Cats are full of unusual behaviors that never cease to amaze us, especially since unusual behaviors can vary so much between individual cats. Maybe you’re one of the people who has a cat that drools when it purrs, or maybe your cat only wants to eat when you’re petting them. Some people’s cats have a really unusual behavior, though, and that is sucking on their fingers. Why would a cat even want to do this? Listed below are some reasons why.
The 7 Common Reasons Cats Suck on Fingers
When kittens are born, they naturally have the instinct to suckle. In fact, kittens that don’t have this instinct when they are born will usually die without extra help to encourage them to suckle and get nutrition.
Suckling is an instinct that only serves an important purpose for kittens, but some adult cats retain the instinct to suckle. This is typically combined with a fuzzy blanket or rug and a biscuit-making session. That isn’t to say that your cat won’t try to suck on your fingers, too. Just the sensation of suckling may appease your cat’s instinctual desire to do so, even if it’s on your skin.
2. Taken Too Early
Veterinarians recommend keeping kittens with their mother until they are at least 8 weeks of age. Keeping kittens with their mother and littermates, even well into and beyond weaning, is an important part of your cat’s social development, as well as an opportunity for them to learn how to “cat” from an expert cat: their mother.
Sometimes, kittens are taken from their mother when they are too young. If your kitten is taken from its mother before weaning has even begun, then they are likely to retain the instinct to suckle into adulthood. This is simply because they didn’t complete the social and mental development associated with being slowly weaned at an appropriate age.
3. Bottle Feeding
In some situations, kittens who are taken from their mother too early are still old enough to be weaned onto wet food or kitty gruel. What happens if you have a 2-week-old kitten who has become orphaned, though? For kittens too young to be weaned and either without a mother or without a mother who will accept them, they must be bottle-fed by people.
Kitten formula is available at most pet stores, as well as online. It is a necessary action to keep kittens alive when they no longer have a mother. Unfortunately, bottle feeding also means your kitten was taken from their mother at far too young an age for proper social and mental development, so they may continue to suckle on your skin or fuzzy items throughout their life.
If your cat suddenly begins to suck on your fingers as an adult, and it’s a behavior they have not exhibited before, then it’s possible your cat is stressed. Cats can be stressed by any number of things, including moving, a new baby in the home, a change in their food, and even a change in their litter box’s location.
When cats become stressed, sucking on items is an attempt at self-soothing. When they do this behavior, it reminds them of nursing off of their mother or bottle feeding, and may release happiness hormones like it would when they were a baby. A stressed cat will look for ways to make their environment less stressful, and this may be an inappropriate behavior, like peeing where the litter box used to be or something as simple as suckling behaviors.
Pain is essentially a subset of stress in cats. All cats in pain are stressed, but all stressed cats aren’t in pain. That doesn’t mean your cat won’t look for ways to soothe themselves when they are uncomfortable or in pain, though.
Some cats may begin sucking on fingers and other objects as a self-soothing measure in an attempt to reduce or eliminate their pain. If sucking on fingers is a new behavior for your cat, then it is possible they are in pain, and they should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. Cats are experts at hiding their pain from us, so make sure to watch for unusual behaviors and small signs, like suckling, that may indicate there is a problem.
Cats can develop symptoms similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, in humans. Usually, compulsive symptoms develop due to a stressor that your cat is experiencing, and some of the symptoms of compulsive behaviors include suckling and overgrooming. Your cat may even begin to attempt to groom you. While this is a cute behavior that some cats naturally do, you should monitor it for other unusual behaviors or signs of stress or compulsion.
If your cat experienced a stressful situation that led to compulsive behaviors, they may continue the behaviors long after the stressor has been remedied. This is because compulsive behaviors can become habitual for your cat, leading to life-long issues. Your cat may also defer back to this type of behavior when they are stressed, even if they don’t do it when they are not stressed.
Oddly enough, there are a few cat breeds that are commonly associated with finger sucking and other suckling behaviors. Eastern cat breeds, like Tonkinese, Siamese, and Balinese, are far more likely to exhibit this behavior than Western cat breeds. One notable exception to this is the Sphynx breed, which started as a genetic mutation of Domestic Shorthair cats.
It’s possible that certain cat breeds are just more likely to retain the instinct to suckle into adulthood, but nobody really knows why certain cat breeds do this at a greater frequency than others.
Is Sucking on Fingers a Sign of Illness?
The important thing to understand is that if your cat is sucking on your fingers, it can be a sign of an illness, but it is not a guarantee that there is anything wrong with your cat. You may take them to the vet and come home with a completely clean bill of health, but your vet may also find an underlying condition that you weren’t aware was brewing.
Even though it isn’t a guarantee of a problem, it’s a good idea to get your cat to the vet to rule out any problems. Cats may begin sucking on your fingers in an attempt to soothe dental pain or pain anywhere else in the body.
They may also begin sucking on your fingers when they’ve experienced or are experiencing an extremely stressful situation. While you should get your cat seen by your vet, you should also look for other unusual behaviors that may indicate stress and check your home for new stressors.
Some stressors may be very obvious, while others may be something that seems very simple to us, so get creative when looking for changes and stressors in the home. Does your new heater make more noise than the last one? Does your new laundry detergent smell different than the last one? Did you replace your cat’s food bowl or move their litter box?
If your cat is sucking on your fingers, there are multiple reasons that could be behind it. Some cats may do it throughout their lives, while others may suddenly start doing it. A notable change in your cat’s behaviors, like finger sucking, should be investigated by your vet to rule out physiologic problems and illnesses.
Featured Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock