Cats and dogs are supposed to be enemies. Even their owners are divided, with the classic question, “Are you a cat person or a dog person”. However, cats and dogs can happily coexist, and even nurse each other. 

Why does my cat nurse my dog?

Your cat nursing your dog is likely the last thing you ever expected to see. It can leave you confused and a little concerned. You are sure to be wondering why your cat is nursing your dog, and if it’s a safe behavior. 

Inter-species Adoption

Inter-species adoption is the technical name for a cat nursing a dog. It occurs in many species, in animals both wild and domestic. Dogs have adopted baby squirrels, and a dalmatian adopted a baby calf. 

There are a few theories about why this happens. In many cases, it’s a nursing mother that adopts a young animal from another species. During nursing, the mother has high levels of the bonding hormone oxytocin. 

This leads her to instinctively care for her young. It’s possible that this behavior can lead her to care for a baby from another species in the same way. 

Adoption can also occur, or be sustained, because of a mutual benefit. Benefits can include protection, hunting skills, and simple companionship. 

Maternal Experience

One potential motivation for adoption is gaining maternal experience. If the cat has not had kittens, suckling a puppy can give her experience she will need for her own young. 

Humans often babysit as a way to gain parenting experience, among other reasons. It’s not far fetched to think that animals could have the same motivation. 

Loss of Young

Cats grieve the loss of their young, just as humans do, although to a lesser degree. Both cats and dogs may adopt another animal or even a stuffed animal after losing their litter. 

This is their way of dealing with the loss. Their mothering instincts can sometimes drive them to find a surrogate child, particularly if none of the litter survived. 

Adult Suckling

What if your cat is nursing an adult dog? This may seem much stranger than a cat nursing a puppy, but it’s fairly common for dogs or cats to suckle as adults. There are some issues to consider if your dog is displaying this behavior. 

The behavior is similar to that of human toddlers. Young children suck on things for comfort, in addition to nutrition. This is why pacifers are popular. Some children also suck on their thumb for the same reason. 

Children typically grow out of the behavior, but some dogs do not. They find it comforting. They likely associate it with the warmth and comfort they experienced when suckling as a puppy. 

If your adult dog is suckling frequently, it can be a sign of anxiety. 

Is it ok if my cat nurses my dog?

Generally, yes. It’s ok for a cat to nurse a dog. However, there are some issues you should be aware of. It also depends on why the cat is nursing the dog. If it’s a nursing puppy, nutritional concerns could be an issue. 

Nutritional Concerns

If your cat is nursing your puppy as a surrogate mother, you’ll need to be sure they are getting the nutrition they need. Larger breeds of dogs will need more milk than a cat can provide. 

If the cat is also nursing kittens, she may struggle to produce enough milk to keep them all fed and healthy. It can also put a strain on the cat. Her body may lose some of it’s nutrition, because much of it is given to the young. 

If you suspect your cat can’t provide enough nutrition, you may need to bottle feed the puppy. Speak with your vet about a milk substitute. They can also tell you how much and how often to feed the puppy. 

You can allow them to nurse from the cat as well, but limit it. This will give the puppy the comfort of nursing from a mother, without putting undue strain on the cat or kittens. 

Social Needs

Cats and dogs have a very different social structure. Cats are loners, and dogs are pack animals. Cats will develop a close bond with their mother, their offspring, and their owner. However, this bond is based around instinct and being provided for. 

Dogs have a much greater need for socialization. A mother and puppy are essentially a pack. The mother, or potentially the owner, will be the alpha. The puppies will play together, sleep together, and form a close bond. 

A puppy being raised by a cat will need extra love and attention from the owner, because the cat will provide more limited social interaction than a canine mother and siblings. 

Sleep Schedule 

Dogs sleep at night and play and eat during the day. During the early weeks of puppyhood, puppies need to feed often. However, most of their activity will occur during the day, especially after the first 2-3 weeks. 

Cats, on the other hand, are more nocturnal. Their eyes are designed to see and hunt in darkness. You’ll find that they will sleep through part of the day and be awake part of the night. 

Suckling Injury

If a dog is suckling a cat frequently, particularly if it’s larger than the cat, this can lead to a suckling injury. A dog will naturally suckle harder than a cat. The larger it is, the more force it can exert when suckling. This can lead to bruising or abrasions on the cat. In this case, the dog should no longer be allowed to suckle the cat. 

How to get my cat to stop nursing my dog?

It’s not always necessary to stop the cat from nursing the dog. However, there are cases where that’s the best course of action. It’s also perfectly ok to find the behavior strange and undesirable and want to stop it for that reason alone. 

Adult Suckling

If your adult dog is suckling your cat, it’s best to redirect the behavior. They aren’t nursing for nutritional reasons. Instead, it’s a source of comfort for them. 

If it’s anxiety related, you’ll need to take steps to reduce or eliminate the cause of the anxiety. If they have a negative reaction to stimuli, like loud cars or other animals, expose them to it a little at a time.

Give them lots of support and a treat afterwards. Over time, this can help them see the exposure as a positive experience. Be sure to remove the dog from the stimuli as soon as they begin to get anxious. 

It can be helpful to give them a favorite soft toy. Some owners find a thundershirt greatly reduces their dog’s anxiety by applying gentle pressure.

Other owners have success with hemp dog chews. As a last resort, your veterinarian can prescribe medication for anxiety. 

Separate Them

The surest way to prevent the dog from nursing is to keep them separated. It’s likely not ideal to seperate them completely long term, but it can be an effective short-term solution. In the meantime, you can work on other methods as well. 

You can also choose to separate them each time you see the dog nursing. Eventually, they should learn that the behavior leads to something undesirable, being separated. 

Adjust Feeding Schedule

You may need to adjust the feeding schedule. It’s possible your dog is hungry, and that’s why they are nursing from the cat. If you notice they nurse at a certain time, feed them around that time. You may need to increase the amount of food, feed them more often, or both. 

Bitter Apple Spray

Bitter apple spray is a repellant spray. Dogs don’t like the taste of the spray, which should prevent your dog from nursing on the cat. Bitter spray is often used during house training or to stop dogs from chewing on things. 

Bitter apple spray can deter your dog from your cat’s stomach. Apply a small amount of bitter apple spray or other repellant. Be sure that it’s safe to use on the skin of your cat before applying. 

Why does my cat press their paws on my dog?

When your cat presses their paws on the dog, or you, it’s known as kneading. The paws will often make a kneading motion. There are a few reasons why your cat may knead their paws on your dog. 

Affection

Kittens knead their mother to stimulate milk. As adults, they will continue to knead because they associate it with comfort. It’s also a sign of affection. In fact, the happier your cat is, the harder they will knead. This can be painful if your cat has sharp claws. 

If your cat is kneeding the dog, it may be because they share a close bond. Cats are generally fairly solitary, but just like dogs, each has its own personality. Some dogs and cats develop close social relationships. 

Ownership

Dogs will infamously mark their territory by peeing on things. They also have scent glands on their paws, which is why you may see your dog digging the ground after they do their business. 

Cats also have scent glands in their paws. Just like dogs, they use their scent to mark what belongs to them. This includes territory, objects, and other animals (including the owner). 

Your cat may be pressing their paws on the dog as a way of claiming it. This also indicates a close bond between the two animals. 

Making the Bed

Another theory is that cats knead because that is how they create their bed in the wild. A wild cat may knead the ground to soften it or remove debris. If your cat falls asleep on your dog after kneading, they may have been fluffing their pillow. 

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.