The breastfeeding by humans of animals is a practice that is widely attested historically and continues to be practiced today by some cultures. The reasons for the practice are varied: to feed young animals, to drain a woman’s breasts, to promote lactation, to develop good nipples, to prevent conception and so on. One example of the practice being used for health reasons comes from late 18th century England. When the writer Mary Wollstonecroft was dying of puerperal fever in 1797 following the birth of her second daughter, the doctor ordered that puppies be applied to her breasts to draw off the milk, possibly with the intention of helping her womb to contract to expel the infected placenta that was slowly poisoning her. Similarly, English and German physicians between the 16th and 18th centuries recommended using puppies to “draw” the mother’s breasts, and in 1799 the German Friedrich Benjamin Osiander reported that in Göttingen women suckled young dogs to dislodge nodules from their breasts.
Religious and ceremonial reasons have also been a factor. Saint Veronica Giuliani (1660–1727), an Italian nun and mystic, was known for taking a lamb to bed with her and suckling it as a symbol of the Lamb of God. In far northern Japan, the Ainu people are noted for holding an annual bear festival at which a captured bear, raised and suckled by the women, is sacrificed. Bears were also suckled by the Itelmens of the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia but in their case for economic reasons, to benefit from the meat when the bear was grown and to obtain highly-prized bear bile for use in traditional medicine.
Elsewhere, animals have widely been used as “milk siblings” for infants to toughen the nipples and maintain the mother’s milk supply. In Persia and Turkey puppies were used for this purpose. The same method was practiced in the United States in the early 19th century; William Potts Dewees recommended in 1825 that from the eighth month of pregnancy, expectant mothers should regularly use a puppy to harden the nipples, improve breast secretion and prevent inflammation of the breasts. The practice seems to have fallen out of favour by 1847, as Dewees suggested using a nurse or some other skilled person to carry out this task rather than an animal. Tribal peoples around the world have used many types of animals for the same purpose. Travelers in Guyana observed native women breastfeeding a variety of animals, including monkeys, opossums, pacas, agoutis, peccaries and deer. Native Canadians and Americans often breastfed young dogs; an observer commented that the Pima people of Arizona “withdrew their breasts sooner from their own infants than from young dogs.
In the present day, the act of breastfeeding animals has been used as a sometimes controversial artistic statement. The album art for Boys for Pele by Tori Amos includes a photograph of the singer breastfeeding a piglet. In Ireland, 22-year-old model and PETA member Agata Dembiecka became the focus of controversy in 2010 when a calendar issued by an animal rescue charity featured a photograph of her suckling a puppy.