Why do cats sometimes eat their kittens? 7 reasons for this behavior

If you raise cats or take care of stray cats that often have kittens, one of the most terrifying and upsetting things you are likely to experience is seeing your cat eat one of her babies. Fortunately, this is not very common, but it is possible. If there’s the possibility of having kittens in your future, keep reading as we look at why cats do this and how likely it is to happen on your watch so you can be better prepared.

Why do cats eat kittens?

1. It’s unhealthy

One of the most common reasons a cat eats one of its kittens is that it is sick or unhealthy and unlikely to live. In this case, the mother will eat the kitten to prevent her from suffering. Cats have over 200 million scent sensors in their noses, and they can use their keen sense of smell to detect things we can’t, and many people think disease is one of things they can smell. An unhealthy kitten poses a danger to the rest of the litter because if it dies, bacteria can spread quickly, leaving other kittens vulnerable.

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2. It’s a stillborn

As just mentioned, a dead kitten can quickly spread bacteria to the rest of the litter, so the cat has no choice but to eat it if it is stillborn.

3. The litter is in danger

You might wonder why you couldn’t remove the sick or dead kitten so the cat wouldn’t eat it. The answer is that your cat will not tolerate any interference with the litter box for at least the first week after birth. Any attempt to approach it will make her think the place is unsafe and she will start moving it. If she can’t move it or feels it’s too difficult, she might eat one or more of the kittens, so most experts recommend staying away from the nesting area at all costs for a week or two. .

Cats with good homes are extremely unlikely to eat their kittens as they feel secure and will generally move the nest if you get too close. In the wild, your cat is threatened by multiple predators who might see the kittens as an easy meal, and the mother might eat the kittens to reduce stress if she feels they are unsafe.

mother cat protecting her kitten
Image credit: chddima, Pixabay

4. A long and stressful job

Some cats can give birth for three days or more. Although the cat can eat and drink during this time, the process can have a huge impact on them. Long deliveries can often leave the cat hungry and they may consume a kitten to regain some of the nutrients they have lost. Cats are strict carnivores and they can recover important nutrients by eating a kitten which will help them continue to give birth.

5. Inexperience

It’s rare, but inexperience may be the reason some mothers eat their kittens for the first time. Your cat may not know what to do except eat them, or it may be too brutal, unintentionally killing and then eating the dead.

6. Malnourished

One of the most common reasons a cat may eat one of its kittens in the wild is that it is malnourished and needs the nutrients it gets from eating its young. She also usually eats the placenta. If the cat is extremely thin, it may eat the entire litter. If there are kittens left, they will receive more nutrients through mother’s milk, so sacrificing one can improve the health of many.

Fortunately, it is rarer in America for a pet cat to be underweight to the point where they will have to eat a kitten to survive. Some experts suggest that up to 50% of cats over the age of five are obese and could lose a few pounds.

a newborn kitten drinks its mother's milk
Image credit: Rembolle, Shutterstock

7. He does not recognize the kitten

Another reason to avoid approaching kittens when they are first born is that your cat will use its strong sense of smell to identify its offspring. The slightest change in smell could cause your cat to mistake the kitten for a predator, and he won’t hesitate to kill for the litter’s sake. One touch is often enough to change a kitten’s scent and confuse the mother.

Do male cats eat kittens?

Male cats do not eat kittens and are more concerned with protecting their territory and rounding up females for mating. There is little chance that the father will even get close to the kittens for the first few weeks. However, some male cats may tether another female’s litter to help ensure the survival of their offspring by reducing the demand for resources. When the male cat kills these kittens, he can also eat them.

The best way to prevent your female cat from eating her kittens is to keep her healthy when she’s not pregnant. When it’s time to give birth, give her a private space away from traffic and noise. Resist the temptation to intervene in any way, so as not to make her feel that the safety of the litter is compromised, and there will be a small risk that she will eat the kittens.

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