whether we should separate them or if it is just something that the kitten will grow out of! Thanks! -Licking Kitten

Dear Licking Kitten,
Kittens are usually weaned at around 5 to 6 weeks. However, during times of stress they may revert back to the behavior. They may also mimic the behavior as a form of play. I do not think that this is a hazard to you or your kitten...he will grow out of it. However, if the licking kitten's intensity is such that you are concerned about it injuring the other, separate them. As for the biting, that is natural behavior too, but it is something you must correct now. Stop all petting, when the licker bites. You may also want to have a water gun handy so that you immediately correct the kitten after any biting. The best cure is plenty of love an affection and when necessary, consistency in corrective actions. Let me know how you do. Simba

Hi Simba,
I recently got two, 3-month-old kittens from a fostering agency. My little boy cat is extremely affectionate and follows me everywhere. The problem is that when I go to bed he jumps into the bed and licks my face and hair to the point that I have taken to hiding under my sheet and/or pillows when I sleep. When I pry him off of me and hold him back he just slinks through my hands, he is just that small! I do not mind if he and his sister want to sleep on the bed with me but this has got to stop. I love the little guy and he is constantly purring while "bathing" me but I am losing a lot of sleep as a result of it and do not want this behavior to continue. - Chrissy,

Dear Chrissy,
Cats & Kittens often lick as a way of displaying affection. It also reminds them of contact with their mother. However, in the case of your kitten, it could also be an obsession. Regardless of all its origins the behavior must stop. Here are some recommendations:

  • When you remove the kitten hold it by the nape of the neck as would a mother cat with her kittens when she moves them around. The kitten's automatic response is to go limp to allow the mother to lift and move it....This will stop his escape.
  • Stop the unwanted behavior by using a spray bottle. Simply squirt a little bit of water on the little licker kitten when he gets to your face. He’ll get the message soon enough.
  • Put a little bit of bitter apple on or near your face. Cats hate the taste...The behavior will stop.
  • Place a recently-warmed blanket by your feet. It will be nice and warm and they will be cozy. They just might find that slightly more appealing than a forced removal or constant spray of water!
See the Correcting Misbehaving Kittens section for more tips on helping you and your crazy little friend. - Simba

Kitten Nursing on People!

Dear Simba,
This is embarrassing to disclose, but my 16-week-old Russian Blue has a very odd quirk, unique from my prior kittens.

When I go to bed at night, Shale comes and lays on my chest, and usually will snuggle up, start kneading, and begin dry nursing on my nipple. He never does it anywhere else, and only does it when I am sleeping or going to sleep. I figure it must be good for him on a psychological level because even if he is not sucking, he will just fall asleep kneading lightly with his mouth buried in my chest; he just seems very contented. I have tried to redirect his sucking behaviors to things like his toys or blanket, but he never takes; if he comes back to sleep with me, he just curls right back up on my chest. I know that in kneading he is trying to encourage milk to flow, but he is been weaned for WEEKS, gets lots of love and attention from my partner and I, and has another kitten as a playmate.

I am not horribly worried, but I do not know what to do exactly; do I let him be, or shove him off and lay him next to me every night? What do you suppose is causing him to dry nurse on me, and do you think this problem will clear up? Sannie

Dear Sannie,
I imagine this must be very frustrating. I think it might be worthwhile to perhaps not allow your kitten to sleep on the bed with you for a while until he outgrows the behavior. You could do this by making a bed for him by yours (a warm blanket hot off the dryer might just temp him). If that does not work you could place him in a kennel that you keep near the bed.

If you are set on having him sleep with you wear a thick flannel-type shirt and perhaps spray it with bitter apple or some other type of non-attractive flavor (vinegar might work also). You will find that your kitten may no loner crave that suckling. Best of luck and keep me posted. Simba

Dear Simba,
I have recently been adopted by a beautiful 10-week-old kitten! He has a little kink on his tail so We have named him 'Kinky'. Kinky is well adjusted and content, he eats well and is everything we would want in a kitten. My question is this: Every time he settles down in my lap he wants to dry nurse! he will find a little fold in my shirt and go to town! I know that this is natural behavior, but I get little wet spots all over my shirt and his little claws are sharp. Will he grow out of this or should I be discouraging this? I do not want him to grow to be a neurotic mess. Help! Kinky's human, Colleen

Dear Colleen,
The most important thing to remember is that you should never punish a very young kitten for nursing behavior.Since the nursing is bothering you I think you might want to try having a blanket or an extra shirt nearby that Kinky could use for dry nursing. Direct him to the ‘expendable’ shirt or blanket and away from you. In addition, you can interrupt the dry nursing by picking him up and moving him from your shirt, perhaps distracting him with a toy (remember the more you play with him the less stressed he will be and the less likely he will need to find comfort in dry nursing…).

Lastly, you can use a Bitter Lemon Spray. This is a good deterrent, though I recommend it as a last resort. If you use it, put a little on your skin or on the shirt where Kinky attempts to nurse. You will find that he will not go for that area as much. Keep me posted. Your Pal, Simba

Kitten Biting People

I have a 3-month-old kitten we found abandoned a month ago. He sucks on blankets, but that is not my real concern. About three weeks ago he started to behave differently. He finds a spot on our hands and starts to suckle…the problem is that while he suckles his teeth sink into our skin and it hurts! He really seems to enjoy the suckling. His eyes close, but I do not know if this is something that we should be letting him do. Is there something that I can do? Concerned

Dear Concerned,
The suckling is a behavior from young kitten-hood. Let him continue what he does, it is very comforting to him. At the same time try to draw his suckling attention back to blankets or other 'non-human' items. This will not only bring you relief but will allow kitty to feel comfortable when you and your partner are not around. Simba

Hi Simba,
My two kittens are teething. They frequently try to chew on my fingers, toes, ears, and nose. Is there anything I can do to help them…and me? Connie

Dear Connie,
Teething helps kitties relieve the discomfort of the tooth coming in through the gums. A couple of tips:

  • Put tape on electrical wiring so your little ones do not hurt themselves.
  • Keep household chemicals out of her way.
  • Give your little ones a few special toys to chew on:
  • Soak the chew toys in broth or rub them all over with your hands (your kitten loves your scent and is more likely to chew something that smells like you).
  • Another thing is to use a cold towel. This helps relieve the pain of teething. Tie a knot in a small clean towel, wet it, wring it out and put it in the freezer to chill. Your kittens will love this!
Teething is a part of growing up, it is very important, so be supportive to your little ones. Simba

Dear Simba,
I have a male kitten that is about 9-months-old. He was given to me by a co-workers neighbor. He was about 10-weeks-old at the time. He had about 4 siblings and he was the last one to be given away. My concern is that when he is ready to snuggle on my lap or jumps up into my bed, he begins to purr and proceeds to suck on my arm, leg or even my face. When I try to pull my arm away, he actually embraces my arm with his front paws and even bites at my arm. I thought that he would grow out of this, but it has not lessened at all. What can I do? Is there anything to worry about? Is this normal behavior? Rochelle

Dear Rochelle,
Your kitten is being affectionate. While most cats grow out of this, yours still finds the suckling behavior comforting. There is nothing wrong with him. The one thing you do want to prevent is his biting. When he bites, cease all petting. He will slowly begin to associate biting with less affection and will soon stop. There is nothing to worry about. Simba

Kitten Plays Patty Cake

Dear Simba,
I have a 18-month-old, neutered, male, Bengal cat. I have only had him about two weeks. He had been previously owned and then returned to the breeder. for me it was love at first sight! he seems well adjusted and well behaved... we have one problem. he wants to "patty cake" the whole time he is in my lap, and he drools while he is doing it. i know he is just showing his love, but he is very rough about it. i want to be able to hold him and pet him, but it hurts. how can i discourage this without hurting his feelings? Dottye

Dear Dottye,
You are very gentle in being concerned for your cat's feelings. Aside from wearing mittens, the best thing to sensitively discourage this play is to not participate in it. Try petting your cat only when he does not play "patty cake" with you. When he starts, you stop. Slowly, he will associate petting with stillness and patty cake with no petting. Also, be sure that he has toys to play with so he can direct his natural predator behavior. Keep me posted. Your Pal, Simba

Follow-up from Betty:
I wrote a while back about my kitten excessively licking herself. Seems like the answer was that my female kitten's brother was doing the licking and was trying to nurse from her. I had taken the kittens off canned cat food (which they were used to) at the time the licking started because they had been treated for worms and the vet said to just give them dry kitten food for a while. I started the canned cat food again, just a spoonful each morning, and the licking has not happened again. Either the male matured a bit or the canned cat food helped. Thanks again. Betty

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