One of the horrors of living with a nursing cat is coming home to find she gobbled up one, or two, of her own.
You are not alone, lots of pet parents have witnessed this supposed cruelty, leaving them puzzled with the question, why do mother cats eat their kittens?
A mother cat would eat one or all of her kittens if she perceives they are in danger. Also, a cat would eat a kitten or two if she is unable to produce enough milk for all her litter. You must provide enough cat to the mother cat during her nursing period.
As absurd as it sounds, a mother cat eats her kittens out of love.
It is a hard sacrifice she makes to ensure the survival of her litter.
Read on to discover, “Why do mother cats eat their kittens?” and what you can do to stop it from happening.
Don’t get it wrong.
Queens or female cats do care for their newborn litter.
Most females have a natural nurturing instinct to love and care for their babies.
But sometimes, in this nurturing journey, a mother cat needs to make some tough choices.
She will eat one or two of her kittens for the following reasons;
- Defects in the litter
- Perceived threat
- Malnourished mum
- Medical reasons
Sadly, stillbirths also happen in the feline world.
When one of the kittens is born dead, the mum will immediately eat her.
This is done for several reasons;
- Eating the stillborn kitten will provide nutrients that are passed to the other kittens
- The decomposing body of the kitten will attract predators. The mother cat will eat the dead kitten to protect the remaining litter
So, do not be too hard on your cat if she eats her stillborn babies.
She is ensuring the survival and continuity of her litter.
Defects in the litter
In the remaining litter, some of them may be born with defects.
Some of the congenital defects that affect newborn kittens include;
- Umbilical hernia
- Craniofacial defects (especially in Burmese kittens)
- Eyelid coloboma (affects Ragdolls mostly)
- Cleft palate
- Flat chest
- Ocular Dermoid (especially in Birman cats)
Any of the above defects can and will affect a kitten’s growth process.
It interferes in many physical processes, especially feeding on the mother’s milk.
Female cats are born with a strong maternal instinct that identifies the defective kittens in a litter.
Defects can be both internal and external.
The mother cat will eat the deformed kitten to save it from the disadvantages that lay ahead.
Female cats are very territorial when they are expecting a litter.
They will search for the hardest to find spots to give birth and nurture their kittens.
If they perceive their environment is under threat, they will take drastic measures.
One is to move all kittens to other locations.
If the danger is still imminent, the mother cat will have no choice but to eat her kittens.
She sees this as an act of mercy and love to her kittens- a more honorable death compared to being mauled by predators.
Nursing cats interpret human interference as a threat to the litter. The cat will likely move the litter or eat the kittens in the process.
A queen cat may also eat her kittens to reduce the litter to a more manageable size.
It is easier to move two kittens to safety as opposed to six of them.
In extreme cases, the cat may eat her entire litter.
During the pregnancy period, a lot of mother cats lose their appetite.
Once the litter is born, they will want to compensate for lost nutrients.
The first course is to eat the placenta to provide nutrients to the kittens through nursing milk.
The mother cat may also eat one or two kittens for nutrients.
Stray cats suffer malnutrition more than domesticated felines.
They are more likely to eat their litter for survival.
A domesticated cat may eat a kitten too if she feels malnourished.
This is likely to happen where the mother cat is not being fed enough nutrients.
Some medical issues affect nursing cats after birthing their litter.
Some of these medical conditions include;
- Feline hypocalcemia
- Milk fever
This is a condition that causes low calcium in nursing cats.
Feline hypocalcemia is only prevalent when the litter is born.
A professional vet will have to diagnose and treat the condition before it escalates.
Symptoms of feline hypocalcemia include;
- Muscle spasms
- Hypersensitivity to sound and touch
All these symptoms are life-threatening to a nursing cat.
Rather than face death, a female cat will eat her kitten to replenish lost nutrients.
Fortunately, feline hypocalcemia is a rare condition.
This is a postpartum condition that occurs three to four days after delivery.
In some cats, it may take longer to show.
Endometritis causes uterine inflammation.
Other symptoms of endometritis include;
- Increased thirst
- Vaginal discharge (often with a foul smell)
A female cat afflicted by endometritis may also ignore her litter.
She will not feed them and may even sleep or trample over them causing some of them to die.
Take your cat to a professional vet for a proper diagnosis of endometritis.
The vet will then prescribe some antibiotics to clear the infection.
Milk fever is an advanced form of feline hypocalcemia.
It is rampant in dairy cows although pets like cats suffer from it too.
Milk fever occurs in animals with extremely low levels of calcium in the blood.
Symptoms of milk fever include;
- Extremely low levels of calcium in the blood
- Excessive panting
In worse cases, milk fever can send a cat into a coma and eventually death.
Vets can diagnose and recommend calcium gluconate supplements or injections for the cat.
Also, it is advisable to spay the cat after a full recovery to prevent the condition from recurring.
This is a condition characterized by inflammation of the mammary glands.
Mastitis is usually caused by a germ or bacteria found on the skin or the suckling kitten’s mouth.
- Purple or deep red appearance on tits
- A thick yellowish-green discharge
- Lack of appetite
Mastitis is a very painful condition. It can cause mother cats to stop feeding their litter.
Kittens are likely to die if the condition is not treated early.
If you notice your cat wincing in pain whenever the kittens are suckling, she is likely suffering from mastitis.
Antibiotics and painkillers can help manage pain and clear the infection.
VIDEO: Why do cats eat their kittens
Why do mother cats eat their kittens?
To protect the remaining litter and ensure their survival to adulthood.
It is important to monitor a nursing cat to ensure they do not lack anything when nurturing their litter.
Frequently Asked Questions
A male kitten will kill and eat kittens they did not sire. This is a predatory instinct to help the female to go into heat again. The new litter will then belong to the new male cat.
A cat will reject kittens if they are touched a lot. Also, conditions like Mastitis can cause a cat not to feed kittens hence rejecting them. A cat may also reject the disadvantaged kittens in the litter-especially those with deformities or illness.
Yes, a cat will reject and eat a kitten if it is frequently touched by a human. The mother does not recognize the kitten because of the new scent from the human hands. It is important not to interfere with a cat’s litter until the weaning age.
Provide a secure place for your cat to nurse its litter. Also, ensure the mother is fed with a balanced diet during the whole nursing period. Only interfere with the litter if you want to rescue the disadvantaged kittens.