Why is My 12 Week Old Kitten Trying to Nurse [Explained]

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. We greatly appreciate your support!

12 Week Old Kitten Trying to Nurse

Have you ever wondered why is your 12-week-old kitten trying to nurse? It’s a fascinating aspect of feline behavior that many cat owners encounter.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the different factors that contribute to this nursing tendency in older kittens, as well as the potential risks and concerns it presents.

Moreover, we’ll provide you with practical tips to manage and discourage such behavior effectively.

So, let’s dive into the world of kittens and unravel the mystery behind their prolonged nursing habits!

I. Reasons Why Kittens Try to Nurse at 12 Weeks

1. Weaning Too Early

Kittens should stay with their mothers until they are 12-14 weeks old. This period allows them to socialize well with other cats, animals, and humans.

When kittens are adopted before reaching these milestones, they may develop “wool-sucking syndrome,” a common behavior where they suckle on other cats, humans, or fabrics, especially wool.

When kittens can no longer access their mother’s teats, they may mimic nursing behavior to stimulate milk flow.

2. Comfort Seeking

Nursing provides more than nourishment. Kittens find comfort and safety in maternal contact. This is why nursing can continue even after 12 weeks.

When the mother is no longer available, kittens may transfer their need for comfort onto other cats, humans, or fabrics.

3. Learned Behavior from Mother or Littermates

Kitten looking at its mother

Kittens learn essential behaviors and social skills from their mothers and littermates during their early developmental stages. Among these behaviors is nursing.

As kittens grow and observe their surroundings, they may also imitate other behaviors exhibited by their mother or siblings.

In some cases, kittens may continue nursing past the typical weaning age because they have observed their mother or littermates engaging in this behavior.

This prolonged nursing can become a learned habit, as kittens associate it with comfort, bonding, or a way to cope with stress or anxiety.

4. Stress or Anxiety

Stressed cat

Environmental changes or stress may trigger a resurgence of nursing behavior in kittens.

Nursing can be a self-soothing mechanism for kittens to cope with stress or anxiety, providing them with a sense of comfort and familiarity.

If you notice increased nursing in response to stress, it’s essential to identify and address any potential triggers. Common stressors for kittens may include:

  1. Introducing a new pet into the household
  2. Moving to a new home
  3. Changing the kitten’s environment or routine
  4. Loud noises or disruptions in the home
  5. Separation from their mother or littermates

5. Suckling Reflex

Like human newborns, kittens possess a suckling reflex that is triggered when their lips make contact with a solid object.

This reflex is essential during the early weeks of a kitten’s life, as it ensures they can effectively nurse and receive nourishment from their mother.

Although the suckling reflex typically diminishes as kittens grow and mature, some may retain it for an extended period.

In these cases, kittens may continue to nurse on various objects, seeking comfort or reassurance through this innate behavior.

II. Risks and Concerns Associated with Kitten Nursing Behavior

1. Physical Harm to the Kitten

Prolonged nursing behavior in kittens can lead to physical harm to both the kitten and the nursing target (another cat or an object).

Traumatic lesions can occur on the kitten’s tongue or the skin of the nursing target due to excessive or aggressive suckling.

In severe cases, this behavior can cause skin issues like eczema and difficulties in urinating or defecating.

Additionally, the risk of respiratory or digestive infections may increase as a result of prolonged nursing, especially if the kitten ingests harmful substances like urine or feces during the process.

2. Psychological Distress and Dependency

Continued nursing can lead to psychological distress and dependency in kittens. When kittens continue to nurse for comfort or as a coping mechanism, they may develop a strong reliance on the behavior.

This dependency can contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety, particularly if the source of comfort is not readily available.

Studies have shown that kittens weaned before eight weeks of age, as well as those that continue nursing past 12 weeks, may exhibit increased aggression towards other cats and humans.

This aggression could be a manifestation of the stress and anxiety resulting from their dependency on nursing.

3. Potential Health Concerns

Prolonged nursing behavior may also be associated with an increased risk of obesity in cats. When kittens continue to nurse for comfort or reassurance, they may develop unhealthy eating habits that persist into adulthood.

Overeating or consuming an imbalanced diet can result in excessive weight gain and, ultimately, obesity.

Obesity in cats can lead to numerous health problems as they age, including diabetes, heart disease, joint issues, and a reduced lifespan.

III. Tips to Discourage a 12-Week-Old Kitten from Nursing

1. Separating the Kitten from the Source of Comfort

Weaning is a crucial developmental step typically initiated by the mother cat and completed within 12 weeks.

If the mother fails to wean the kitten, the owner should intervene by gradually introducing age-appropriate kibble to help ease the transition.

2. Providing Alternative Sources of Comfort

Owner offering toy to his cat

To redirect nursing behavior, offer kittens alternative sources of comfort, such as toys, safe objects, or soft blankets. Introducing the kitten to new experiences and environments can stimulate other senses, reducing the nursing reflex.

Additionally, using a pheromone diffuser can provide comfort and reduce stress in the kitten’s living space.

3. Training the Kitten to Self-Soothe

Help your kitten learn to self-soothe by replacing nursing behavior with positive habits, such as grooming, playing, or exploring. Engaging your kitten in activities like fetching, using exercise wheels, or providing interactive toys can encourage the development of healthy behaviors.

Remember to be patient and gentle throughout this process, as it takes time for kittens to adjust to new habits and routines.

4. Seeking Veterinary Advice

If nursing behavior persists despite your efforts, consult a veterinarian. They can help determine if there is an underlying medical issue causing the behavior and advise on any necessary treatments.

In some cases, anxiety-related nursing may require medication. By addressing the root causes of nursing behavior in 12-week-old kittens and providing appropriate support, you can help your kitten develop into a healthy, well-adjusted adult cat.


We hope that this article has provided you with valuable insights into the reasons behind a 12-week-old kitten’s nursing behavior and the potential risks associated with it.

We’d love to hear about your experiences or any questions you may have on this topic.

So please feel free to leave a comment below and share your thoughts or stories with fellow cat lovers.

We're an affiliate

We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, gameraround.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon.com.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top