Categories: mothering

A nursing mother’s nipples are labelled like school lockers for her kittens

Mother nurses kittens two of which care black. Photo: Wikipedia Commons. Caption: A one year old pure white cat nursing four kittens in a cardboard box behind a warm TV. Expectant mother cats usually seek a warm, dark place for giving birth to their kittens. Picture taken in Beaumont, Alberta, Canada in 1986. Name of Mother: Sugar (March 8, 1985 – August 26, 2004) Names of Kittens: Channel 3, Channel 5, Cable 8, Circuit Overload (May 4, 1986 – )

The language I’ve used in the title comes from that wonderful writer, Desmond Morris. He is also a great animal behaviourist. I would say that he is still the best. He explains why kittens don’t squabble when feeding at their mother’s breast. Soon after birth kittens have an attachment to their own nipple. It’s a form of ownership and they recognise their nipple without any difficulties. This is because each nipple smells slightly different; a form of labelling so clear to the kitten that it is as if it’s a visual label on a school locker.

Scientists know this because when you clean the belly region of a mother cat to remove the delicate fragrances which differentiate the nipples, the kitten start to squabble out of confusion as to which one is theirs. They become disorientated. It’s indicative of the wonderful sense of smell that the domestic cat is born with. They start using it right at the very beginning of their life and throughout their life it is a major component in how they live.

It is a method of recognition of almost any object that the cat encounters. Cats are not very good at focusing their eyesight at close range and therefore they rely on their sense of smell to identify objects that are right in front of their face. Cats will even confirm the identification of their human guardan after seeing them. The domestic cat’s sense of smell is superior to their sight. Their hearing is also superior to sight and probably equally as sensitive as their sense of smell.

Desmond Morris’s book: Catwatching The Essential Guide to Cat Behavior remains the best on the subject despite its compact size and its age – published in 1986.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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