A cat nipple is very tiny, so you may have seen one before without even realizing it. Cat nipples are pink and slightly raised, sometimes feeling like a pimple or zit if you traced your finger over one. Some nipples are more visible than others, and your cat’s hair may seem to part around them, leaving them exposed.
What Do a Cat’s Nipples Do?
Both female and male cats have nipples, but only female cats have a useful purpose for them. The reason for this comes down to fetal development: The nipples tend to develop well before a fetus’s sex. While a male cat’s nipples may not have a purpose, a female cat’s nipples play a vital role during pregnancy and after giving birth to a litter of kittens.
A female cat’s body will automatically adapt to a pregnancy and an upcoming litter of kittens. A pregnant cat’s teats will swell during the pregnancy in preparation, and this severe swelling will cause milk leakage (lactation) from the nipples a few days before a cat gives birth. You may also see that your cat’s nipples seem larger and pinker than usual — that’s normal.
Once a female cat delivers a litter, the mother cat’s nipples will be the kittens’ primary nourishment source. Newborn kittens will sense their mother’s nipples nearby when they’re hungry, latch onto one, and suckle until they feel full. The mammary glands and the nipples will continue to feed a litter of kittens for about 12 weeks, at which point kittens will wean.
Below, you’ll find a video compilation of mother cats nursing their young kittens:
My Cat Does Not Have Nipples
Some cat owners insist that their cat doesn’t have nipples, but all cats have nipples — male or female, young or old, black or tabby, and pregnant or not. Some nipples are just easier to find than others.
If you think your cat doesn’t have nipples, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Your cat’s nipples are probably well-hidden beneath a layer of thick fur, especially if you have a beautiful longhaired cat breed like a Maine Coon, Ragdoll, or Persian.
To find your cat’s nipples, gently run your finger along her belly and chest to feel for a small pimple-like bump. You should discover a row of 2-5 on one side of her stomach and another parallel row on the opposite side. Rest assured: Cats do not lose or grow nipples at any point in their lives, so your cat’s nipples didn’t merely “fall off.”
Medical Conditions Impacting the Nipples
Your cat’s nipples won’t typically trigger a vet visit at any point in her life, but certain medical conditions can impact the nipples, mammary glands, or breasts. Since all cats have these body parts, both male and female cats can experience problems — however, female cats are statistically more likely.
Here’s an overview of conditions that affect the nipples (and the surrounding areas) in cats:
- Mastitis: When a cat’s mammary glands become swollen, usually as a result of bacteria entering through the nipples.
- Mammary tumors: When the cells in the breast tissue begin to multiply, causing a noticeable lump or nodule, mammary tumors can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).
- Feline psychogenic alopecia: When a cat has a compulsion to lick her belly, specifically her nipples, until hair loss or sores result.
- False lactation: When a non-pregnant female cat begins lactating, despite having no litter of kittens to feed, even spayed cats can experience this bizarre condition
- Inverted nipples: When a cat’s nipple appears to grow in reverse — into the body rather than protruding on the skin; inverted nipples often collect gross build-ups.
Many of these conditions may be “normal” for your cat — nothing more than a strange quirk. However, you should promptly schedule an appointment with your vet if your cat’s nipples, breasts, or mammary glands appear swollen or output an unusual discharge.
Why Spay Your Female Cat?
Spaying your female cat offers quite a few health benefits. Most notably, a female cat without ovaries producing estrogen won’t go into heat, ovulate, or get pregnant. The shutdown of estrogen production also comes with a decreased risk of your female cat developing breast cancer later on in life.
The sooner you spay your cat — preferably before she goes into heat between 4-10 months old — the more likely her risk of breast cancer could be lower than 0.5%. Considering breast cancer is the third most common type of cancer in felines and usually develops after the age of ten, not spaying your cat comes with a severely heightened risk of cancer way down the road.
However, time is of the essence, and this decreased risk of breast cancer isn’t on the table when your cat is eight weeks old, all the way until she’s 15 years or older. Many veterinarians believe that waiting to spay your cat for 2 ½ years practically negates the other health benefits. Spay your cat as soon as possible — some vets will perform this procedure when your kitty is as young as eight weeks old.
Since your cat probably keeps her nipples well-hidden, you may go her entire life without even knowing they’re there!
It’s important to understand what your cat’s nipples look like to find out what’s “normal” for your feline and what’s not. For example, you may notice that one of your cat’s nipples seems larger, discolored, is bleeding, or is discharging a strange fluid.
If you notice something strange around your cat’s nipples, including swelling in the surrounding area, give your vet a call as soon as possible for a check-up.
- National Geographic: Here’s why cats hate belly rubs so much
- Wikipedia: Mammary glands
- Wikipedia: Lactation
- Britannica: Longhair Cat Breeds
- VCA Hospitals: Mastitis in Cats
- VCA Hospitals: Mammary Tumors in Cats
- Embrace Pet Insurance: Feline Fur Mowing: When Cats Lick their Nipples and Pull Out Their Hair
- MSPCA: Ask a Vet: All You Need to Know About Spay/Neuter Surgery