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Cat Suckling And Kneading

Some cats seem to nurse on clothes or objects while they knead with their paws. While doing this they usually seem quite content and happy. As with any behavior concern, the first question to ask is, "Is this really a problem?"  In some cases, we can ignore it, or even vicariously enjoy the pastime. This behavior is seen more often in cats who are weaned early, suggesting the weaning process may not have been completed.

As with any behavior concern, the first question to ask is, "Is this really a problem?"  In some cases, we can ignore it, or even vicariously enjoy the pastime.

When is it a problem? One thing to look for is if the cat is really chewing, which is defined as using carnassial (molar) teeth. The second issue is whether or not he or she is swallowing material. In the latter case, the concern is for a possible intestinal obstruction. The recommendations for true inappropriate chewing are to redirect the cat's chewing to something more desirable such as a high fiber cat treat, and to increase the fiber in the diet such as bran fiber, or grated carrots or celery mixed in with the regular food. Also, provide the cat with an indoor garden that is safe to chew such as the "cat grass" sold in pet stores. Eating a small amount of chlorophyll laden grass falls within a normal diet for a cat.

The second thing to consider is whether or not behavior modification is indicated. Does this behavior seems to fit the criteria for obsessive compulsive disorder?  The tip off here is when the cat continues excessively in the face of efforts to redirect or stop the behavior. In a true obsessive compulsive disorder, the pet gets relief from anxiety by participating in the compulsive behavior. These cases usually require psychoactive medication for relief.

The recommendation for inappropriate chewing is to redirect the chewing to something more desirable such as a high fiber cat treat.

For those cases where the behavior occurs more than desired, but is not obsessive compulsive, a milder, easier regime is indicated - stand up and walk away. This is what the mother cat does during the weaning process. It may help to increase exercise like chasing a string. It may also help to increase the tactile stimulus such as petting and massaging as long as the cat is NOT suckling and kneading. In some cases, food treats are used. The idea here is to first determine the timing or circumstances when the behavior occurs. Give healthy tasty kitty treats (high quality commercial treats, freeze dried liver, or small frozen pieces of tinned shrimp or chicken.) when the cat is on your lap before kneading or suckling begins.  If the cat starts either, get up and move or move the cat off your lap.

One last suggestion. Since this behavior is affiliative (wanting to affiliate), you might look for a cat companion that seems to really like physical contact. There is no problem with cats suckling on each other as long as no hair is being swallowed. They are quite capable of setting their own personal limits, since they "speak the same language."

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