Why do some adult cats suckle like kittens?

A picture of a grown kitten suckling milk from a bottle in his "arms" brings to mind quite a commonplace question about adult cats which is that sometimes they suckle on objects which are not their mother's breast. It's a form of compulsive suckling as if they are kittens i.e. permanent kittens.

And this is for me, a part of the answer. I see this "problem" being to do with two issues, one of which is an overarching issue and the other is a more specific issue.

Adult siblings suckling each other
Adult siblings suckling each other. Screenshot. See base of page for explanation.

RELATED: Sibling suckling.

Overarching issue

I call this an overarching issue because it seems to me that cat owners a.k.a. cat caregivers (which is a better description), through their actions and their relationship between themselves and their domestic cat companion, keep their cats in a permanent state of kittenhood. 

Because they constantly provide food, security and warmth to their cat companions, the cat's normal adult behaviours which would have developed are suppressed. They are suppressed to the point where the adult cat thinks and behaves like a kitten. 

And in thinking and behaving like a kitten they suckle at their mother's breast and if that is unavailable which it will be, they find a substitute which could be anything which vaguely resembles the original suckling target, their mother's nipples. This might be an arm, an ear, or a fabric such as blankets and towels.

Specific issues

One specific reason for an adult suckling like a kitten is for self-calming. Stress can lead to obsessive behaviours in cats as it can in people which might include suckling. Over-grooming accessible areas such as the belly is also a response to stress which is designed to calm a cat.

Another specific issue would be a genetically inherited predisposition to adult cat suckling in breeds such as Siamese, Tonkinese and Balinese.

Early weaning can lead to an adult cat suckling on their owner's arm, hand or earlobe example. What I'm saying here is that the kitten was weaned too early for whatever reason. 

It might have been a person who is informally breeding their female cat. Quite a lot of people do this but they do it without the requisite knowledge. They do it to make a few pounds or bucks. 

You see lots of adverts on the Internet for non-purebred cats being sold cheaply. Some won't be weaned properly and some will be stuck in kittenhood seeking reassurance from their cat owner by this often-unwanted behaviour.


It's a natural instinct and a very strong one in young kittens to suckle and it can last into adulthood for the reasons described. This is another background driver to this abnormal adult behaviour. 

The picture on this page above is of sibling suckling. Sibling suckling is when siblings, who should be weaned, are not in their minds and they treat each other as their mother and suckle from each other's breast for comfort and reassurance. It's is believed that this is also caused by early weaning.


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