Do mother cats eat their kittens?

Both male and female cats can kill and eat kittens. This gross behavior though is more common in female cats. Mother cats are known to eat their kittens.

Marauding tomcats are usually the killer and eater of kittens. As such it is not uncommon for mother cats to hide the litter from these male cats. Tom cats would kill kittens sired by other tom cats although it would not be unheard of if they do kill and eat the kittens they have fathered. The kittens can be considered as prey by the tom cats. Tom cats can kill kittens fathered by another tom so that the queen would soon be in heat again and they will have the chance to father the next litter. Kitten killing and eating though is more commonly done by mother cats. What can be the reason for this behaviour?

In the feline world, caring for the young is solely the responsibility of the female cat. Cats are solitary animals. Cats only look for other cats during the mating season. A male cat’s role in feline reproduction starts and ends with impregnating the female cat. Tom cats would go on their own way after mating with the female cats. The rearing of the kittens will be assumed by the mother cat. Mother cats would not only supply the nutritional needs of the litter but will also make sure that the kittens are protected. Mother cats would look for a secure place, one where the kittens would be safe from the threat of predators. And when danger is perceived, the mother cat would painstakingly transfer the kittens one by one to another safe place. Unfortunately, not all mother cats have maternal instinct…not all mother cats are mother material. Although not very common, some mother cats would kill and eat her kittens.

Pregnancy and birthing hormones should develop the maternal instinct of mother cats. However, there are cases wherein the mother cat has not developed maternal instinct so that it would not know what to do during birthing. Hormonal imbalance would also cause a mother cat to see the kittens as prey. Cats are predators. Killing and eating the kittens can be associated with the cat’s instinct to hunt. The sight of the defenceless kittens would trigger the hunting instinct of the mother cat. A mother cat would kill and eat a kitten that has a poor chance of surviving. Humans may not detect the abnormalities of a kitten but a mother would already know that the kitten would not thrive. The kitten will be eaten as it would be a good source of nutrition. The mother cat would not want to waste her milk and her energy on kittens that would not survive. The mother cat’s act of killing and eating a kitten can be a misplaced protective instinct. The cat may perceive a threat from predators and the failure to find a safe place would cause the cat to eat the kittens instead to protect them from predators. A kitten that was handled by humans or by another animal will not be recognized by the mother cat as her own. The mother cat’s scent will be obliterated by the scent of the human or the animal. Stress would cause the mother cat to eat and kill the kitten. A mother cat would also eat a dead kitten to dispose the carrion that would otherwise attract predators.

Cat owners that see the pet eating one of her kittens would certainly get vexed no matter how much the pet is loved. Cats that kill and eat kittens would be poor breeders. These cats should not be given another chance to get pregnant. It would be a good idea to have the cat spayed.