27 August 2008

Milk Maid

Simone, our recently adopted large motherly cat, has taken Pip (teeny boy kitten) under her wing, to the extent that she allows him to suckle. That's right. We thought he was just latching on for comfort and she was letting him because she is good natured and easy-going and then on Friday night I was on the phone with my brother and petting Simone idly and I noticed something and wrote this note to Dave: I THINK SIMONE'S NIPPLES ARE ENGORGED.

Yeah. There was no think about it, they WERE. The stimulation/massage actually brought her milk in. Isn't that crazy? She's spayed so it's not a heat or recent kittens issue, though we think she's had litters in the past before she got to the SPCA. I didn't know the milk-producing hormones could still work if the animal in question has had a hysterectomy, which is basically what spaying is. But now when she and Pip settle in for some milky minutes, not only can you hear tiny slurps, you can also hear tiny swallows. He has a favorite teat (actually two) just like he would if he was part of a regular litter. (I guess each kitten usually has their own teat.)

So at first I was kind of grossed out by the idea (mostly by the thought of furniture cleaning). I'm not sure* why I was a little squicked, though, because he was nursing this morning in bed and she was purring and grooming him and it was just about the sweetest scene you can imagine. Slurp-gulp slurp-gulp lick lick purr purr purr purr purr knead knead purr purr purr.

I don't have any pictures of this yet - mostly because my camera battery refuses to hold a charge for more than 5 minutes; also I didn't have my camera next to the bed or anything and the second I got up, the little bucolic scene was disrupted. (Simone is like every other animal I've ever seen with a litter, which is to say when she's ready to get up or wants to move around, she just does, and she doesn't give a shit if it interrupts Pip's nursing. I remember visiting Red, a corgi predecessor to Mom and Dad's current pair, when Red had a litter, and Red just kind of casually stepped out of her nursing box to greet us, using the edge of the box to scrape her puppies off as she went. Heh. Plus I know Pip's teeth are sharp.) But I'll keep trying for pictures, because it's pretty darling to see.

And apart from maybe making sure that Simone is getting the right nutrition (maybe the nursing will use calories and help her lose weight!), I don't think there's any reason to interfere, since they both seem to be enjoying it and no one is being harmed. Pip is now 9 weeks at most, and kittens shouldn't really be weaned until 12 weeks, so it's probably actually helpful for him. (He is mostly eating dry food, he just supplements with milk.) And Simone loves him, and apparently was a good mother in her past life. I'll discuss it with the vet when I take Pip in for his shots in a couple of weeks. (None of the cats go outside so no one is at risk for any diseases, but immunizations are a legal requirement.) I called the vet on Saturday morning and got this response from a tech: the tech was not sure why Simone was allowing this behavior**, but suggested we put her in a baby t-shirt to discourage it. (This was before we knew she was actually nursing.) By the time we got home from Maine on Sunday night, we'd decided that unless there were furniture cleaning issues, we wouldn't bother with the t-shirt idea, and shortly thereafter we realized that she was actually nursing.

So that's the big cat news this week. The other cats are fine, too - Inty is adjusting to Pip and I think we'll see them playing together soon, and Zoe is her usual crabby, randomly affectionate self (she is sitting on my lap and purring as I type this.)

* I think I can maybe place the blame here on a Dan Savage column about Adult Lactating Relationships. Okay, not really, Dan Savage rocks. Probably I am just too culturally inculcated with the idea that pets are supposed to be neutered or spayed and be big teddy bears for my pleasure, not so much that they can have other agendas and think for themselves. But I have gotten over myself.

** Clearly the tech did not understand the disposition of my big gentle sweetest & most affectionate cat on the face of the earth, Simone, who has had litters of kittens and apparently enjoyed being a mother.


Katharine Weber said...

I love your cat commune. Pip might want to nurse for a long time, and there is no reason to stop him from making up for his early deprivation. It is clearly tonic for both of them. How wonderful they found each other in the DeBeer-Stoops Home For Wayward Cats and Kittens.

seppaku said...

I can't believe how big your cat pack has become! Holy crap! I've had to give up cruising Petfinder because Alex has gotten so good at saying, "The party is full." Still, in the dreamy future someday is a house with enough space for at least two more dogs, a pack of barn cats, horses, goats and PYGMY DONKEYS.

Ahem, so your kitty Simone. You got her a little over a month ago, and upon that occasion, she was spayed, yes? It can take a few months for the hormones to equilibrate afterwards. Also, any small amount of ovarian tissue left behind by the vet during the spay can continue to secrete hormones and so affect the animal's behavior. Keep that in mind if Simone ever shows signs of going into heat.

Now here's some science from "Small Animal Maternal Behavior and its Aberrations" by K.A. Houpt regarding suckling-induced maternal behavior:

The cat was a nulliparous, 10-month-old domestic shorthair that had been
spayed 6 weeks before the onset of maternal behavior. A 6-week-old female domestic shorthair kitten had been introduced
into the household. For the first week, the older cat hissed and swatted at the kitten. Then she ceased to show aggression and
allowed the kitten to suckle. The owner reported that nursing was observed whenever she noticed the cat during the first
month, then less frequently. Physical examination revealed that milk could be expressed from the mammary glands, which
were larger than normal. Blood progesterone concentration was 0.03 ng/ml. Normal value for spayed cats is 0.03 ng/ml and
for lactating queens is 0.3-2.5 ng/ml. This evaluation indicated that the cat did not have a functional reproductive tract and
that inappropriate gonadal hormone concentrations were not responsible for the behavior or milk production [10].
Pseudopregnancy following ovariectomy in dogs has been suggested to be due to elevated prolactin caused by progesterone
withdrawal. Whether a similar phenomenon occurred in this queen was not determined.

Interesting stuff. Now I want to know what Simone's pregesterone levels are!

I think, like your previous commenter said, that it can do no harm, and probably is making both Pip and Simone feel more kitty solidarity. I have no idea what was with that vet tech telling you to put a T-shirt on Simone. Maybe they thought you were calling like, "Ick, my cat is nursing my other cat and it is DISGUSTING, help!" rather than, "This is kinda bizarre, but it's OK, just help me understand why!" And so you got some backwards puritanical way to hide the problem - throw the slutty cat in a T-shirt!

Anyway, I can't imagine a cat allowing herself to be bundled up in a T-shirt. No way, Jose!

Cara deBeer said...

Anyway, I can't imagine a cat allowing herself to be bundled up in a T-shirt. No way, Jose!

Then you have not met Mr . Bonkers

And yeah, I bet the vet is going to be fascinated when I tell her about it.

Lisa said...

Hah! My thought exactly. Although it's not like Mr. Bonkers was happy about it.

(For the record, he was wearing the T-shirt because he had a drain in his neck because of an abscess he got FIGHTING. Because even though he's wearing a little baby T, never let it be said that Mr. Bonkers isn't one tough motherfucker.)

Anonymous said...

my little lactating queen!!!