#16 mildly obsessive need to suckle on my elbow

Jennie wrote:

Hi there, I was just thinking I could ask a question about a behavior issue of my cat I adopted. I adopted "black Bart" a year and a half ago (now renamed Mr. Darcy). He has been a great, loving and frisky cat with me, my dog and my other cat. He is definitely a one person cat which is fine and isn't a problem at all.

However, he is coming up on 2 years soon and he still has a mildly obsessive need to suckle my elbow. I've tried pushing him away and all he does is push harder to get at it, to the point he'll even hang upside down!! On the one hand this doesn't totally bother me, but on the other hand, it is often inconvenient. Is this normal? I didn't know if this is common in feral cats, I do know the one person thing is. Do you have any suggestions on how to correct this behavior ? Or is it just a lost cause at this point? Other than that he seems happy and well adjusted and is a joy to have around :-) Sincerely, Jennie


Dear Jennie,

I don't know the circumstances under which Black Bart, a.k.a. Mr. Darcy was rescued but I suspect he was taken from his feral mother sooner than he would have liked. Although his life improved for the better, in many ways, under normal circumstances he would have nursed with his mother until maybe 3 months. Nursing moms produce hormones that slowly wear off and they stop nursing once the kittens are eating solid food and have learned to hunt for themselves. Since 3 months old is too late to socialize a feral kitten we try to take them off the street at around 6-7 weeks when they can still be tamed easily. At 5-7 weeks, they have already gotten a lot of training from mom about bathing, etiquette, etc. and with proper care they can adjust to coming indoors, being socialized and living with humans. Black Bart may feel he really didn't get enough time nursing and finds nursing on your elbow to be reassuring, since after all you became his new mom. Since you feed him every day, you've taken that role in his mind.

Some cats outgrow this behavior but for some it becomes a pleasurable habit if allowed to indulge themselves. In his mind he may just enjoy the activity and time with you "bonding." Without any scolding, his original mom would have pushed him away when she needed to go of hunting so you should feel fine doing the same when you have things to do. He'll enjoy it when you allow it but try to stop the activity without any scolding or rejection when you need to get on with your day.

Whenever possible, we continue to allow kittens being socialized to interact with gentle and healthy adult cats. The older cats will often bathe the kittens and continue their etiquette lesson for social skills. Overly rough play or aggression will not be tolerated by an older cat who. Without mom around, who better teach a kitten life lessons. One of the Urban Cat League rescued cats, Ralphie is one of the bests Nannies we've had. He will bathe and entire litter of kittens one by one from nose to tail. He has the energy of a kitten and can play with them for hours. When he gets tired, he'll just take a nap and even allows kittens to nurse on him which seems to make them very happy.

We also never adopt out a single young kitten to live alone. We always pair them with a sibling or an older cat who has the patience to deal with a kitten. It can take time for an older cat who has lived alone to get used to a rambunctious kitten but it usually works out within a month even when the older cat seems to resent the new youngster.

Young kittens who don't spend enough time with an older cat in early stages of life need lots of attention to compensate. Bottle Babies who get lots of attention and handling from humans often do fine and become extremely bonded and affectionate to humans. It's the kittens taken from mom to early but don't get that extra care that sometimes develop behavioral problems with separation anxiety or poor social skills with other cats. Of course, every cat and story is unique!

Best, Mike