Cats are territorial by nature. So, it’s not uncommon to hear of squabbles or to see them exert dominance as they attempt to establish a hierarchy. But the situation can become significantly more dangerous when you add a kitten to the mix. Besides, these little bundles of fur are incredibly fragile. Will an adult cat attack a kitten, and is there anything you can do to prevent it? Here is all you need to know.
So, do cats attack kittens? Adult cats may attack kittens if they feel their territory is being threatened. This is more likely to occur with unneutered males as they have a much stronger territorial instinct than neutered cats. Adult felines may also attack out of frustration, as kittens are known to be fairly boisterous!
Whether you own an adult cat, have recently gotten a new kitten, or perhaps you are looking to introduce the two, the truth remains the same.
You need to be particularly mindful of any interaction, and introductions should happen slowly gradually and should be supervised at all times.
But there is a lot more to it, as you shall soon realize if you continue reading the following sections.
Why Would A Cat Attack A Kitten?
A cat will likely attack a kitten in response to a change in dynamics and territories. They could see the kitten as a threat, or they could be causing undesirable changes to the established environment. Such friction will naturally result in aggression until a new hierarchy can be established.
Natural Territorial Drive
Usually, this type of aggression is caused by stress or even fear of the new intruder.
However, it is more likely to happen with tomcats as their territorial drives are much higher than those of neutered cats.
It is worth remembering that most cats will avoid physical conflict as it is viewed as a threat to their survival.
Any injuries caused by fighting may weaken an individual and make it more vulnerable to predation in the wild.
Our pet cats have the same attribute, but there is one big difference – domestic cats usually have much smaller territories and are less able to escape from a conflict.
This is when fights happen!
To Bully Them Into Place
But what possible issue could a young kitten pose to an adult cat?
If the adult is continually hounding the kitten and attacking when unprovoked, it could be a simple case of bullying.
A fragile kitten is a very easy target for a cat with an alpha complex!
Signs to watch out for include:
- Physically pushing the kitten off of your lap or other preferred resting places
- Food aggression
- Pouncing on the kitten when it is sleeping
- Blocking exits and entrances to rooms
Conversely, you could simply be dealing with a case of incompatibility.
Think about it.
Your cat is getting a bit elderly and enjoys just lounging around the home in peace.
Then you add a bouncy kitten to the mix!
You can understand how that would irritate your feline companion!
Kittens are full of energy and are known to be a bit boisterous.
When they are not sleeping, they love to play fight as this helps them to build up the skills they need to survive as adults.
But this overzealous behavior may not be welcomed by an adult cat that would much rather prefer to take a nap on the sofa!
Before the age of 16 weeks, kittens are still working out correct behaviors and those that are met with a swipe.
This means they often miss the subtle signs that adult cats display when they have had enough.
Issues like the above can be worsened if your kitten has not been socialized properly.
Between the age of 2-7 weeks, kittens enter a critical socialization period in their development.
If they are not exposed to other cats or repeated handling in this period, then they can develop behavioral problems later in life, including aggression.
Aggression vs. Play Fighting
How can you tell when a kitten (or cat) is being aggressive or when it is just play fighting?
Here is a handy guide to help you decipher the behavioral differences:
- Ear position: When playing, kittens and cats will often position their ears upright or slightly forward. If you notice the ears are facing backward and flat against the head, this is a sign of aggression.
- Vocalizations: Kittens can get over-excited during play sessions, and you may hear the odd meow or chirrup. However, be sure to listen out for any hissing sounds as this indicates aggression.
- Body posture: Kittens and cats that are in play mode will have a more relaxed posture and generally lean their bodies forward. A leaned-back posture coupled with raised hackles (hairs) is a sign that the fight has turned real!
- Claws: Playful kittens will often keep their claws retracted. When claws are exposed, the fight is on!
- Reciprocity: Cats that are play fighting will often take turns being the ‘victim.’ When the fight becomes more one-sided, especially if one cat is repeatedly biting the other, then it is a warning sign.
Aside from bullying and incompatibility, paternal behavior is another issue that can lead to aggression.
Female cats are known to be very maternal and will actively defend their kittens from any perceived threat – including the kitten’s father!
In fact, females have been known to chase males away to protect their kittens from attack.
Will Cats Kill Kittens?
Some male cats can become very hostile towards kittens and even attempt to kill them. Especially if the kittens are not their own. This behavior has an evolutionary advantage in the wild because killing rival males’ kittens will open up more opportunities to mate. Saying that it is important to note that not every male will try to kill a kitten.
As mentioned above, it is more prevalent in unneutered males.
So, if you own a tomcat, it is advisable to keep them away from young kittens.
Spaying and neutering are not mandatory in the US, but it is still advisable to have the procedure performed on any pet cat over the age of 5 months old, to prevent undesirable behaviors and unwanted kittens!
Neutered males often grow into well-rounding and gentle cats that should accept a kitten as long as they have been introduced properly.
However, there are always exceptions!
Kittens make unpredictable movements and have high-pitched voices, which can confuse an adult male.
This could activate his prey drive and cause him to attack or even kill a kitten.
Every individual is different, so it is important to closely supervise all interactions in the early stages of an introduction.
So, what about females? Will they attack a new kitten? The likelihood is less than males.
Female cats have strong maternal instincts and have even been known to foster other kittens or animals, including rabbits, squirrels, and hedgehogs!
However, certain situations can arise that may cause a female cat to attack.
- An underlying health condition: If a cat is in pain, it is much more likely to lash out at an unsuspecting bystander as a result of frustration. If your cat has suddenly developed aggressive tendencies, especially if this is accompanied by other signs of discomfort and a loss of appetite, then you should seek the advice of a vet.
- Stress: We all know that cats are averse to change. However, if the situation isn’t rectified, then it can lead to chronic stress. This may cause your cat to become more aggressive or defensive in the home.
- High prey drive: Regardless of gender, some cat breeds have a much higher prey drive than others. Hybrid breeds, such as Savannah cats and Bengals, have the highest. If an adult cat has not been exposed to a kitten before, it may mistake the kitten for a prey animal and attack.
At What Age Are Kittens Safe From Cats?
By the time your kittens are 3-4 months old, they are normally strong enough to hold their own against other cats. Kittens up to the age of 4 weeks are vulnerable as they have minimal mobility. So, it is best to keep them away from other cats.
Once your kittens reach 4-8 weeks old, they will have much better control over their legs.
However, you should still keep them separate as they are not yet able to defend themselves.
Once they reach eight weeks old, you can begin slow introductions with other cats but ensure you supervise all interactions so you can watch for any potential signs of aggression.
How To Keep Your Kitten Safe From Cats
Kittens should not be exposed to other cats (particularly males) in the first couple of weeks of life, as they are just too fragile. After this period, you should still supervise all interactions to be on the safe side. You should also separate them immediately if any signs of aggression are displayed.
If this occurs, you should refrain from trying to comfort your kitten in the presence of the attacker, as this is likely to cause frustration.
Instead, separate the cat and the kitten until they have had a chance to calm down and compose themselves.
Whether you own the cat or the kitten (or both) will largely influence how this pans out.
Either way, be sure to reassure your kitten/cat after any hostile interaction.
At the same time, NEVER punish a cat for aggressive behavior, as this could make the situation worse.
Remember that cats generally only attack when they feel threatened.
Punishing these emotions is likely to lead to more detrimental health issues such as anxiety and even more extreme aggression.
If you own both, to encourage peace between your feline companions, it is a good idea to feed them at the same time every day and place the food bowls relatively close together.
This will help them to build up a positive association with each other.
You should also regularly play with your kitten/cat to burn off excess energy and frustration.
Ensure each cat has their own items to prevent territorial aggression.
How To Introduce Kittens To Cats
Introducing kittens to cats can be achieved with a strategic approach.
Here is how to safely and successfully do it.
When introducing any new cat or kitten, you should have them meet for short periods in a controlled environment for a few weeks.
As mentioned above, cats are territorial animals (even kittens), so they need time to get used to each other.
NEVER just put both animals in the same room and let them ‘fight it out’ as this can lead to serious injuries.
Create Separate Spaces
When you first get your kitten, you will want to set up a separate room for him.
Provide a food and water bowl, litter tray, toys, bedding, a few safe hiding places, and a small scratching post to help your little one feel at home.
Make sure that none of these items have been used by your other cats because the unfamiliar scent will likely cause stress.
It is important to allow your new kitten to settle in for a week or so before introducing any other cat face to face.
Cats have a very acute olfactory sense, so they will be able to smell each other without physically interacting.
During this time, you can add calming scents such as Feliway to encourage a sense of security.
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Once your new kitten is comfortable in its surroundings, you can begin with the next stage of the introduction – scent swapping.
Grab a couple of your cats’ and kittens’ toys, and swap them over.
Then you can move on to swapping bedding.
If there are no adverse reactions, physically swap your cats over into each other’s rooms so they can explore.
If this goes well, then it is time for your cats to finally meet each other!
The first meeting should be visual only, which can be achieved by placing your kitten in a pet crate or by using a Perspex sheet or glass door as a barrier.
The final stage is to allow your cats to physically meet, but this should only be done under close supervision.
If any signs of aggression are displayed, move back to a stage and try again.
It is important to never rush a cat introduction as this can lead to much bigger problems down the line.
Especially if you are dealing with a fragile kitten!
If all goes well, you can gradually build up the time a cat and a kitten are can spend with one another.
Cats can attack kittens.
They can even kill them.
So you do need to exercise caution – particularly while the kittens are still young and fragile.
Thankfully, they soon develop to hold their own against cats; and this is usually after the time they are allowed outside.
Nevertheless, if you own a cat and a kitten, you do have to be mindful and careful in the interim.
But by following these steps and exercising patience, you can create a harmonious living environment for everyone involved.
Wondering what else a cat may attack? Then my following guides may be of interest
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.