It’s a subject we humans have a hard time comprehending. Why would a cat eat another cat’s kittens or even their own? It’s rare for a cat to eat kittens, but it does occur. In most cases, there are biological reasons for this behavior.
Will cats eat other cats’ kittens?
It’s very rare for a cat to eat another cat’s kittens. Ironically, it’s more common for a mother cat to eat her own kittens than those of another litter. However, it can happen for a few reasons.
This isn’t a situation that occurs with domestic cats, but starvation can prompt a cat to make a meal out of whatever they find, including kittens. In fact, cats have even been known to eat a deceased owner when no other food source is available.
Territory and Resources
It is possible for a cat to eat another cat’s kittens if they are concerned about their territory or resources. In most cases, the cat will simply kill the kitten. However, some cats will eat the kittens, particularly if food is scarce or they are nursing.
Cats can live in colonies and share resources. However, when resources are scarce, survival of the fittest comes into play. If the cat feels there’s not enough territory or resources for their kittens, they will eliminate any competition.
Will cats eat their own kittens?
The most common scenario for a cat eating kittens is a mother cat eating her own babies. As humans, this is very difficult for us to understand. For the cat, it’s simply part of the natural order of things.
Ill or Dead Kittens
A mother will often eat ill or dead kittens. Her instincts tell her that she shouldn’t waste resources on a kitten who will not survive, so she will kill an ill kitten. She will then eat it to get the nutrition it can provide.
Of course, it isn’t necessary for a domestic cat to eat her kitten to survive, but cats retain much of their natural instincts. In the wild, food is precious. A nursing mother must eat more calories, and hunting while nursing can be difficult. It’s not a surprise she would utilize any resource she has, including a dead kitten.
Fear for Kitten’s Safety
This also comes from a cat’s wild instincts. A cat in the wild must always be wary of predators. If she fears that her kittens will be taken by a predator, she may kill and eat them. To her, it’s better for her to kill and consume them than to leave them to a predator.
Even though your cat doesn’t have to worry about predators, fear can still trigger this instinct. Something as benign as too many visitors when the kittens are very little can trigger her to eat her kittens to protect them.
Mother cats identify their kittens by smell. If their kittens don’t smell like them, they may mistake them for another cat’s kittens. In this case, they will eat them. This is why you should avoid handling very young kittens unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Confusion can also occur if the cat is a first time mom, particularly if she is very young. Inexperience and improper hormone responses can cause her to abandon, or even eat her kittens.
This is the most common reason for a cat eating her kittens, and it’s often preventable. This can occur due to fear for the kittens safety. However, it can also occur from stress itself. A new mother can get so stressed that she inadvertently kills a kitten, or even eats it.
Sometimes a mother will reject some cats from the litter. Other cats will reject all of them. This could be due to inexperience, lack of maternal instinct, or even postpartum depression.
If only one or part of the litter is rejected, she may not have enough milk to care for all of the kittens. In some cases, she will take the kittens away from the rest of the litter and abandon them. In other cases, she may kill and eat the rejected kittens. If she rejects the entire litter, she may simply abandon the litter.
Will male cats eat their kittens?
As with female cats, it’s not common for a male cat to eat their kittens, but it is possible. It’s very rare for a male cat to eat their own kittens. Females are much more prone to eating kittens. However, male cats can sometimes kill their kittens.
Animals have an instinct to further their own genetics. This means that a male cat will sire as many litters as possible, to ensure the survival and dominance of his genes. If they find kittens who are not theirs, they may kill them.
Males can recognize their offspring by scent. Kittens who they haven’t fathered pose a risk to their genetic line. These kittens are competition for the fathers’ offspring. A male killing other kittens is fairly common in the wild, but it’s rare in domesticated cats. However, a male, particularly one who isn’t the father, should be monitored when interacting with kittens.
Overwhelming Prey Drive
Male and female cats possess a very strong prey drive. This allows them to survive in the wild. When they see a prey animal, their instincts take over.
It’s possible for both male and female cats to be overwhelmed by their prey drive, but it’s more common in male cats. Kittens look and sound similar to a cat’s natural prey. Often, the cat is simply playing with the kitten. During play, the prey drive kicks in, and the cat attacks the kitten, killing it.
Males are also more likely to accidentally kill kittens. This usually happens during play. Kittens are fragile, and their necks can easily be broken during play. This is rare as well, but it does happen occasionally.
What to Expect From Father Cats
The most common reaction a male cat has to kittens is to ignore them, even if they are his. This is what typically happens in the wild. The father will sire the kittens, and leave the rest to the mother.
However, some males do have strong parental instincts. These males will spend time with the kittens. They may help teach them how to play and hunt.
Neutered vs. Unneutered Males
Neutered males are less likely to harm kittens, because the motivation to further their own genetics is no longer present. However, a recently neutered cat is still acting on the hormones produced before they were neutered.
A neutered male may be less likely to view the kittens as prey as well. However, neutering does not remove this possibility.
Are there signs a cat will eat their kittens?
Yes, there are a few signs a cat will eat their kittens. Knowing what to look out for can help you protect your kittens.
Signs of Rejection
The first thing you need to look out for is the mother rejecting her kittens. When a mother rejects her kittens, she will refuse to let them nurse. She will not interact with them. You will not see her grooming and playing with the kittens. The kittens may meow constantly because they are lonely and hungry.
She may also move the kittens to a different location, or leave her kittens and go to another area. If she spends hours away from the kittens during the first weeks, she is rejecting them. She may reject all of the kittens, or only some of them.
Signs of Aggression
It can be difficult to distinguish between rough play and signs of aggression. A good mother will be gentle with her kittens during the first few weeks. However, she will discipline them. This can include ignoring them when they misbehave, or hissing at them. If the kittens don’t get the message, she may swat them with her paw. However, she should not harm them.
As the kittens get older, she will play with them. This helps them bond, and teaches them to hunt.
Signs the mother is being aggressive include scratching or biting the kittens hard enough to leave wounds. The kittens may also cry out in pain when the mother is interacting with them.
Often, a mother who is aggressive will also show some signs of rejection. She may allow the kittens to nurse, but not groom them properly. She may reject them completely and become aggressive if they seek her out.
A mother cat that is under extreme stress can harm her kittens. In this case, you may see exaggerated parenting behaviors. She may carry them from one place to another, moving them often. She may groom them excessively. She may also seem anxious when away from the kittens. Some anxious mothers will pace or swish their tails. Others will not leave the kittens, even to eat and potty.
Can you prevent a cat from eating their kittens?
In most cases, yes, you can. Keeping the kittens safe requires monitoring, without unnecessary interference.
The Birthing Process
When the mother is giving birth, monitor the process. Do not interfere unless it’s absolutely necessary. Trust that your mother cat knows what to do. If you notice that a kitten is not being cleaned or fed after delivery, you may need to care for it yourself.
During the first few weeks, you’ll want to give your momma privacy. It’s best to provide her with her own room. Keep other people and pets out of the room. You’ll need to make visits to check on the kittens, but avoid picking them up after birth unless necessary.
After the first week, you can begin to handle the kittens with the mother’s approval. Limit these early interactions to a few minutes at a time. If the mother gets upset and begins pacing, meowing, or trying to take the kitten away from you, put it back and exit the room.
It’s best to wait until the kittens have their eyes open and are beginning to move around, at 2 to 3 weeks, to allow others to interact with them. Socializing the kittens is important, and the mother needs to get used to the kittens being handled. However, doing it too early can cause her stress. It may even cause her to reject the kittens.
Many owners prefer to give the mother a private room, but use a baby gate to prevent unwanted intruders. This is particularly important if you have other animals in the home. A baby gate gives you a way to check on mother and kittens, without intruding on their space.
Spotting Signs of Trouble
In most cases, everything goes well. You limit interaction with the kittens, and the mother takes excellent care of them. However, you’ll need to take action if she is displaying rejection or aggression towards her kittens.
Some owners have success with bringing abandoned kittens back to the mother and the rest of the litter. It is ok to try this, as long as she isn’t showing signs of aggression.
If she has a large number of kittens, she may not be able to produce enough milk. In this case, you will need to supplement her feeding with bottle-feeding. If she allows all kittens to nurse, you can supplement all of the kittens with formula. If she has rejected certain kittens, you’ll need to become their caregiver. You’ll need to feed them formula when needed, and tend to their grooming.
If the mother is showing signs of aggression to the point of harming the kittens, you’ll need to remove them from her. You are then responsible for their care.
Keeping Them Safe From Other Animals
There’s no set rule for who you allow around the kittens. Some fathers can help with rearing the litter, while most show little interest. Other female cats can also help, often grooming kittens from other cats within their social group.
It is probably best to keep kittens away from other animals during the first week to two weeks of life. Then, you can allow other animals around them and see how they interact. Be mindful of mom. If she seems distressed, remove the other animal and try again a few days later. If there’s any sign of aggression from the other animal, remove them immediately and wait until the kittens are older to reintroduce them.