Your pet cat just gave birth and you’re excited to see the newborn kittens. However, you were horrified to discover that the mama cat ate one of her babies. Do cats eat their kittens? The answer is, Yes! Cats tend to eat their kittens typically if they’re deformed, stillborn, or have birth defects. A mother cat also tends to eat her young if she’s stressed or to protect them from predators.
Is it normal for mother cats to eat their kittens?
Knowing that mama cats tend to eat their kittens can be very disturbing and you may think that there’s something wrong with your cat. Why do cats eat their babies? Is it a normal behavior? Yes, it’s normal behavior for mama cats to eat their babies and some may even eat not just one kitten but the entire litter. While scientific studies haven’t provided specific reasons for the behavior, it is a part of their natural instincts.
Reasons why mama cats eat their kittens
Mama cats are naturally protective of their young and will do anything to keep them from harm and predators. But, there are instances when she eats her young. Here are common reasons why mama cats tend to eat their newborn babies.
1. If a kitten has birth defects, a stillborn or sick
A mother cat tends to eat her kittens if they’re stillborn, sick, or have birth defects when they’re born. However, sometimes she won’t eat them but will totally neglect and ignore them. There are instances that a mother cat will remove a sick kitten from the rest of the litter and separate or leave the kitten in another area of the house. If you’ve observed that the mama cat is ignoring a sick kitten, gently remove it and feed it. Similarly, if you see her taking away a sick kitten from the rest, feed and take care of the kitten separately and have it checked by the vet, too.
2. If a mother cat is stressed
Mama cats are highly susceptible to stress and anxiety before and after they give birth to their young and most of the time it’s because of environmental factors. These so-called environmental stressors may include loud noises, too much foot traffic in the room where she’s staying, and over-manipulation or handling her kittens too soon. All these may make the mama cat nervous, anxious, and fearful. She might think that the kittens will be taken away or become exposed to predators and as a result, she’ll end up eating her young.
3. To protect them from predators and out of mercy for her young.
Felines have the natural instinct to protect their babies from predators in the wild and even domesticated cats still have this natural urge. If a mama cat feels that her kittens become exposed to predators especially if the place where she’s in along with her young has distractions such as noises and unfamiliar people, then she may end up eating her kittens out of mercy and to protect them from predators. Also, she may eat them out of mercy because she may have given birth to too many kittens so she’ll eat some of her young to be able to provide enough milk for the rest of the kittens.
4. If she feels threatened
Mama cats may feel threatened by other pets and people in the household so she will resort to eating the kittens. To prevent this from happening, make sure to provide a secure and quiet place for your mama cat and her young.
5. If she’s malnourished
A malnourished mama cat may eat one or more kittens to make up for the nutrients and food that she needs. She may only eat one or two kittens if she feels that it’s enough for her to feed the remaining kittens. However, this can be prevented from happening by making sure that your mama cat is well-fed and has a proper diet to be able to feed her young well.
6. If she’s suffering from feline mastitis
Feline mastitis is an alarming medical condition that mama cats tend to suffer after giving birth. A mama cat’s mammary glands become infected and this could be life-threatening for her babies since the infection can be passed on to them during nursing. Due to the intense pain, mama cats may ignore her kittens or eat them alive. To prevent the mama cat from eating her young, it’s best to separate them for the time being and consult the vet on the right medication and treatment for the mama cat’s condition.
7. If she doesn’t recognize her kittens
This is somewhat rare but there are instances when a mama cat won’t be able to recognize her young at all. The common causes may be because she gave birth through a caesarian section or because of over-manipulation, where humans touch and hold the newborn kittens frequently. If a mama cat gave birth via caesarian section the birth-related hormones are not naturally released and this may confuse the mama cat so she will end up eating her young. She may even confuse the young as prey, thus, she will not hesitate in eating them. You and your family members should not touch the newborn kittens because a mama cat may fail to recognize their scent anymore.
How to tell if a mama cat ate her kittens?
You can instinctively know that a mama cat ate some of her kittens if, after looking for missing ones, you weren’t able to locate them. You should observe and monitor the mama cat before and after birth and you should count the number of kittens that were born. A newborn kitten can’t wander off because they’re still unable to walk around so if a kitten or two is suddenly missing then it’s probably because the mama cat devoured them.
What to do if a mama cat eats her babies?
If you discovered that the mama cat ate one or more of her kittens don’t punish and reprimand her because it’s a normal part of mother cat behavior. What you can do is to have her checked by your vet immediately and identify the probable causes that prompted her to eat them. If you notice a sickly or ignored kitten among the litter, gently separate it from the rest and feed and care for it yourself. Learn as much as you can about the proper care and handling of the mama cat and her kittens and consult your vet for practical advice and guidance to properly care for them.
Do mother cats experience maternal behavior problems?
Sometimes, mama cats encounter health and mental issues especially after the birth of their young. These are maternal behavior problems such as the lack of maternal behavior of a mama cat toward her kittens and excessive maternal behavior when a feline manifests mama cat symptoms even if she’s not pregnant and doesn’t have kittens of her own. Here are the symptoms of these conditions.
Symptoms of lack of maternal behavior
- mama cat refuses to nurse her kittens
- mama cat won’t care for the kittens
- mama cat is aggressive towards kittens or may even eat them
- mama cat doesn’t bring the removed kittens back to the nest
- mama cat is always moving the kittens from one place to another
Symptoms of excessive maternal behavior
- the cat has enlarged nipples and developing milk
- the cat attempts to guard or nurse kitten-like objects
- the cat steals kittens from another mother cat
Causes of maternal behavior problems
These are the common causes of maternal behavior problems:
- genes that control the maternal behavior of cats
- hormonal changes or imbalance
- stress and anxiety
Treatment for maternal behavior problems
These are the possible treatment for maternal behavior problems:
- separating mother cats with this problem from their kittens
- feeding the kittens yourself or you may also look for a surrogate mother for the newborn kittens
- hormonal therapy or spaying for cats with excessive maternal behavior
What are the other common mother cat behaviors?
Aside from the tendency to eat their kittens, other common mother cat behaviors include moving their kittens to other places, rejecting or ignoring her kittens, and biting or becoming otherwise aggressive to people and other pets. If you notice that the mama cat is manifesting these behavioral changes, it’s best to keep other pets, people, and children away from her nest or the room she’s in. Limit interaction with the kittens until after they’re a month old and make sure that the mama cat and the kittens are in a quiet and dimly-lit place or room. You should only take steps or interfere if the mama cat or the kittens require urgent medical attention.
Common post-partum medical conditions of mama cats
Mother cats may sometimes experience health issues upon giving birth and while nursing their kittens. These are the common post-partum medical issues:
As earlier mentioned, this health issue is the inflammation of mammary glands which can be very painful for mama cats.
These are some of its common symptoms:
- the kittens are not gaining weight
- mama cat doesn’t want to suckle or nurse the kittens
- the mammary glands are hard and moderately swollen
- the presence of gangrene
- there is a bloody or pus discharge from the mammary glands
- the milk is thick and sticky
- the mama cat is anorexic
- the mama cat has a fever and she’s vomiting
It’s mainly caused by a bacterial infection but it could also be due to trauma in the mammary gland or because of a prolonged milk accumulation due to sudden weaning or death of kittens resulting in decreased milk removal. The medical condition is commonly treated with oral antibiotics and pain medication. Hand milking is also recommended by the vet to ease discomfort, promote healing, and encourage blood flow. Cabbage leaves compress is also advisable and the kittens shouldn’t be allowed to nurse from the mother. For severe cases, hospitalization may be required by the vet to be able to administer injectable medications and intravenous fluid therapy.
Mama cats suffer from this condition as a result of low calcium levels.
These are the signs and symptoms of feline hypocalcemia:
- muscle tremors
- hypersensitivity to touch and sound
- generalized muscle twitching
- uncontrollable muscle spasms.
The main culprit of this life-threatening condition is a chronic renal failure but it may also occur as a postoperative complication after surgical treatment for illnesses like hyperthyroidism. Other common causes may include pancreatitis and may also be associated with lactation in a nursing mama cat which is also called milk fever. Treatment of this health condition may include calcium injections while mama cats with severe cases need to be hospitalized until their calcium levels stabilize and within normal limits. Other treatment options include the administration of Vitamin D and supplementing the diet with calcium salts.
Endometrititis or Metritis
This medical issue is a uterine infection among mama cats which usually occurs a week after giving birth to their young. The lining of the uterus is inflamed due to a bacterial infection
These are the signs and symptoms
- swollen and dough-like abdomen
- reduced milk production
- dark red gums
- discharge mixed with pus and blood
- increased heart rate
- neglects her kittens
The common causes of this condition include prolonged delivery, difficult birth, obstetric manipulation, natural or medical miscarriage or abortion, and retained fetuses or placentas. Treatment may include antibiotics, stabilization with IV fluids, and supportive care.
While It is shocking to know that your pet mama cat ate one or two of her kittens we have to remember that this is a natural behavior among mother cats and may be attributed to factors such as protecting their young or because they’re stressed or malnourished. It’s important to give extra loving care and attention to your mama cat during an important phase in her life and provide her with ample food, water, and an ideal place to nurse and nurture her babies.