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Dear Kyra, I have an adopted 5-month-old ginger boy named Barney. He's a very sweet, funny kitty, and I love him to pieces. But...he has some strange quirks. The nice people at the animal shelter told me that he was separated from his mom too early and was bottle fed for a while, so he liked to "suckle" on people's fingers.

I thought that this was cute and he would eventually grow out of it. The problem is that he's not growing out of it, and it's getting worse. When I'm trying to sleep at night, he will try to suckle my nose, earlobes, neck, or any exposed skin. Of course, he also "makes biscuits" on me at the same time. This is rather annoying when I'm trying to get a good night's sleep. (Have you ever tried to sleep while another kitty makes biscuits on your chin? It's hard!)

How can I break my Barney of this habit? I've tried using strongly scented skin care products in hopes that he wouldn't like the taste, but it hasn't made any difference. Please help?

Lyndsae Raleigh

Lyndsae, Sigh. These little guys are so demanding! I'm constantly fending off the demanding attentions of Alex, Hephaestion and Magellan. All they want to do is knead and suckle and eat and follow me around. It's demeaning to all types of cats, really. Kneading and suckling are two separate behaviors though, so let's take them one at a time. Originally, kneading is done to help stimulate the flow of milk while kittens are nursing. The kitten will often salivate a bit at the thought of the milk (much like Pavlov's dogs - shudder), and kneading is generally done at the rate of one stroke per second. Eventually the rate picks up as the kitten is rewarded (or un-rewarded) by the behavior. So the fact that Barney is doing this with you shows that he is attempting to nurse, which means he trusts you and feels on some level that you are his provider and his mother. Bravo! You should feel honored! The fact that Barney is exhibiting this type of behavior towards you is a very good thing. Cats (and kittens) only perform this behavior when they feel as though they are with their mother. It is not a result of being weaned too early, although I'm not saying that isn't a contributing factor. However, since nearly all cats do this in moments of emotional contentment, I believe that it is merely a sign of showing pleasure for their owner. Kneading can also be attributed to "territorial marking". In the deep recesses of our paws, we have "scent glands" near the base of our claws - another reason why humans should NEVER DECLAW A CAT! These little glands allow us to leave our scent in areas that we have crossed, or pawed, or clawed, so that the other cats know what is ours. Barney is telling everyone around that you are his alone! He is marking his territory! (Be happy he is not spraying!). Suckling, however, is an entirely different issue and could very well be a result of Barney being weaned too early. However, there are other issues that could be contributing to this behavior. Only you know, Barney! Here are a few suggestions to try, if you haven't already done so: 1. First, pick up some Feliway and/or ComfortZone to put into the most-used room of your house! This remarkable stuff will help Barney relax as it releases feline pheromones into the air and helps them stay calm and content. Mom put some in our house everyone calmed down right away! I think it will help Barney feel a little more secure. 2. Provide Barney with an "indoor garden". One of our favorites is the Kitty Grass Garden by Smart Cats. It's easy to grow (ours sprouted ONE DAY after my mom planted it in the house, and she usually kills all plants!). A higher fiber snack may be more desirable to Barney and help distract him from suckling. 3. Try just standing up and walking away. This is what "mom cat" does during the weaning process. Barney may require being "weaned" all over again. Don't talk to him, or give him any extra attention. Just leave. After a few days of this, he will grow bored and realize that you will not be providing "milk" or "comfort" anymore and he will need to locate it on his own. 4. Each night, provide a silent "smart toy" or two for Barney. Something that brings out his hunting instincts is purrfect. Our favorites are on our Christmas list: Check out the Furry mice (great for night-time play), the Cat Spa, the Star Chaser and the Catfisher Mouse and Mitt. Any of those should help tremendously. (They are also quiet, so you can still sleep while he plays). 5. You may consider adopting another furry friend for Barney. Occasionally they just need another kitten or cat to play with! Many shelters will let you bring Barney in to meet with a new little friend who he might get along well with. This may be the answer to your prayers. 6. Ask a vet to examine Barney's molar teeth (and all his teeth for that matter!). Occasionally, sore mouths may stop them from eating solid food, which increases the need for suckling and also helps them get their mind off of pain. 7. Finally as a last resort, you might ask your vet if Barney fits the criteria for being "Obsessive Compulsive". If so, there are medications available to treat this disorder. However, this should be a last resort. Please be sure to try every other option listed above first. Hopefully one or more of these suggestions will provide some peace and non-kneading, non-suckling into your home. Likely, you will never rid of yourself of the kneading, just know that you are honored to have your kitty trust you so much! It's not too many people who can be an honorary "cat mom"! But, the suckling should be rectified. That can be annoying and it should be fixable. If any of these suggestions don't work, please stay in touch and I'll consult some of my other feline friends for their ideas!

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stacymantle
Author: stacymantle
About the Author

Stacy Mantle is a freelance writer who currently resides in the southwestern deserts of Arizona with a few dogs, several cats, and a very understanding husband. She is a regular contributor to Pet Age Magazine, Catster, Animal Behavior College, and of course, PetsWeekly. Many of her stories and articles have been translated into several languages, and now reach an international audience. She is also the author of a bestselling urban fantasy/thriller, Shepherd's Moon; a humor book entitled, Conquering the Food Chain: Living Amongst Animals (Without Becoming One), and a line of Educational Activity Books for children.


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