There’s nothing cuter than a mom, known as a queen, with her kittens. You watch as she grooms and feeds the little fluff balls, and your heart just glows. Then, to your dismay, she bites them. This can be scary to see, and leave you concerned about the kittens’ safety.
The good news is, in most cases, the behavior is natural and nothing to be concerned about. However, there are some warning signs that something serious is occurring.
Why do mother cats bite their kittens?
It can be downright disturbing to a loving cat owner to see the mother biting their kittens’ neck. After all, this is how cats kill their prey. It may be easy to interpret the behavior as violence against the kittens, but it’s likely part of how she cares for them.
Part of being a good mother is preparing your offspring to go out into the world and take care of themselves. For mother cats, this means teaching their kittens hunting skills.
Even if they are domestic house cats, the mother will instinctively teach them to hunt, as well as how to defend themselves from other cats and predators.
Biting is part of these training sessions. She must demonstrate how to bite. It’s also part of play, which is essentially training as well. It’s important that the kittens not only know how to bite to hunt, but that they know how to play with each other with gentle bites.
Disciplining children is not limited to humans. Your mother cat must teach her kittens many things, including proper cat behavior. When they get out of line, she will discipline them. A bite is one way that mother cats discipline their kittens.
If this is the reason why, you may notice she does it after a specific action or actions from the kitten. Are they trying to feed even though she’s told them no? Are they playing with her or each other too roughly?
Discipline is used to correct unwanted behavior. When she bites the kitten, it learns that behavior brings about an unwanted consequence. It should soon learn not to do the behavior, because they don’t like the bites that come with it.
Mother cats have four paws instead of two hands. When they pick up their babies, they do so with their mouths. Kittens have extra skin on the back of their neck, which the mother essentially uses as a carrying handle.
She will bite the skin of the neck and pick the kitten up, then deposit it where she feels it should be.
For cats, grooming means more than just licking their fur. They will also bite or nip. This removes dead skin cells, dirt, and debris. The top fur can be reached with their tongue, but the skin is harder to get to. So, they bite, using their teeth as part of the grooming process. It also allows them to remove parasites, like fleas.
Mothers are fastidious about grooming their kittens, so they will bite during grooming. These should look like very light nips, usually many of them in quick succession. If she bites while licking the kittens, this is also an indication she’s simply grooming them.
There are rare instances when a mother will turn on her kittens without an apparent reason. She may target one kitten, or may attack all of them. This usually happens very early on, within the first week. However, it is possible for it to occur as the kittens grow as well.
Why does my cat bite her kitten’s neck?
Your cat will bite her kitten’s neck for the reasons listed above. As long as she is caring for her kittens properly and not injuring them, it’s completely normal. She is simply grooming, training, and disciplining them.
If she is actually injuring the kittens, or isn’t caring for them properly, she may have maternal aggression.
Why is my cat aggressive towards her kittens?
First, it’s important to determine if she is actually being aggressive towards her kittens. What can seem like aggression to us can easily be normal maternal behavior for cats.
Signs of a Problem
Maternal aggression is usually accompanied by a lack of maternal behavior. She may not nurse the kittens, and become aggressive when they try to nurse. She will not groom them. If they wander off, she will not bring them back. She may even carry them to another area or stay away from them.
If you notice these issues and she appears aggressive, it’s a safe bet that she is having maternal aggression.
The other obvious sign of aggression is injuries to the kittens. If you notice broken skin or blood from a bite, or the kitten has an injured limb, this is definitely maternal aggression.
There are certain genes that are responsible for maternal instinct in cats. Some cats have a faulty or missing gene. These cats will not act like a normal mother, because they lack the instinct to do so biologically.
Hormones play a large role in mothering behavior in animals, including humans. Oxytocin is released in large amounts during and after birth. This is the bonding hormone. It’s what we feel when we fall in love, and when we care for our offspring.
If there’s not enough of this hormone, or too much hormones that can lead to anxiety or aggression, it will affect the mother. She will not care for her kittens properly, and may be aggressive towards them.
Stress can also be the culprit. Raising babies is very stressful for cats and humans. When other stressors are present, it can be too much for your mother cat.
Other cats and too much interaction with people can cause stress. If there’s lots of noise or activity around the area, this can also unsettle her.
If a mother cat believes her litter is in grave danger, she may kill the kittens. From her perspective, it’s more humane to kill the kittens than to leave them vulnerable to a predator.
This may be necessary in the wild, but she is safe within your home. However, this instinct is still there. If stress levels get too high, she could perceive it as a threat. If other animals in the home are getting too close, this could also trigger her to harm her kittens.
Age and Experience
Cats who are very young when they have their first litter may be more likely to be aggressive. They haven’t fully developed themselves, so raising kittens is extra stressful.
First time mothers are also more likely to be aggressive or exhibit other maternal behavioral issues. This comes down to experience. Their body is learning what to do by providing the correct hormones and producing food for the kittens.
Psychologically, they are also learning. They are learning how to be a mother, and how to deal with the stress of having kittens.
Is it normal for a cat to bite her kittens?
It is completely normal for a cat to bite her kittens in the course of caring for them. It can be difficult to determine whether she is attempting to harm them or simply caring for them as a mother cat should.
As the kittens get older, you can expect the mother cat to get rougher with them. She is preparing them for life by teaching them to hunt and defend themselves. It can look rough or even violent to us, but it’s completely normal. Kittens also require discipline as they get older.
A cat that is actually aggressive or intends to harm their kittens will likely do so in the first few days. It makes no sense for her to care for them when they are most vulnerable, and then want to harm them as they get bigger.
Signs of Violence
If you notice injuries on the kittens, there is a problem. The mother should never cause any actual harm to her litter. If she draws blood or causes other physical injury, you’ll need to step in.
Should I get my cat to stop biting her kittens?
This will depend on why and how she is biting them. If she is harming the kittens, the biting needs to stop. However, you will probably have to remove the kittens, rather than hope she will stop biting them. Mother cats can kill their kittens, either intentionally or accidentally. It’s a rare occurrence, but it’s certainly not unheard of.
Letting Mom Be Mom
If you have children of your own, you know the feeling. You discipline your child, and grandma says you are being too hard on them. You make it clear that you are their mother, and you have a right to make the decisions you believe are right.
It can be tempting to intervene when the mother is biting her kittens. They look so small and defenseless. You may be concerned she will hurt them. Even if you know they are safe, it can be difficult to watch.
However, unless the kittens are in danger of being injured, you must let mom be mom. She is training, grooming, and disciplining them. She knows what she is doing. Any interference can actually cause problems.
Your cat may resent the intrusion. Your kittens may miss out on valuable lessons mom was trying to teach them when you interfered. This can cause issues in their adult lives.
If they aren’t trained to hunt, protect themselves, or socialize properly, they will begin their independent life at a disadvantage.
When to Step In
Obviously, if your cat is being truly aggressive to your kittens, as mentioned in the previous section, you will need to step in. However, there is another situation where stepping in can be appropriate.
If your cat is biting the kittens because they are pestering her, consider offering a helping hand. Do not interfere with her disciplining them. Instead, give her a place where she can be alone away from the kittens. All mothers need a break occasionally. In most cases, just offering a kitten free area is enough. When she needs it, she will go to it.
However, if she seems extremely stressed or more aggressive than is normal for her, you may need to take her to a place to allow her to cool down yourself. If she is overwhelmed and you are concerned about her and the kittens, it can be a wise choice that she will appreciate.
Why would a cat separate one kitten from the rest?
There are a few possibilities when a mother move one kitten. It can be a sign there’s a problem, so it’ something you should monitor.
Sick or Deformed Kitten
Mother cats are able to identify sickness and deformity in their young. If she detects a problem with a kitten, she will likely abandon or even kill it. From her point of view, her milk and attention should go to kittens that can survive to adulthood, and an ill or disabled kitten isn’t likely to do so. If the kitten is sick, she may also endanger the rest of the kittens by being contagious.
If mom decides to change where the kittens are located, she may only move one kitten to begin with. This allows her to test the area without moving all of her kittens.
If the litter is too big, the mom may not be able to care for all the kittens. If this occurs, she will abandon one or more kittens so the rest can survive. It may seem cruel to us, but it is part of the natural order of things.
If she abandons the kitten, you’ll need to care for it yourself. She will typically choose the smallest or weakest kitten, because they have a lower chance of survival.
If she has given birth very recently, she may be confused. It’s natural for her to feel a bit disoriented right after birth, and this can cause her to move a kitten.
What to Do When Mother Moves A Kitten
If the mother moves a kitten, make sure it is safe and warm. Give her time and see if she comes back for it, or brings the other kittens to that location.
If it seems unhealthy or she has a large litter, chances are she is abandoning the kitten. If all seems well, give her some time and see if she returns to the kitten.
If she doesn’t, you can attempt to bring the kitten back. If she moves it again, assume she has abandoned it. If she abandons it, you’ll need to feed and care for the kitten yourself.