My new kitten sucks.
December 29, 2012 2:08 PM   Subscribe

My new kitten is awesome, but she insists on suckling people parts. I'm looking for tips on getting her to stop.

We've had our new kitten, Casper, for 3 weeks now and have been trying for pretty much the whole time to get her to stop suckling us. She prefers fingers, toes, earlobes and noses, but will go after any exposed skin when the mood strikes her (she's sucking on the back of my hand as I type this).

The internet seems conflicted as to whether she is hungry or whether it means she was improperly weaned. We've tried a number of solutions including redirecting her to food and giving her a tap on the nose. At night, we just keep moving her off the bed every time she does this (it's pretty disruptive).

Is there an effective way to break this habit, or do we just have to wait until she outgrows it? If it's the latter, does anyone know how long that will take? She's 13 weeks old now, and I know very little about her history or when she was weaned.
posted by scrute to Pets & Animals (23 answers total)
Ooh, my heart goes out to her. Quite possibly she was weaned too early and has some type of mild kitty PTSD.

I had a kitten years ago, and also an adult female who later had a litter. Kitty (about 13 weeks at the time, like yours) began suckling right along with the tiny kittens, and was repeatedly smacked and hissed at by the seriously annoyed adult cat. She kept trying for about 3 weeks, finally gave it up.

I don't suggest you hiss at and smack your errant kitten, of course. But some more gentle rebuke (a loud "No!!", perhaps?), along with simply stopping the suckling behavior in its tracks, should have an effect eventually.
posted by RRgal at 2:18 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You could try blowing in her face. Cats dislike that, but it won't hurt her.

*goes back to look at the pics*
*melts into a puddle*
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:27 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

She may not out grow it. I have a friend who has a stud cat who suckles. He's passed this trait down to every single litter of kittens he's fathered. The kittens hadn't been around him to see him do this, it was just an inherited trait. He tends to suckle his own fur rather than people. I'm not sure if his kittens suckle people or just their fur. In the stud boys case, and his kittens, it's not stress or weaning too early. My friends stud boy is totally chilled out and behaves more like a nutered boy than an entire stud. His kittens are always given plenty of time with the queen and are weaned at an appropriate age that causes no stress. So unless it irritates you or there are signs of stress along with the suckling I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 2:33 PM on December 29, 2012

My cat never grew out of it and would suckle on blankets and sheepskin rugs for every one of his 17 years. I did have a vet suggest it was the lanolin he was after as the rugs were wool, so do you maybe use a lanolin based hand cream. He was weaned way too early at 4 weeks when his mother died and was put onto pretty much solid/mush food but other wise ignored until we rescued him from his rescuer so we suspected his behaviour may have been tied in with that. Maybe you could direct the suckling to items other than your skin, when ever she starts on you.

I never tried to train him out of it, but I think the blowing in the face thing is probably better than tapping, make sure you do it ever single time because if you give in one time you are back to square one. Putting her down the second she starts to do it or taking her off the bed would also be good methods.
posted by wwax at 2:43 PM on December 29, 2012

My cat does the same thing, and she's 6. I think it's a habit they just never outgrow. A short puff of breath right in her face makes her look at me with the MEANEST look, and then she stops...for about 10 seconds.
posted by xingcat at 2:46 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

yup, it's permanent, though it will get less frequent with age.
posted by moammargaret at 2:58 PM on December 29, 2012

You could try replacing one habit with another that is less disruptive (to you, anyway.) If she's insisting on the sucking, maybe get her to suck her own tail or paw instead? Pull it into her range and see if she latches on? Granted, this may cause even worse issues (she may suck it raw) but at least its less annoying for you... And there's no guarantee she'll outgrow it -- I had a cat who sucked her back paw until the day she died, 19 years past kittenhood.

But awwwww..... so much cuteness!!!
posted by cgg at 2:59 PM on December 29, 2012

She looks just like my kitty when she was little!!!

My friend's kitten did this, but eventually grew out of it.
posted by greta simone at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2012

Is there something you could use as a kitty pacifier? Maybe some milk on a bottle nipple?
posted by windykites at 3:09 PM on December 29, 2012

I had a cat years ago who used to do it. The vet said he was weaned too early.

I had a t-shirt that I used to grab a piece of and let him suckle on (like rolling up a little bunch of it, a pseudo cat-nipple) when he wanted to. This way, we had something we didn't care about him destroying or anything. Over time, maybe 2 or 3 months or so, he went down from an hour (sitting with us on the couch watching a movie, for example) or more of this many times a week to gradually less and less. It really seemed like he was just basically learning that the well had run dry. After that, he stopped completely and started turning his head away from the shirt. We threw the shirt out and he never did it again.
posted by nevercalm at 3:24 PM on December 29, 2012

This is my late, beloved Linus, so named because you had to keep a blanket (he had special blankets, of course) on your lap so that you didn't end up with giant cat-spit marks on your pants. He, too, was likely weaned too early and never grew out of it. My advice: redirect from fingers, ears, noses, etc. to special blankets.
posted by rtha at 3:45 PM on December 29, 2012

Notreally - thanks for the offer, but I think I can learn to live with it if it comes down to that - I'm already too attached to give her away :)

Do you think she would suck on a small stuffed animal? I'd be fine if she'd suck on something else, but so far blankets or clothing don't seem to work. She'll actually move my shirt or hair aside to get to the skin (last night I woke up to her sucking on the back of my neck. Ick.) I have a bunch of old webkinz laying around that might be a good size for her.
posted by scrute at 3:55 PM on December 29, 2012

My late cat P-Nut was a suckler and he was definitely taken from his mother too early - we got him from a little old lady who had 30+ cats and I think my mom felt sorry for the lady and the cats. Get a baby blanket - not one of those ones with obvious weave, you want a soft but tight weave to keep the threads from being sucked loose.
(you could also try a baby doll with human feeling skin - that might give her the surface she's looking for)
posted by jaimystery at 5:07 PM on December 29, 2012

One of my cats used to do this...sometimes to us but mostly to herself - to the point that she'd suckle spots of herself raw - and though the vet said it was normal, it bugged me so much that I would always pet her in her favorite way or play with her when she'd do it. She eventually grew out of it, but in return, I have a co-dependent cat who greets me at the door when I come home from work (even though my partner is here all day), prefers to sleeps at my head, and supposedly paces the hallway if I stay out later than my partner's bedtime.

Whether or not you view this as a feature or a bug is up to you. I couldn't love it more.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 5:14 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have a drooly sucker too. I find it endearing, yet gross. She is 4 now and shows little interest in stopping. I had little hicky-like spots all over from the sucking when she was younger!
posted by fifilaru at 6:33 PM on December 29, 2012

The cat I had growing up suckled on one red flannel sheet her whole life. Any cat I've had since then gets their first bed made with it.

Have you tried a fleece blanket or an old sweater? They seem to like things that are fluffy enough to feel instantly warm.

Awwwww!!! Looks like my poor Gasket. :(
posted by MonsieurBon at 7:46 PM on December 29, 2012

My old cat Lukas would lick my hair and face and stuff when he was a kitten. He did actually grow out of that habit but it turned into lots of kneading on me and having to sit in my lap all the time. So, it is possible for them to grow out of it, I guess.

Both of my current cats get very affectionate with microplush blankets (like one of these). I wonder if you could try transferring Casper's affections to one?
posted by cabingirl at 8:16 PM on December 29, 2012

We love our cats, they are spoiled beyond belief, they spend the day on our bed when our laps aren't available, BUT .... they aren't allowed into our bedroom at night. Ever. "Disruptive" hardly describes the things they would do at 3:00 a.m. Walk on our heads, nudge the bedside lamp to try to push it over, jump on and off and on and off the bed. Put the cat out, hopefully with a wonderful plush blanket to suck and drool on, and shut the door. Much, much better for you.

(And if there's resulting noise -- crying, scratching, rattling doorknob -- get up, put cat and blankie in bathroom, shut that door until morning. My daughter invented that response, and it works wonders.)
posted by kestralwing at 11:13 PM on December 29, 2012

Two of my cats did this and both grew out of it by six months old (I had them at different times, they never met). So there's currently no reason to think yours won't too. My current ex-sucking cat used to suck his the bare skin around his sisters arse, so we're super glad that one went away with time.

In the meantime, just move Casper away from whatever she's sucking each time you see it and don't react otherwise. No telling her off, no making a fuss, just put her down somewhere else and ignore. Any attention you give her could end up as reinforcement and it's not going to stop the behaviour anyway so just stay calm and reactionless and ignore. Then give her lots of attention the rest of the time to reinforce the behaviour you do want and eventually she'll get older and settle down in general.
posted by shelleycat at 2:24 AM on December 30, 2012

Our boy Spike (locked in a box with his brother and left to die at the tender age of two weeks) did this for MONTHS, and really, who could blame him?

He especially liked ears, and particularly my husband's (my earlobes are too attached to my head to be as interesting, it seems).

But after some red, raw ears, my husband started putting bitter apple (available at pet stores) on anything Spike was likely to go after. It didn't work perfectly but it helped a little...long enough for his tasty ears to heal, anyway!

Spike grew out of it eventually. Well, mostly. He'll do it a few times a year when he is feeling exceptionally snuggly! It reminds me of when he was hamster-sized and bottle-fed.
posted by at 6:29 AM on December 30, 2012

For what it's worth, one of my two cats used to really want my finger to be in his mouth until he was somewhere around 8 or 9 months old. He didn't exactly suckle it, and I never thought about trying to make him stop (once I realized he wasn't planning to bite me), but he eventually just did it less and less until he quit.

I don't know his entire background; I just know that he and his brother were found, abandoned, by a farmer around the age of 3 months; they were patched up and lived at a vet's office until the age of 6ish months, when I adopted them. So, possibly it could be related to improper weaning; I don't know...
posted by Juffo-Wup at 9:04 AM on December 30, 2012

Our kitty also did this for a while. We got him at 3months old from the shelter, he and his siblings had been fostered before the shelter and seemed healthy and friendly - but no idea whether his mom was with him or what his weaning situation was like. It could be kind of annoying but was also super sweet. We didnt try and train him to stop, we'd just detatch the little vampire when it got annoying. We also didn't let him in the bedroom at night after he had gotten established in the house and with the other animals - they're just too active at night!

He tapered off of his own accord, and had stopped completely before he was a year. He never seemed interested in cloth or fabric, just skin. But he does LOVE those plush blankets that cabingirl linked to. He's not much of a kneader, but goes to town on one of those :)
posted by pennypiper at 10:30 AM on December 30, 2012

Success! Casper seems to be happy transferring her suckling to a very soft, stuffed polar bear. The bear doesn't know what hit it, but it's good for the rest of us! Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by scrute at 9:04 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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