My foster cat suckles on my clothes while I am wearing them. It seems it has to be on my clothes and the clothes have to be on me. He does this when I am in bed working or snoozing while listening to the radio or trying to get to sleep. He kneads me and purrs in the classic manner. Kneading helps the flow of milk – shame I haven’t got any 😉 .
It is said that this behavior is not uncommon. However, it is the first time that I have been the recipient of it. If it is fairly common, it is slightly disturbing as it possibly indicates an underlying emotional problem amongst domestic cats which we are not addressing.
We don’t fully understand why adult cats do this. Common sense tells me that it is due to insecurity. It is a bit like a person sucking his thumb. Humans have other habits which indicate feelings of insecurity and anxiety such a biting nails. Also, a supporting influence is the fact that we do keep our adult cats in a suspended state of kittenhood because they depend on us for everything as a kitten would.
I’ll state right away that my foster cat is fairly confident and generally relaxed or, at least, that is the impression he gives me. He is young though and bit immature. He lacks life experience and simply being a foster cat is potentially stressful because his life is unsettled. These elements are almost certainly causes. I don’t know anything about his early weeks and months. He is about 9 months of age (estimated).
The experts say that it can be due to early weaning; being weaned before he/she is ready.
I am not sure why early weaning might lead to the adult cat suckling his owner. Common sense, again, dictates the answer: the cat has a sense of insecurity because he didn’t receive all the maternal reassurances that nursing provides. Is that correct? It feels correct to me.
The problem is this: suckling a person’s clothes may pass but it may stick. It may develop into an obsessive compulsive condition (feline OCD). If that is the case this habit may stress up the human/cat relationship. If a cat can’t and won’t stop and does this indefinitely, it would have to be considered OCD, I’d have thought.
Donwton suckles me in bed for about 15 minutes. He makes my clothes wet with his saliva. I let him do it because to stop him may hurt him emotionally. He needs the reassurance that suckling me brings him.
Obviously any form of punishment is out of the question. I guess I could bar him from the bedroom but for me that, too, is out if the question. He needs the company and companionship, and so do I.
It is difficult to block him from getting at my clothes because he is persistent – aren’t all cats? ASPCA suggest that the person being suckled gets up and removes herself from her cat’s attentions every time her cat suckles. Over time (how long?) the cat unlearns the habit. That is the theory.
The above can be combined with a toy to distract the cat and in addition a substitute item to suckle can be employed such as a “rawhide coated with cheese spread”! It might work.
The underlying emotional condition remains, however: insecurity. This may well fade over time especially if the caretaker provides an extremely emotionally secure environment for her cat which is also fully enriched.
One last point comes to mind. If a foster cat is behaving in a way which may stress the relationship it could cause problems for the long term viability of the relationship if the new “cat owner” is new to cat caretaking.