Do cats eat their babies?

The special relationship that exists between a mother cat and the kittens is comparable to the relationship of a mother and her child. Kittens are born deaf and blind but these newborns survive because pregnancy makes cats develop maternal instinct that allows queens to take care of the newborns. Unfortunately, a lot of cat parents have witnessed the distressing sight of the mother cat eating her kittens. Yes, for some reasons, a cat can eat her babies.

Even from the time of parturition, the maternal instinct will already be at play. A mother cat would not need human intervention in delivering her babies. A mother cat would instinctively tear the membrane that covers the kitty and lick the newborn to clear its nose and mouth. The mother cat would instinctively know that it is necessary to bite off the umbilical cord. Although kittens have the rooting reflex that allows them to find the mother’s nipple, the mother cat would still lick and nozzle the kittens towards the nipples. Mother cats would hide and protect the litter from predators. However, there are instances when mother cats would eat her babies. Killing and eating the kittens is attributed to a number of reasons.

It is possible that pregnancy failed to make the cat develop a maternal instinct because of hormonal imbalance. Cats have an innate hunting ability. The inherent desire to hunt cannot be switched off so that the presence of the kittens would trigger the cat’s instinct to hunt. The mother cat will then eat one of the babies. The kitten may be born at a time when food is scarce. Even the queen would find it hard to survive in early spring or in winter because of inadequate food. The queen will kill and eat her babies. This situation is common in feral cats.

Kitten may be born with abnormalities. Humans have no way of detecting the kitten’s condition but the mother cat would know if the baby cat will not survive. Instead of exerting effort and energy on the kitty that will not survive, the mother will simply kill and eat the frail kitty. Stress during the pregnancy and parturition is another reason why cats would eat their babies. A highly stressed cat would instinctively know that she cannot provide enough nourishment to make the litter survive. It would be preferable to kill and to eat the babies so that she will regain her strength and recover whatever energy she has expended during the pregnancy and delivery. It must be remembered that cats are strict carnivores. The nutrients gained from eating the babies will enable the queen to return to breeding condition sooner.

Eating the babies can be the mother cat’s way of protecting the litter from predators. Cats would always transfer the litter to another location deemed to be much safer if the nest is disturbed. In instances where there is nowhere else to go and when there is no other way of protecting the litter from the threat of predators, the queen would kill and eat the babies. Eating a kitten that died is another way of protecting the litter from predators that can smell the carrion. Owners are often advised to refrain from handling the newborn kittens too much. Cats have different personalities. While some cats would appreciate the help of the owners in caring for the litter, others would view the baby as prey especially if she cannot recognize the scent as her own.

The sight of a mother cat eating her babies would be highly stressful for the cat owners. Cats that eat their babies must not be allowed to breed again. The litter would naturally carry the genes of the parents thus allowing a baby eater to breed again would perpetuate the undesirable behavior.