A mother cat eating their kittens is sad but it does happen. I’ve seen this happen for myself and its hard to watch. The good news is however is that its a relatively rare phenomenon for them to do this and its even more rare if they are domesticated cats. On the rare occasions that they do why is this exactly?
Why Do Cats Eat Their Kittens After Birth?
Usually a mother cat will just abandon her kittens or even just ignores them but sometimes they resort to eating them. You might think that when a mother cat does this that maybe there is something wrong with them but the truth is its completely normal behavior for cats. It doesn’t even mean they are a bad mother for eating their kittens either its just part of their natural behavior. There are many factors that go into whether a mother cats does this or not. These include:
Birth Defects/Stillborn/Sickness: The most common reason mother cats eat their kittens is if one or more of the kittens were born sick, has a birth defect or was simply born dead. Cats sense of smell is 14 times more stronger than a humans and is so sensitive they can smell cancer or other disease. as a result they may kill the kitten if they think it has a low chance of survival and will put it out of its misery. They also do this because a decomposing kitten may cause a hygiene risk and the smell might attract predators so eating it will prevent these things.
Malnutrition: One of the most common reasons for a mother cat for eating her own kittens is if the mother is malnourished. Sometimes the mother doesn’t have a choice and its the only way that they can stay alive. Giving birth can also deplete nutrients and may also cause the mother to eat her own kittens to restore the lost nutrients. The good news is it will help nourish the surviving kittens as it adds minerals to the mothers milk.
Stress: This will typically happen with feral cats. Undomesticated cats face a lot of threats in the wild so naturally they are going to feel a lot more stress then a domesticated cat and as a result may eat her kittens so the predator doesn’t kill them first. A mother cat may also end up eating one of her kittens due to pain from feline mastitis, loud noise, even just handling her kittens especially after birth.
Misidentification: On rare occasions a mother cat might not be able to identify her own kittens and as a results may end up eating them. This may happen if the cat gave birth via a caesarian section. Birth-related hormones are not naturally released so it might confuse the cat and look at her kittens as prey.
This can also happen if you touch and handle her kittens early on in their birth. Mother cats will usually lick their young to imprint their scent onto them. If you handle them too much it might mask this scent and cause her to not know the kittens are hers. As a result it might cause the mother to look at the kittens as prey and she may eat them.
First Time Motherhood: Sometimes when a cat births kittens for the first time its may confuse them and they may not know what to do. They may also be really rough with the kittens as well but it an unintentional things that they do. When a cat gives birth they release a hormone called “Prolactin”. This is a special hormone that allows the mother to bonds with her kittens.
Sometimes however this response is delayed and will cause the mother to not want to bond with their offspring. It may even confuse them and look at the kittens as prey. You typically want to not touch the kittens for at least a week after birth unless you absolutely have to so this doesn’t happen.
Do Male Cats Eat Their Babies?
Mothers are known for eating their babies but this isn’t particularly common behavior in male cats. They will usually only do this if there is no other food source or if they confuse them as prey. Sometimes if they are carrying their kittens and they move around too much it can remind the male cat of prey and their hunter instincts will turn on causing them to kill the kitten.
Male cats rarely kill their own kittens but they are more known however for killing kittens that aren’t their own and its instinct for them to do so. Every male cat wants to have as much offspring as possible and be the main gene source in an area and killing other kittens are a good way of going about this.
This allows the cat to spread more of his genetics. They may also do this as a response to a female cat having kittens with another male cat. The female will be in no condition to mate so the male will kill the kittens to bring the female into heat. Male cats may even kill kittens for territorial reasons.
How To Know If A Cat Ate Her Kittens?
You will usually notice this if you hear less meowing or one of the kittens have gone missing.
How To Stop A Cat From Eating Her Kittens?
Taking measures like keeping your cat nourished, stress free and watching the mother for unusual behavior is the best way to prevent the mother from eating her young. If you see that the mother is ignoring one of the kittens remove them from the mother so you don’t risk the kitten being killed.
Seeing a mother cat eat their young can be very disturbing but if you take some precautions you can avoid this from happening.