If you’ve ever seen a pregnant cat nursing, you know that there are plenty of feeding stations to go around. Both male and female cats have nipples on their belly, arranged in two parallel rows. But the number of nipples isn’t always the same between cats. Most cats have between six and eight nipples, but some may have more or fewer. They also may not have an even number of nipples. So, if your cat has nine nipples, don’t be surprised! It’s totally normal, even though it seems a little strange. However, your cat should have the same number of nipples throughout their life, though they might be tiny and not that noticeable.
Why Do Cats Have So Many Nipples?
Cats are known for having big litters, so it’s not surprising that they’re built to feed all those kittens. Most cats have eight or fewer kittens at a time, and most cats also have eight or fewer nipples. That means that more often than not, a mother cat will be able to feed all her kittens at once. Each nipple will produce its own milk supply while a mother cat is nursing.
Do Male Cats Have Fewer Nipples?
You might expect that male cats would have fewer nipples than females, but that’s not the case. Even though male cats have smaller and less developed nipples, they still have the same general number. Just like female cats, some might only have four nipples, while others may have eight or more. It’s possible that genetics affects how many nipples a cat has, with some breeds having more nipples than others, but we don’t know for sure.
On adult cats, especially males, the nipples might be hard to find. They’re usually pretty small unless they’re on nursing mothers, so they might be hidden in your cat’s belly fur.
Can Cats Get Breast Cancer?
Just like humans, cats can get cancer, and female cats in particular are prone to mammary cancer. This is a tumor in the area right around your cat’s nipples, and mammary tumors account for about a third of cancer diagnoses in cats. These are much more common in unspayed females than in spayed females. Some breeds are also more prone to cancers, with Siamese cats topping the list. If you ever feel a lump around your cat’s nipples, it is a good idea to have a vet check it out just in case. Male cats can also get breast cancer, and it is sadly usually aggressive, so get it checked out soon if you find a lump.
How Do Nipples Change During a Cat’s Pregnancy?
During pregnancy, a cat’s nipples undergo dramatic changes. First, they’ll get larger and pinker. This can happen very early in pregnancy and might be the first sign you see of changes. Second, as the mother cat gets close to producing milk, you’ll see the area around the nipples enlarge so they’re easily visible and not hidden by fur. Late in the pregnancy, you might see the first traces of milky fluid leaking from the nipples. Once your cat gives birth, she’ll produce milk until all her kittens are weaned—usually a few months.
Can Male Cat Nipples Produce Milk?
Although both male and female cats have nipples, they aren’t fully developed in male cats. That means that most of the time, male cats can’t produce milk. Some male cats do let kittens suck on their nipples, but they won’t be getting any food—it’s the equivalent of giving a kitten a pacifier. In rare cases, male cats can produce milk because of elevated hormone levels. This is usually a side effect of a hormone-altering medication, and it might be worth chatting with your vet about it.
Whether your cat has six nipples, eight, or even five, any number of nipples is fairly normal. Both male and female cats have nipples, but you probably won’t notice them if your cat isn’t a pregnant or nursing mother. For most cats, nipples will stay small and not develop to produce milk.
Featured Image Credit: Bill Roque, Shutterstock