Feline paw sucking tends to perplex owners, but the activity does have an explanation. It's actually a common behavior among both kittens and adult cats.
Paw Sucking in Cats
Cat owners may shake their heads and ask why my cat sucks his paw? There are a number of reasons behind this behavior.
Kittens will suck on their own paws to simulate nursing behavior. They may also suck on other items like blankets or towels or other household items. Usually, this occurs with kittens who were taken too early from their mother although not always. Kittens tend to outgrow the behavior as they reach adulthood although you may see some adult cats doing it.
Cats may suck their paws when they're cuddling up to you. When she's comfortably nestled in your arms sucking her paw and purring, she's feeling very secure and contented. Take it as a sign of her great affection for you and count yourself lucky you have such an interesting cat.
Just as a happy cat will suck on their paws to show contentment, a stressed cat may suck their paw to try to soothe their anxieties. If you see a cat sucking his paw in conjunction with other stress behaviors, such as hiding, crying, or fearful body language, discuss with your veterinarian. Your cat may need some help which could include medication and behavioral intervention.
Some cats may begin sucking their paws for benign reasons and the behavior eventually becomes obsessive to the point of harming their paws. Or they may have begun sucking their paw because of an injury or irritation and the behavior is now constant. Discuss this behavior with your veterinarian who will want to perform tests to see if there is an underlying medical condition and to prescribe medication for the behavior. Some conditions that are associated with paw sucking are:
Certain breeds of cats tend to suck their paws and other items more than others. It's most commonly seen in Asian breeds such as:
A cat may suck at their paw if the pad has become irritated, such as by a foreign object or coming into contact with something toxic. If you notice that the paw pad looks red and sore, bring your cat into the vet to have his paw examined for wounds and skin irritations.
Dealing With Paw Sucking in Cats
For the most part, paw sucking is not a behavior to worry about and most kittens grow out of it. If your cat is paw sucking when snuggling with you, this is a sign of a happy cat.
If your cat is sucking his paws out of anxiety or compulsion, providing him with lots of mental enrichment and exercise can help to alleviate some of his stress. Provide him with foraging toys and play with him with toys such as a fishing wand. You want to get him tired out both physically and mentally.
If the paw sucking continues unabated, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help reduce your cat's stress. This, coupled with enrichment, can help make a cat feel more relaxed and less likely to suck and chew on his paws.
Diagnosis Is Critical
If your cat is sucking his paws and you notice other symptoms such as hair loss, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting or a coat in poor condition, bring your cat in for testing by your veterinarian to rule out a serious medical condition.
Cats and Paw Sucking
While this behavior seems unusual, for the most part, paw sucking is a natural behavior you should not be concerned about. Watch for signs of other symptoms however and speak to your veterinarian right away if you suspect that their paw sucking is based on anxiety or medical problems.