Cat nipples, while numerous, are subtle. Unless you have reason to look for a cat’s nipples, you may not notice them at all. These nipples are found in two rows, an inch above the pelvis. Cats can have anywhere between two and ten nipples.
Cat nipples are small and pink. It’s easy to mistake them for common pimples. The nipples should not be prominent unless your cat is pregnant. While a cat carries a litter, her nipples become considerably plumper and brighter in color. If your cat is not pregnant but has swollen nipples, see a vet. The presence of a swollen cyst suggests mammary cancer.
Cat nipples must be monitored and cared for carefully while nursing. Hungry kittens can inadvertently cause pain and damage to their mother. A bacterial infection is also a possibility while a cat is nursing. Ensure your cat remains happy and healthy while feeding her young.
How Many Nipples Do Cats Have?
Cats can have anywhere from two to ten nipples. There is no hard-and-fast rule. The total number is usually even. Again, though, this can vary.
More nipples are advantageous for a female cat. The more nipples she has, the larger a litter she can nurse at once. The average litter varies between two and five kittens. A cat with six nipples can ensure that no kitten goes hungry.
If your cat has fewer nipples, there is nothing wrong with her. You just may need to take this into account while he is nursing. If a cat cannot feed all of her young at once, you’ll need to provide her with assistance.
How Should Cat Nipples Look?
Cat nipples closely resemble pimples. They are small, pink and bumpy. It can be hard to locate cat nipples, especially nipples on male felines. There is a good chance they will be covered by fur.
If you cannot find your cat’s nipples, it’s nothing to worry about. This does not mean that your cat has no nipples. They have just not been used. In such cases, a cat’s nipples become increasingly insignificant.
All healthy cat nipples look the same way. There is no difference in aesthetics sparked by gender, age, or breed. Any damage to the nipples requires attention. Irritation to a cat’s nipples could denote ill health. Things to look out for include:
- Crusty nipples
- Chapped nipples
- Sores around the nipples
These are warning signs of infection. This is especially dangerous in cats that have recently given birth. A nursing cat could pass on an infection to her young.
Can I Touch My Cat’s Nipples?
You may occasionally wish to check your cat’s nipples by touch. As they are so small, you cannot always spot a problem by sight alone.
In theory, this is fine. The nipples of a healthy cat will not be sore to the touch. Your cat should be indifferent to contact. If she reacts poorly, it suggests a medical problem.
We must consider the location of your cat’s nipples, though. Cats loathe being touched on the tummy. The skin here is paper-thin and delicate. Few cats trust humans enough to allow tummy rubs. This may explain why your cat flinches upon contact.
Why are My Cat’s Nipples Swollen?
There are three possible explanations for swollen nipples in a cat:
- Mammary Cancer
Mammary cancer is a risk in mature, unspayed females. A female cat with swollen nipples is likelier to be pregnant, though. Swelling and deepening of color in the nipples is an early symptom of feline pregnancy. This is known as ‘pinking up.’
If your cat is nursing, swollen nipples are a warning sign of mastitis. This is a bacterial infection that prevents a cat from lactating. A litter of hungry kittens will never leave milk unconsumed. If your cat’s nipples are swollen, it’s because she cannot feed her young.
A male cat with swollen nipples should be taken to the vet at once. The swelling may be a cyst or a sign of mammary cancer. While only 1% of mammary cancer diagnoses occur in male cats, always be safe.
Is My Cat Pregnant?
An unspayed cat falling pregnant is always possible. Some would call it likely. Keeping a cat indoors during her season is not foolproof. A cat in estrus will be wholly determined to escape and mate. It only takes one interaction with an intact male to become pregnant.
Swollen nipples are a key symptom of feline pregnancy. Your cat’s nipples will be larger, puffier and darker in color. If you have never noticed your cat’s nipples, ask yourself why they are so visible.
This symptom may be accompanied by an engorged belly. This means your cat is almost certainly carrying a litter. Other key signs of a feline pregnancy include:
- Sudden cease in estrus-related behaviors
- Enhanced appetite
- Clinginess and attention-seeking
As Biology of Reproduction explains, cats also experience pseudopregnancies. A phantom pregnancy involves the same symptoms of a genuine pregnancy. This includes swollen nipples. Your cat may even lactate during this time.
Feline phantom pregnancies are rare but can occur. Typical explanations include attempted breeding with an infertile male or hormonal imbalance immediately following estrus.
The pseudopregnancy will last roughly half the time of a genuine gestation. Your cat’s nipples should return to normal within thirty days. If this is the case, there is no need to seek medical attention.
Does My Cat Have Mastitis?
Mastitis is a bacterial infection that affects new cat mothers. It manifests in the nipples of lactating cats. Mastitis prevents a cat from releasing milk properly. The milk will be thick and lumpy, almost comparable to yogurt. This will lead to painful swelling in the nipples.
Mastitis is commonly caused by nursing. When kittens feed, they bite and claw at their mother’s nipples. This can create open wounds that invite infection. E.coli, streptococci, and staphylococci are the most common bacteria involved.
Symptoms of mastitis, aside from swollen nipples, include:
- Inability to express milk
- Discolored (yellow or bloody) milk
- Lethargy and depression
- Fever and high temperature
- Loss of appetite
- Rejecting kittens due to the pain of nursing
Never ignore the symptoms of mastitis. It can be life-threatening for your cat and her kittens.
Your cat will likely refuse to allow her young to feed. It will be too painful. Even if your cat perseveres, the kittens will be consuming contaminated milk. The bacteria could be fatal for underdeveloped immune systems.
Thankfully, treatment of mastitis is comparatively straightforward. Your vet will prescribe a course of antibiotics. Your cat’s mammary glands may also need to be manually expressed or lanced. This will drain the bacteria.
While your cat’s mastitis is being treated, you must manually feed her kittens. A vet will provide a kitten formula and bottle. Never offer cow’s milk to kittens. Most cats are lactose intolerant.
Does My Cat Have Mammary Cancer?
Mammary cancer is a concern for cat owners. Unspayed, middle-aged, female cats are most at risk. Spaying a female before the age of six months reduces this risk by 86%.
Feline mammary cancer is identifiable by a lump or cyst on or below the nipple. If you spot this, attempt to touch it. If the cyst is hard and unmoving, and your cat shrinks in pain, make an urgent veterinary appointment.
Other symptoms of mammary cancer in cats include:
- Sores, bleeding nipples
- Foul odor
- Excessive grooming
- Lethargy and depression
- Loss of appetite
A healthcare professional will review your cat’s symptoms. A biopsy will be taken using a long needle. This should reveal any metastatic qualities for the cyst. If the results are inconclusive, your cat will undergo scans.
Treatment will be lengthy and intrusive. The infected mammary gland will likely be surgically removed. Chemotherapy may also be required. Unless you have an insurance policy, this will be expensive. An average bill for treating feline mammary cancer is above $5,000.
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute discusses the prognosis of feline mammary cancer. Survival rates depend upon the size of the tumor, the length of time before diagnosis, and the cat’s age and general health.
A tumor smaller than 2cm in diameter leads to a brighter prognosis. If the cat responds well to treatment, she could live for several years. A tumor above 3cm is sadly often fatal inside six months.
What Should Nursing Cat Nipples Look Like?
While your cat is nursing, her nipples should be comparatively pronounced. Newborn kittens nurse every one or two hours. This leaves your cat’s nipples little time to recover.
If kittens are feeding from your cat, her nipples will be pink and moist. They should not be swollen. This suggests mastitis.
A feeding pattern will quickly be established among cat and kittens. The moment your cat starts lactating, her young will start suckling. That leaves little opportunity for milk to remain.
Try to keep an eye on your cat’s nipples while she is nursing. They may become sore and painful. Your cat will appreciate some treatment in this instance.
Eventually, you will need to start weaning kittens off your cat’s nipples. All parties may be reluctant to allow this. To speed up the process, restrict access. Dress your cat in a sweater for a week. After this time, the kittens will have adapted to solid food.
My Cat’s Nipples Look Sore
There are a number of reasons why a cat’s nipples may be injured or sore. Oftentimes, these are linked to nursing. Biting and scratching are the most common causes of a feline nipple injury.
By the time a kitten reaches 4 weeks of age, we will have teeth. Kitten teeth are tiny, but as sharp as pins. As most kittens are weaning at this age, your cat’s nipples may be bitten.
Treat your cat’s nipples with a vet-approved cream. This should be antibiotic in nature. Kittens mouthes may contain bacteria. Start feeding the kittens solids at this point, too. If they bite too much, your cat will refuse future feeding.
Your cat’s nipples can also be scratched. Kitten tongues are rough and abrasive. This will eventually cause wear and tear on the nipples. Find a safe ointment to soothe this discomfort.
Ensure your kitten’s nails are trim. Kittens will knead at a cat’s nipple to generate more milk. With sharp claws, this will scratch. The kittens may also draw blood. This is unsafe for the kittens and their mother.
Why are My Male Cat’s Nipples Bleeding?
Male cats do not have mammary glands. This means they cannot nurse or feed kittens. Young cats may still attempt to feed on a male.
In the wild, female cats share responsibility for feeding their young. Members of a colony will take it in turns to offer milk. This is why, as per The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, wild cat colonies are predominantly female.
Kittens do not understand or care about gender. They just want to be fed. This could lead to kittens latching onto the nipples of a male cat. Some male cats will permit this. In rare cases, they even produce small amounts of milk. Just not enough to feed a hungry litter.
This will frustrate kittens. The young cats will continually bite, suckle and knead at a male’s nipples. This is not an act of violence. They are attempting to release milk. Eventually, this will lead to injury.
Avoid allowing kittens to inflict pain upon a male cat. While tolerant, male cats lack the nurturing instincts of females. When hurt, the male may retaliate with hostility. Adult cats are considerably stronger than kittens. This could end in disaster.
If your male cat’s nipples are bleeding, treat them the same way as a female. Apply cat-safe antibacterial cream or ointment and restrict exposure. Realizing there is no nourishment to be found, kittens will soon stop trying.
When Do Cats Lose Hair Around Their Nipples?
Cats should not organically lose hair from their nipples. If your cat has bald patches in this area, investigate. She is suffering from a health ailment.
Check for a possible parasitic infestation. If your cat has fleas or mites, she’ll lose fur. This is unlikely though. These bugs typically gather on the back, neck, ears, and base of the tail. You’re less likely to find them on the stomach.
A common explanation for fur loss around the nipples is psychogenic alopecia. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association profile cases of this condition.
Feline psychogenic alopecia is an anxiety disorder. When a cat grows stressed, she excessively licks the fur around her nipples. As this becomes chronic, she tears out chunks of fur. Common stress triggers for cats include:
- Confined spaces
- Competition for food or territory
- Loud noises
- Changes to routine or surroundings
- New arrivals in the home (human or animal)
- Lack of stimulation
See a vet if you suspect that your cat is living with psychogenic alopecia. The condition will be treated with lifestyle changes and drugs.
According to Comparative Clinical Pathology, the human drug Buspirone can treat feline anxiety. Creams and ointments may also be needed to heal wounded nipples.