You have probably heard horror stories about male cats harming or even killing kittens. This can be terrifying if you are expecting your female cat to give birth soon.
So, do male cats kill kittens? Yes – but this behavior tends to be more common among community cats.
Because newborns are so delicate and vulnerable, a mother cat will typically fight to the death to protect her litter from any threat. In most cases, this is more than enough to keep male cats away.
However, not all male cats are kitten killers. While they are notorious for murdering offspring that are not theirs, it does not mean that no male cat can adopt a paternal role. Some cats might simply tolerate the presence of newborn kittens, while others might act fatherly, depending on their level of socialization, their personality, and whether or not they are neutered.
Understanding male cat behavior
Male cat behavior around kittens can vary greatly depending on the cat’s personality and whether he has been neutered. You might have heard stories about male felines brutally killing newborn kittens, but this behavior is more common among feral cats.
More often than not, a typical household tom cat will not show any interest in the kittens, unless they are his. Some might also react by showing paternal behavior, such as grooming or playing with the kittens, even though they are not his.
1. Unneutered male behavior around kittens
Feral or not, a male cat that is not neutered has a higher chance of killing kittens, especially if they are not his offspring. We might think of this as gruesome behavior, but this is nothing new in the animal kingdom.
In the wild, male lions will sometimes kill or even eat lion cubs, for evolutionary and survival purposes. Cats are no different from their wild feline cousins when it comes to this natural instinct.
Cats are solitary hunters. In the wild, they do not depend on a pack for survival. As such, it is in their interest to protect their territory as much as possible from other animals. Unfortunately, the presence of other cats in their domain, including young kittens, is perceived as a threat. Thus, male cats will often fight intruders to their territory, and even kill helpless kittens if they see them as a threat.
Male cats also kill kittens to protect their lineage. They want to father as many kittens as possible to spread their genes and become the main gene source in their domain. If a female cat gives birth to a rival’s kittens within that domain, a male cat’s instinct would be to murder the newborns. Again, this might seem brutal, but in the animal kingdom it is part of their survival strategy.
While most cats are now domesticated, it is possible for them to retain some of their ancestors’ innate instincts. Hormones can also influence how male cats behave toward other cats and kittens and, as such, it should not be surprising that some intact males are strongly territorial. If your male feline seems to hate the arrival of the new kittens in your home, it is quite likely associated with the cat being unneutered.
2. Neutered male behavior around kittens
Neutered cats have a higher chance of getting along well with kittens. In fact, you might even have seen cute videos of male cats grooming, playing with, and sleeping side-by-side with kittens. They might even show paternal love toward kittens that do not belong to them. Since their behavior is no longer influenced by hormones, neutered male cats can become more friendly, or at least find the presence of other cats tolerable.
However, not all males will be friendly or calm around kittens, despite being neutered. In extreme cases, a neutered cat might still kill kittens for a number of reasons:
- The cat is not used to being around kittens and might confuse them for prey.
- The cat feels jealous and threatened by the presence of other cats in the household.
- The cat accidentally kills a kitten while trying to hold it by the neck.
- In rare cases, male cats might kill and eat kittens due to a lack of food sources.
Do male cats kill kittens?
Male cats do sometimes kill kittens, but this behavior is not very common among domesticated cats. Typically, a male cat’s job is to father as many litters as he can and leave the rest of the responsibilities to the female cat. As mentioned, this innate instinct is natural for male cats to preserve their genes.
Feral and unneutered cats are more likely to murder their rival’s offspring for territorial reasons. Some might even participate in cannibalism if other food sources are not available. A cat’s personality can also influence how he behaves around kittens. For example, if he is known to be aggressive and territorial toward other cats, he will be more prone to killing kittens he might find within his area.
Still, some male cats can co-parent, even if the kittens are not theirs. Like many animals, cats are also social creatures and, as such, it is possible for them to show love and affection to an innocent kitten, whether they are the father or not.
Do male cats know their kittens?
Cats are naturally gifted with sensitive olfactory receptors that allow them to determine different scents, including the smell of their own kittens.
As you might know, scents are extremely important for cats to survive in the wild. Scents also allow them to communicate with their peers, whether they are looking for a potential mate, trying to determine the presence of other animals, or hunting. Through their sense of smell, cats can gather a lot of information about their environment and determine who is in their territory.
However, there are instances when a male cat mistakenly thinks of his kittens as those of his rival. This can happen if another cat comes into his territory and leaves his scent there. In this case, a confused father cat might abandon his offspring and, in some cases, kill them to ensure that his genes will remain dominant in his territory.
How do I protect my kittens from male cats?
In most cases, the presence of a mother cat is usually enough to protect her litter from male cats. Female cats are not submissive to their male peers and, if needed, they can fight male cats and other animals who might attempt to hurt their little ones.
However, as a fur parent, you want to ensure the welfare of both the mother cat and her kittens. There are some precautionary measures you can take to keep the kittens safe, especially if you have other male cats in the household.
Below are a few tips to prevent male cats from harming your kittens:
- Provide a safe and secure place for the mother cat and kittens. Make sure that other household pets, especially male cats, will not have access to the room until the kittens are old enough not to be mistaken for prey.
- As much as possible, neuter your male cats to reduce aggression and territorial behaviors.
- It is highly encouraged to socialize your cats at the youngest age possible. This will help reduce aggression and promote peaceful cohabitation among household pets.
- Safely introduce your male cats to the kittens, whether or not they are the father. Remember that cats are unpredictable creatures, so you will never truly know how they will react to new furry family members.
Male cats are known to kill kittens for several reasons. While their territorial nature seems to be the most common reason that kittens are killed, a male cat might also kill a kitten by accident, due to his natural predatory drive, or due to a lack of socialization. Hence, it is never a good idea to leave your kittens alone with a male cat, whether or not he is neutered.
Keep in mind, though, that not all male cats are murderers. But, for the safety and well-being of your kittens, make sure that they are separated from other pets until they are old enough.
Image: istockphoto.com / TomIraci