Q. My recently acquired Sphinx cat has an unusual and somewhat anti-social habit. She suckles on one of her nipples. Why does she do this?
JESSICA L DESROSIERS
A. Some cats can become very stressed when introduced to a new home, and may exhibit some behaviors that are used to help them calm down. Most commonly, kneading objects such as bedding or people, or purring loudly are used as ways to calm down. However, some cats may calm by using a suckle response, attempting to nurse on objects such as blankets and sweaters, other pets, or even engaging in self-suckling. While usually harmless, this can sometimes indicate a medical issue such as a hormonal imbalance, or may cause your cat to begin lactating. If this does occur, making a checkup appointment with your local vet is best.
If the behavior is stress related, giving other ways for your cat to calm down may help. Make sure to provide a space for her where she can run and hide if needed, away from activity, new people and new pets. Leaving a comfy bed, some food and water and even a litter box in a room away from the main activity can give her a place to escape and settle down some. As she gets more used to you and your family, she will become more social. There are also commercial pheromone diffusers that can be used in collar form or plugged into a wall outlet. These release a calming pheromone to cats, and can help cats that are very stressed settle down during a transition period.