Why Do Cats Suckle in Their Sleep?

Common
Normal

Introduction

You'll have probably noticed your feline friend spends the majority of their time sleeping — as long as 16 hours a day for fully grown house lions! While catching some Z's, your fur-baby has loads of dreams and no doubt twists and turns a bunch. One common behavioral trait you see among cats, asleep or awake, is suckling. 

Suckling is very common, and no doubt every kitty caretaker has seen their cat suckling while enjoying some chin rubs or "making muffins". But is suckling as harmless as it seems? And is it normal for your cat to suckle while sleeping? Let's find out.

The Root of the Behavior

There are a few possible reasons why Smudge is suckling during naptime. Similar to kneading, this behavior stems from nursing. When your cat was just a teeny fur-bean, they'd knead and suckle their mama to show they were hungry.

When a cat suckles, it's usually on a person's finger or a soft blanket, as this simulates their experiences with nursing as a kitten. Suckling is a natural instinct and is common amongst the majority of felines. Suckling is also more common among oriental breeds, like Siamese and Burmese, compared to European or Northern American felines. 

Suckling is usually a sign of comfort or contentment, so if your cat is suckling while sleeping, it's likely because they're relaxed. Another possible reason for suckling while asleep is your cat is dreaming about being a kitten again. Cute!

While generally nothing to worry about, suckling can be the result of weaning a cat too early or too quickly. Cats should be weaned between 6 and 8 weeks old, and any earlier could result in excess suckling. 

It's also possible that excess suckling can be the result of a compulsive disorder resulting from stress. Pain caused by an underlying dental or medical condition is another reason why your cat may suckle excessively. That being said, if your cat is suckling in their sleep, it's unlikely to be related to a medical condition or compulsive behavior, as they're doing so subconsciously.

Encouraging the Behavior

If your cat is suckling in their sleep, it's likely nothing to worry about and can be treated as normal behavior. There's no real reason to encourage or discourage suckling, especially if they're doing so while asleep. If you'd like to avoid your cat suckling as much as possible (even while sleeping), then ensure they are correctly weaned during kittenhood.

You should arrange regular playtimes with your feline fur-baby and try changing up the toys. Cats love puzzle toys — a bit of added entertainment may stop the suckling. If nothing works, contact a vet, who may run some tests to determine if the suckling is related to a medical issue.
The only time to really worry about your cat suckling in their sleep is if they are suckling excessively day or night. It's more likely that excessive suckling is caused by a compulsive disorder rather than a medical issue. Your cat may also display other compulsive behaviors to watch out for, like excessive grooming, chewing, and tail chasing.

Before rushing Felix off to the vet, there are a few things you can try to stop excess suckling. First, provide some hard dental treats in case the behavior is related to a minor dental issue. If you think your cat's suckling is compulsive, try adding some extra stimulation into their day-to-day life.

Other Solutions and Considerations

There's not much to consider with your cat suckling in their sleep — other than it's adorable! It's widely accepted as normal behavior and is nothing to worry about. Perhaps one thing to consider is what blankets you let your cat suckle. 

Wool blankets may come apart while your cat is suckling, leading your fur-baby to accidentally inhale or ingest some wool, which can be dangerous. The best thing to do is find a soft non-wool blanket and let your cat use it under your supervision. If they suckle it lots over a period of time and it doesn't come apart, then it should be fine for your cat to use in the long run.

Conclusion

Usually, cats suckle in their sleep due to natural instinct or dreaming about being a kitten again. Suckling is normal behavior and is nothing to worry about if your cat only does it while sleeping. Often accompanied by lots of purring and kneading, suckling usually equates to happiness. 

Excess suckling coupled with other compulsive behaviors could be a sign of something more serious. If you can't resolve the issue on your own, consult a vet who'll be able to perform and diagnose the cause.