Perhaps a friend recently confided in you that their cat has killed some of its kittens. There is even a chance your own cat has shocked you by killing its kittens. Either way, these events can bring up many feelings of both sadness and confusion for you as an animal lover or pet owner. These events definitely lead us to wonder why cats kill their kittens and what we can do about it. So that will be the topic of today’s article. We’ll be covering it all!
So, why do cats kill their kittens? Cats kill their kittens for a variety of reasons, such as being young themselves (and not feeling confident in their own ability to rear), a lack of maternal instincts, poor living conditions, and extreme stress or fear. In some cases, they may kill their kittens if they appear to have a deformity or illness.
Understanding the reasons why cats kill their kittens can help us think of ways to prevent this tragedy and problem-solve when it does occur.
So, with this in mind, let us continue to explore the reasons in much greater detail. Besides, understanding them could help you save a young kitten or too, so stick around!
Reasons Why Cats May Kill Their Kittens
There are several reasons that a cat may kill their kittens, including, but not limited to, the mother being young herself, poor maternal instincts, a lack of food or nutrition for the mother, having kittens born with illnesses or deformities, or as a reaction to stress and fear.
Each of these reasons is sad to think about, but if you have a cat who has killed her kittens, it is worth exploring the possible reason in further detail to prevent the problem from continuing.
Becoming A Mother Too Early
As humans, we understand that it takes time for someone to mature enough to be able to care for themselves and even longer for them to be able to care for a baby or child.
While cats mature faster than people, this need for some time to grow and mature before reproducing still exists.
A cat who has become pregnant and has kittens before their maternal instincts have time to develop may kill their kittens, especially if it is the cat’s first litter.
Giving birth is a stressful event for a cat, and a young cat may experience fear and confusion during this process.
If a cat’s maternal instincts have not kicked in, they may hear the cries of their kittens and see their uncoordinated movements and confuse them for prey or something threatening.
Poor Maternal Instincts
While a young mother may struggle with caring for a litter of kittens, as they mature, they usually become better mothers and are less likely to kill their kittens.
Still, there are some cats who simply have a lack of maternal instincts.
Some people believe that this problem is a mix of genetics and environment, implying that a cat whose mother has had difficulty caring for kittens will be more likely to harm or kill its own kittens.
Cats that live in low-stress environments and have access to proper nutrition and shelter but still kill their kittens may simply lack natural instincts to raise their kittens.
A Lack Of Food or Water
Creating milk to nurse a litter of kittens is a lot of work for a cat’s body.
In order to produce enough milk to feed its litter, a cat needs to be able to find plenty of food and fresh water.
If a cat does not have these things and is not producing milk, it may kill some or all of its kittens.
While a mother cat wants to care for her kittens, nature requires that she put her own life before her kittens.
If a mother cat reaches a point where she senses that she is not producing milk and her kittens are not thriving, she may kill her kittens to try and direct her milk towards fewer mouths or to relieve some of the burden on her own body of nursing kittens that are not likely getting enough to eat.
Sadly, some cats (usually feral cats) may also need to kill their kittens as a source of food for themselves so that they can live long enough to attempt to reproduce again when food is easier to find.
First-time mother cats are more prone to suffering from food shortages because they aren’t sure when it is best to leave their kittens to do things such as a hunt or visit the food bowl until they are so hungry that they don’t act in their kitten’s best interest.
Having Kittens Born With Deformities or Illness
In the wild, only those best suited for their environment survive.
Even though we have domesticated cats, this bit of truth is hard-wired into their instincts.
If a mother cat can sense that one or more of her kittens is too ill to thrive or has deformities that make it unable to survive to adulthood, she is likely to kill the kitten.
It may seem heartless for a cat to kill off kittens who are born with complications, but this is nature’s way of making sure that the remaining healthy kittens have enough milk and other resources to grow.
For outdoor cats or feral cats, a kitten with a severe deformity isn’t likely to live long, and if it does, it may experience a much worse death as prey to another animal or slow suffering related to their birth defect.
A sick kitten is not just a risk to its own health but also to the rest of the litter, the mother, and any other cats she may live near.
By killing this kitten, the mother is protecting the health of the other kittens and herself.
A Response To Stress or Fear
We have already discussed how giving birth may be stressful for a cat who is having her first litter.
Still, there are other times that stress or fear may cause an experienced mother cat to kill her kittens.
Even for experienced mothers, raising a litter of kittens is hard work and energy-consuming.
If a mother cat feels that the place where her kittens are being kept is unsafe and she is unable to move her kittens to a new place, she may kill her litter.
When a mother cat knows that a situation is continually unsafe or is fearing for the lives of her kittens without being able to provide for them, killing her kittens is nature’s way of relieving the stress of kitten care.
This gives the cat an opportunity to escape to a safer space where she can attempt to reproduce again.
Stress makes animals (and people!) do things they would never do under normal circumstances.
For a cat with young kittens, this means that lasting feelings of intense stress can lead a mother cat to kill her kittens.
This is one reason it is often wise to leave kittens alone and not to be trying to frequently pet, hold, and move young kittens.
If the mother perceives you as a constant stress or the handling of her kittens builds her stress level, she may kill her kittens in response.
It is important to remember that sometimes a mother cat may simply kill her kittens by mistake by laying on them or pushing one away from the litter as she moves and cares for other kittens in the litter.
What Can Stop Cats Killing Their Kittens
Finding out that your cat has killed her kittens is both a sad and sometimes traumatic event. Suppose you have cats that live outdoors as barn cats; you do not want to have to be confronted with multiple litters of kittens whose mother has turned against them. The good news is there are some things that can help.
Give Your Cat More Time
If your cat kills her first litter of kittens, give your cat time to grow and mature before having a second litter.
This may mean keeping your outdoor cat sectioned off away from roaming Tom (Male) cats, especially at night.
If you are intentionally breeding your cats, then hold off on breeding for another six months to a year if the first litter is unsuccessful.
Many times a cat that harmed her first litter will go on to have successful, healthy litters in the future.
Provide A High-Quality Diet
Make sure that your mother cat is eating quality food on a frequent basis during her pregnancy and while nursing her kittens.
If you know your cat has recently had kittens make sure to monitor her and see that she is leaving to eat food from her bowl or another food source at least a couple of times each day.
Also, make sure to have plenty of clean, fresh water nearby.
Reduce Your Cats Stress
Lower your mother cat’s stress by keeping dogs and unknown people away from the litter.
Dogs and other large animals pose a great risk to both a cat and her kittens.
A dog that is barking or acting aggressively towards your cat can cause a lot of stress and fear.
The same is true for unknown but well-meaning people who want to hold their kittens and play with them when they are very young.
Protect The Kittens
If you notice that a kitten seems ill or is not thriving with the litter, remove the kitten and seek veterinary assistance.
You may need to play a role in raising the kitten or make other decisions regarding the kitten’s care and life plan.
By removing the kitten, you lower the chance the mother cat will feel the need to take on the issue herself by killing the kitten and possibly other littermates.
Do Cats Kill Other Cats’ Kittens?
There are some times when a cat may kill another cat’s kittens, but the killing of other cat’s kittens is still considered rare. Most of the time, if a cat kills another cat’s kittens, it is a mix of territorial and survival behavior.
For mother cats, these times usually involve a kitten that does not belong with them getting mixed into their own litter.
Some cats, like my sweet barn cat Nahla, will raise any kitten they come across.
She has been known to take in kittens from litters with unsuccessful or new mothers and raise them as her own.
Other female cats will notice a kitten that does not belong to them and kill it so that it does not take away resources from their own litter.
The other common cause of a cat killing another cat’s kittens is when a new male cat has taken over a territory.
A male cat is designed to want to create and be around adult females and their own direct offspring.
If a male tomcat comes across kittens in its territory that it feels are not his own, he may kill them in order to be able to reproduce more quickly with their mother and pass on his own genetics.
In domestic cat situations, this problem can be prevented by keeping any and all tomcats far away from young litters.
No matter how you look at it, the loss of a kitten’s life is a sad event.
If your pet cat turns out to be expecting a litter of her own, you will want to make sure she has a safe and quiet space to deliver and raise her kittens with food and water readily available.
If your cat is a first-time mother, do frequent visual checks on the litter to make sure the cat is getting the hang of her new role as a mom.
If you have outdoor cats, oftentimes, the best approach is to let nature take its course while considering relocating any cats that show a repeated habit of killing healthy kittens.
The best news of all is that a cat killing her kittens under normal circumstances, while not unheard of, is still uncommon outside of a mother’s first litter.
Wondering why cats may attack or kill other animals or pets, or even be attacked themselves? Then my following guides may be of interest:
- Do Cats Attack Kittens?
- Do Cats Attack Chickens?
- Do Cats Attack Rabbits?
- Why Do Dogs Attack Cats?
- Do Crows Attack Cats?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.