a cat with her kitten

Why Do Cats Eat Their Kittens?

If you’ve ever bred a litter of kittens, you might be aware of the sad fact that sometimes the mother will eat her kittens. However, it is quite rare. It’s hard to believe that any mother would want to harm their young, and cats can be such gentle animals. So, why do cats eat their kittens? And what can you do to try to make sure that she doesn’t?

Reasons why cats eat their kittens

The main reasons for cannibalism in cats are stress, rejection, immaturity and over-handling.

Stress

The most common cause of a mother cat eating her kittens is stress. This might include a perceived threat from another animal, but quite often it is us as humans that inadvertently cause our new feline family stress.

It’s an exciting time when a cat has kittens, and it’s natural to want to check in on them regularly, both due to concern and excitement. But, disturbing a mother cat during the early days by picking up or touching them or the kittens, or even by entering their room and not giving them space, can have dire consequences.

Rejection

If a mother cat doesn’t have much milk, she may reject the runt of the litter. Similarly, any kittens that have birth defects or health conditions may also be rejected by the mother. Thankfully, this often only means that she will ignore the rejected kittens and not allow them to feed, leaving you as the owner, or breeder, to take over the responsibility of rearing them. However, in more extreme cases of rejection, the mother cat may eat them.

Immaturity

Young cats haven’t had enough time in their short lives to mature and develop. Therefore, they commonly show poor mothering ability and less willingness or understanding when it comes to feeding and nurturing her litter. This lack of mothering instinct means that they are far more likely to react negatively to stressful or threatening situations and are at a much greater risk of eating their kittens.

Over-handling

Any time that a kitten is handled by a well-meaning owner, the smell of that person is transferred to the kitten. Because cats rely heavily on their sense of smell, overhandling can cause the kitten to be rejected by the mother because they don’t recognize the kitten as one of their own.

So, what can I do to help?

Any new litter of kittens should be left alone with their mother as much as possible. Try to ensure their own space – ideally somewhere warm, calm, and quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of family life. Although it’s tempting to have a peek, try to keep an eye from a distance and keep any handling to a minimum.

Ideally, female cats should not be bred until they are over 18 months old when they will be mature and have a better chance of taking motherhood in their stride. Finally, monitor the kittens to see that they are all feeding and getting stronger, if any seem to be being ignored by the mother it may be best to remove them and hand-rear them.

Conclusion

So that’s why cats eat their kittens. Thankfully, if you follow all of these steps, you should have a happy and healthy feline family!

9 comments

  1. My daughters cat had 1 kitten and 3 days after it was born she ate half the kitten. My daughter called the vet and asked why. Was something wrong with the kitten and the vet told her probably not that they are myths about why cats eat their young . That the truth is they are just bad mothers.

  2. I believe in the explanation of why they eat their kittens
    And now I understand.why.my.cat ate her kittens I kept timing when they will.be due unfortunately I came.late and found the legs only don’t know how.many mother cat ate but true may she was hungry in my absence on top of that she was still.young to.be a mother

  3. Actually we had a cat that are her only kitten…everything but the head. The kitten was malformed and had a large head and a tiny body. . She ate the kitten rather then have it die a long slow death. It is how nature handles things. She couldn’t call the vet and ask what is wrong with my baby. She knew instinctively she had to end it’s life. Why don’t you read articles or talk to a vet before opening your mouth. I am in my 60s and have done cat rescue since I was 30. I only ever had 1 cat do this and I was 14 when she did it.

  4. Sorry mother cats dont eat there babies.
    I e been arnd females cats since I was 5 yrs old.im 50 now and I still have cats that has kittens.
    All of my 45 yrs of haven females cats raising kittens never ever ate one of there babies litter .
    Ppl just like to lie abt crap and start crap..

    1. Not true!! I had a stray that ate one of her kittens 5 days after it was born bc it died !! It’s the only time I had ever seen this but it definitely happens

    2. Sadly, you are not correct. In situations of extreme stress or disability a mother will. I would say , however, if you have taken very good care of your baby whilst pregnant, fed well, lots of nutrients and lots of cuddles it would be unlikely. But, animals have there own way of sorting situations out . x🐾x🐾

    3. I have stray cat since more then w years ever 4 to 5 month’s she give birth yesterday 20thapril 2022 she gave 5 beautiful healthy kittens now today in the morning 6 o clock she ate her one baby i just wondering what she is doing nd i saw legs half she eaten. It never happenes before she gave birth almost 5 kittens but last time she give birth 7 kittens one left she is about 7 months old i was soo upset because of her behaviour now i was thinking to check google whats wrong or any disease she has its very painfull today i am writing it my heart is litterly crying for such behaviour .

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