All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Nursing Cat...



Dear Marie,
About 4 months ago we adopted a little kitten from an animal shelter. He seemed extraordinarily small at the time and apparently had come into the shelter without a mom; but he was weaned and was eating solid food so the shelter people told us he was ready to go. He has been a joy for as long as we have had him. He bonded to us immediately, sleeps with us every night, follows us everywhere, and immediately jumps in a lap as soon as it becomes available. Most people who meet him think he acts more like a dog than a cat. He is perfectly well behaved, uses his little box and scratching post; I just can’t say enough good things about him.

We do have one little issue though that maybe you can help us with. When he sits in our lap or lies across our tummies, he kneads us with his little, razor sharp claws, drools and “nurses” on our clothing until he falls asleep. I constantly have wet spots on my shirt after he’s been on my lap, along with dozens of little claw marks on my legs and stomach from his kneading. I feel like the old cartoon bulldog who befriended the little stray kitten. I don’t have the heart to stop him – because I know there is no malice behind what he’s doing. But it sure would be nice if he would stop. Got any suggestions???
Sylvia and Jack

Dear Sylvia,
It appears that your kitten lost his mother far too early in life. Generally, it is not a good idea to separate a kitten from its mom until it is between three to four months old, and sometimes longer than that if the kitten seems like it needs a little extra nurturing time. But even if there is early separation for whatever reason, kittens usually do not suffer many adverse consequences.

In the worst-case scenarios, early separation may result in a cat who does not develop very good personal hygiene habits; but even that is rare. The behaviors you have described are the ones most commonly observed and usually cats grow out of the majority of them, given enough time.

Your kitten has completely accepted you two as his parents and he feels very secure and content while in your lap – this is the same feeling he would have experienced while snuggling with his mother. The kneading is a behavior that is very primal and one that he does not even consciously do. Newborn kittens knead the underside of their mothers’ bellies to stimulate milk flow. Just as with baby humans, the act of nursing comforts kittens and helps them drift away to sleep.

However, nursing triggers another physiological response associated with the anticipation of food – and that would be drooling. You may recall Pavlov’s dogs and that famous experiment. Even though your kitten’s kneading and suckling of your favorite t-shirts are not going to produce milk for him any time soon, deep in his psyche is the conditioning that kneading and nursing is related to food and hence, the drool is inevitable.

I have had a number of cats over the years that would spend a good five to ten minutes kneading my lap before they would relax, and if I moved even a fraction of an inch after that, they would have to start the whole kneading process over again. I can definitely relate to your desire for your kitten to get past this. The truth is that the kneading aspect of this babyish behavior may not go away. You should consider various steps that you can take that will help minimize your discomfort.

First, clip your cat’s claws regularly. If you make this a weekly routine, your kitten will not have a problem with it. His shorter claws will likely not make it through most clothing that you wear. Second, put a blanket in your lap if it looks like your kitten has chosen you to be the recipient of his “love” for the moment. He can knead a blanket for as long as his heart desires, and your legs will remain unscathed. Finally, don’t settle into a spot if you are wearing nice clothes or nylons. If it is going to be lap-time for kitty, change into comfy house clothes first.

I think it is actually very sweet that your kitten has so fully accepted you as his mommy and daddy. You have a cat who will always be very people-oriented and loving. If he outgrows his infant-like behaviors, I have a feeling you will always recount them with a smile.

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