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Why does my cat suckle on my clothes and skin?

By Zoë Monk Content Writer

Published on the

Does your cat like to suck on your clothes and blankets? It's more common than you think. Here we'll look at why cats do it and how you can help them stop.

Cats are mysterious animals and can display some rather strange behaviours. For instance, have you ever asked yourself, "why does my cat suck on blankets?" It can look rather endearing, but wet patches on your clothes and blankets are quite the opposite. So why do they do it?

Why does my cat suck on blankets?

Some cats suck on blankets because they feel anxious or experience separation anxiety. Suckling provides them with a way to self-soothe. It can also be because your cat is feeling bored or if your cat likes to suckle on blankets while being close to you, it can be a way for them to show you love and affection. Some experts believe that a cat sucking on blankets is a sign that they were taken from its mum too early and, consequently, weaned off nursing too soon.

When a cat suckles a piece of fabric (or your skin), they mimic the action of suckling on its mum. This includes kneading around the teat area to stimulate milk production. This sucking habit usually stops by itself as kittens become adult cats. However, for some cats, the habit can continue in adulthood. Some oriental cat breeds, such as the Siamese and Burmese, are more likely to need to suckle than others. This could be because these cats usually come from small litters and would get more time suckling their mother. Oriental breeds also tend to have longer weaning times and are, therefore, more likely to be taken away from their mother early. 

Why does my cat nurse on me?

When cats are taken from their mum too early, they still have the instinctive need to suckle, so they will switch to sucking on fabrics or even their human family for comfort. Cats typically do it while purring, making them feel safe and secure. It's not unusual for a kitten to try to "nurse" on their pet parent's skin, whether it's your arm or earlobe, as they are responding to you as if you are their mother cat. It's a good idea to discourage your cat from this behaviour, especially as it can get uncomfortable for you the bigger your cat becomes.

Cat suckling: Is it a bad thing?

While cat sucking is fairly normal behaviour, you need to ensure that the sucking isn't becoming too frequent or excessive and that your cat doesn't ingest fabric. In some cases, cat suckling can be associated with behavioural problems linked with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, a lack of environmental stimulation, conflict, stress or anxiety disorders. It can also be in response to pain, a new health issue or a flare-up of a preexisting condition. You can help to distract them from this behaviour by keeping them active and ensuring they have plenty of mental stimulation (making sure your cat has access to scratching posts and toys to play with, for example). Whatever the cause of your cat's suckling, you mustn't encourage or punish the behaviour. If you become concerned about it or it becomes excessive, speak to your vet for advice. 

How to get a cat to stop nursing on blankets

Most cats grow out of suckling blankets by 12 months. However, some cats will continue this behaviour throughout their lives, and as long as it's not a symptom of anxiety or illness, it's not really a problem. However, if the suckling is intense or more frequent, you may want to consider helping your cat break the habit. When your cat begins sucking something, gently push them away or put your hand between its mouth and whatever they are trying to suckle. If this doesn't work, try gently moving them to a different location, away from the item they like to suck. Over time, your cat will learn that suckling is not acceptable behaviour. Alternatively, you can encourage them to refocus their suckling behaviour on their toys rather than yourself or your soft furnishings. But be patient. It can take time to break this habit. 

Understanding why your cat suckles on your blankets and clothes can help you decide the best solutions to help them break the habit. If your cat only sucks on blankets (or your skin) occasionally, and it's not causing any issues, then it shouldn't be a problem. However, if the behaviour seems obsessive or the cat may be in pain or distress, it's a good idea to get advice from your vet.

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