Why does my cat suckle my clothing?
July 1, 2007 1:47 AM   Subscribe

My cat kneads me often, but it's more than that. What is this behavior?

Ever since I adopted my kitty from the mean streets two years ago, he has engaged in kneading behavior with me. He will jump on my lap and knead my flesh while purring maniacally, til he's had enough and takes off. I realize this isn't uncommon cat behavior, but mine adds a new twist - he will bite whatever shirt I happen to be wearing and pull at it hard while he's kneading. It's a constant part of his kneading ritual. I thought it might have something to do with his kittenhood - applying Freudian concepts to felines, I figured maybe he wasn't suckled enough as a baby - but he doesn't seem to be growing out of it, and in fact, the behavior has been escalating.

What is my cat doing?
posted by ScarletSpectrum to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I used to have a cat that did this, and like you, I assumed that it was due to not being weaned enough as a kitten - I think, although I can't really remember, that a vet actually confirmed that this could be the case. He was certainly a very needy cat in other ways, too.

The only (semi-)solution we could come to was to buy a cushion- really a large, very flat pillow- that was his very own, which he could sit half-on half-off and knead and suckle to his heart's content. We didn't leave it out because it seemed a bit gross - especially as it could get damp due to his excessive sucking, but as far as I can see you don't mention sucking, so maybe a cushion of his very own might help to redirect your cat's kneading.

Unfortunately I don't think it's a behavior which you will be able to change easily (although a vet/animal psychologist might think differently) although you might be able to limit it to more appropriate places.
posted by schmoo at 2:04 AM on July 1, 2007

Wikipedia has an article about how kneading and suckling behaviors go together.
posted by amyms at 2:12 AM on July 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's what kittens do to get their mother to express milk. We have one cat approaching 2 years of age that still likes to suck necks.
posted by polyglot at 2:25 AM on July 1, 2007

The google phrase you want is 'wool sucking'. There doesn't seem to be a general consensus on why they do it. One theory has to do with their attraction to the lanolin in wool, but I had a cat that did it quite regularly with acrylic blankets. In her case, I think she was weaned too soon.
posted by happyturtle at 2:38 AM on July 1, 2007

Oh, and she never outgrew it. Since it didn't seem to harm her in any way, we never tried to break her of it.
posted by happyturtle at 2:54 AM on July 1, 2007

Yes, it's kitten behaviour. Pet cats, unlike feral cats, tend to display kitten behaviour well into adulthood, sometimes throughout their entire lives, if they have a 'mother figure' (i.e. you) to whom their attention is directed.
posted by essexjan at 3:19 AM on July 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

if she's starting to cause damage by it, get a pillow for her to knead and train her not to do it with humans. i would pick her up every time she starts and put her on the cushion. maybe sprinkle a little catnip on it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:55 AM on July 1, 2007

We have a cat who does that. When he first arrived in our household, we discovered that it was best to have a blanket on your lap if the cat was going to sit there, because he made your pants/shirt so spitty. We named him Linus.
posted by rtha at 6:59 AM on July 1, 2007

I have two cats from the same litter who were both weened quite late, and one does this and the other doesn't. I just keep her claws trimmed so she doesn't scratch me; I've never considered it a problem aside from that. I have a friend whose several-years-old cat suckles the household dog.
posted by frobozz at 11:30 AM on July 1, 2007

Us too. Ours loves those acrylic scarves that were popular a few years ago - the ones that stretch so big they'll go over your head? We call them his "girlfriends."
posted by SashaPT at 12:19 PM on July 1, 2007

I'd just like to point out that no one else has pointed out that the "kneading" motion you mentioned is commonly referred to as "makin' biscuits" (warning, clip contains depictions of lesbianism).
posted by Deathalicious at 2:14 AM on July 2, 2007

I used to always wonder, too - I had a cat that did the same thing. I put it together when I saw a picture of cats mating. The male bites the scruff of the female's neck when he mounts her.

My old cat Gimli liked his favorite blanket (he also liked a certain friend's feet, and would mount them over the blankets while said friend was sleeping) - and would get really irritated if he was interrupted. Once, I saw that he had an erection.

YMMV, but Gimli was masturbating.
posted by puddleglum at 3:44 PM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

My 20lb, 12-year-old neutered male Norwegian Forest Cat still does this. There seem to be two distinct variations of it for him. The first is obviously a nursing sort of behavior-- he does it more when we've been away from him for too long, or there's just been a thunderstorm or some other terrifying event. Throw on a plush bathrobe, and he's instantly in his happy place.
The other is disturbingly closer to what puddleglum was saying. We've given him a large stuffed platypus which he loves, dragging it randomly from room to room by the neck and stopping to attack it with kneading, nursing, and... not mounting exactly, but close enough to make it pretty apparent that Ducky is his very special friend. The outraged yowl that results when we try to take Ducky away is very amusing.
posted by Gingersnap at 4:39 PM on July 2, 2007

hey! my cat does that too. in particular, with this large stuffed rabbit i have. i figured it had something to do with her being weaned too early, but it sure was a funny sight to see her "making sweet love to the bunny."
posted by pyjammy at 11:03 AM on July 9, 2007

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