It is a popular notion that male cats do not take an active part in caring for their kittens. This role is relegated to the female cats since they are the ones who nurture the litter from the womb until they wean the kittens. However, many cat owners attest that their male cats exhibit paternal instincts toward kittens, regardless if it is their own offspring or not.
Do male cats take care of kittens?
Yes, there are many instances where male cats take care of kittens. This is often observed in a domestic setting. In such a setting, male cats are usually neutered so they are less aggressive toward kittens. Domesticated male cats are more receptive to and relaxed around kittens since they have ample resources and there is no pressure to outbreed other males as opposed to an undomesticated or feral setup. They tend to groom the kittens, play with them, and help the mama cat watch over them.
One classic example of a nurturing male cat is a domestic shorthair cat named Pokey. He is famous for helping foster at least 80 kittens. He has gained fame through social media for helping his owners in grooming and caring for young kittens until they are old enough to be adopted.
Among feral cat colonies, it has also been observed that the dominant male cats tend to care for kittens within their colonies. They will groom, share their food and break up fights between kittens by separating them gently with one paw.
However, while there are many testimonies of nurturing male cats, it is also typical for male cats to ignore and not care for kittens. According to Dr. Katherine Houpt, a veterinary doctor at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, some male cats, especially those that have access to the outdoors, will usually leave the mama cat and the kittens and ignore them. There are instances that a father cat will attack the mother cat since she smells different after giving birth.
If a strange male cat goes near the mother cat and the kittens, the father cat will try to kill the kittens, just as lions do. He will do this with the notion that if the kittens are gone, the mother cat will no longer be nursing, so she will go into heat again and be willing to mate.
Other tomcats tend to kill kittens that are not theirs. This is reminiscent of the wild cat instinct wherein killing a rival’s litter will keep the rival cat from spreading its genes. It will give the killer an edge to increase his offspring among other female cats.
Interestingly, how a male cat behaves around kittens has a lot to do with its background and general disposition. Male cats or tomcats that are aggressive or nervous toward other cats may not be able to adjust well to having kittens around. However, some tomcats are very nurturing and loving toward kittens. Not every male cat will take on a mentor or caregiver role, but as a cat owner, you can guide and help your tomcat to foster a good relationship with kittens or younger cats.
How should I introduce newborn kittens to a male cat?
You should not allow the male cat any access to the newborn kittens, especially if unsupervised. If you observe that your tomcat has fatherly instincts, introduce him to the kittens gradually. However, you should only do this when the kittens are around six to eight weeks old. If your tomcat manifests the slightest aggression, intervene immediately and keep him separated from the mama cat and the kittens.
How can I prevent a male cat from attacking kittens?
You can prevent a male cat from attacking kittens by making sure that he is in a secure place, that he has plenty of space, and letting him feel that his territory is not threatened. Provide him areas that he can retreat to, such as a den. Ensure that he has the essential resources, like his water and food bowl as well as a litter box. See to it that his hunting instinct is fulfilled safely by providing interactive toys. Do not punish him if he acts aggressively toward the kittens. Gently remove him from the room and give him time to calm down. Make sure to reintroduce him to the kittens at another time with your supervision.
Will male cats protect kittens?
Yes, male cats protect kittens. Cat experts attest that this has been observed both among feral cat colonies and in a domestic setting. Feral tomcats may watch over the kittens while the mama cat is out looking for food. However, it is also typical for some male cats to ignore kittens completely.
Do male cats kill kittens?
Yes, some male cats kill kittens. Wild cats in particular will kill small cubs to bring the mama cat into mating season. Some tomcats may also kill kittens as a matter of confusion rather than aggression. There are instances when a poorly socialized tomcat will mistake a kitten for a female cat because it smells like a mama cat. The tomcat will go for a mating bite and accidentally break the kitten’s neck.
Does a father cat know his kittens?
Some cat owners attest that their father cat knows if the kittens are his. However, this is not always the case. There are some tomcats or male cats that will nurture, groom, and care for kittens regardless if they are their kittens or not. One cat owner notes that her father cat plays with, grooms, and does almost everything with kittens that are not his. However, this particular cat did not have the same close relationship with the next litter he fathered.
Male cats are believed to be aloof and distant toward kittens, often ignoring them or even scaring them away. However, this is not entirely true since there are male cats that take good care of kittens, regardless if they are the father or not. Some tomcats will take the role of caregiver or foster parent for orphaned kittens. Even feral tomcats can manifest paternal instincts toward kittens.
Image: istockphoto.com / Volodymyr_Plysiuk