Behavior – Kitten Kneading, Rooting and Suckling

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Dear Your Own Vet,

My boyfriend and I took in an abandoned kitten one week ago (I believe he is now between 2 and 4 weeks old total).  We bottle feed him with kitten formula we purchased from the pet store.  However, even after he has just been fed he roots excessively (and aggressively).  While he does this against our bodies a lot, it is especially prominent with sheets.  Basically, unless he is eating, sleeping, playing, or pooping, he is rooting.  Is there something we should be doing about this behavior?


Kitten kneading excessively

Is a young kitten rooting/kneading excessively normal?

From our behaviorist

Hi Whitney,
Thanks for your question about your kitten. My main area of expertise is dog behaviour, but I am in the process of working for cat’s behavioural problems, so here goes :-
You ask about your cat “rooting” – I am not actually sure what you mean by rooting?
If you mean “kneading” then this is normal behaviour in a kitten. The kitten will knead the mother whilst feeding as this stimulates the milk flow. They also knead for comfort.
In older cats, if they continue to knead, then it usually means that they have been weaned too early.
Some cats want to be with their human all the time. They stay in physical contact if possible and are vocal in demanding attention. Many of these cats knead and suck their owner’s clothes when they are being held. They may show signs of stress if they are left alone or do not get enough attention. Overly dependent behaviour in a cat can occur if the owner’s attitude to the cat encourages it, or if it has intensive nursing.
Start trying to teach the kitten to be more independent and when it starts to knead, discourage this.  Try to distract it from what it is doing and get its attention on something else. Maybe get a tickle feather and play with this as soon as it starts to knead.
Playing games is beneficial for kittens. However, if it gets too excited or aggressive stop and walk away. If it plays gently, make sure you praise it in order to reinforce this good behaviour. You can also reward with a tiny treat.
Unwanted behaviour must be distracted – a sharp noise like some stones shaken in a tin or dropping something on the floor.
Speak to your vet about getting a diffuser of a product called “Feliway”. This is a copy of a pheromone that is released from the mother when raising her kittens. It will really help in the room where the kitten is being kept. It will give calmness all round.

Kathy Clayton

Accredited Companion Animal Behaviourist &Professional Dog Trainer

011 783 3042   082 454 1750

From our Veterinarian

Kitten behavior

Kittens will root and knead their mother to stimulate milk flow

Dear Whitney,
It is very normal behavior for kittens – he sounds closer to 4 weeks than 2 if he is doing this, as at 2 weeks they have just opened their eyes and cannot walk yet, don’t play, can’t toilet on their own and sleep most of the time.  The only time it turns into destructive behavior is if he starts to suck on the sheets or on your clothes when doing this, as this can lead to an adult cat who chews and swallows pieces of cloth.  If he starts doing that then simply discourage it by putting him on the floor or in another room. If he is around 4 weeks, then you can start to introduce solids, usually soft kitten food or soaked pellets. I like the Royal Canin Babycat for weaning.
Kittens basically root and knead against the mother to stimulate milk flow. By weaning him onto solids, it might help to change the excessive kneading. I usually keep them on a combination of bottle and soilds between 4 and 6 weeks then soilds only  from 6 weeks.

Dr Claire Demmer



BVSC (Hons)

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