It is sad but sometimes a mother cat will lose a kitten. Newborn kittens are extremely vulnerable and sometimes a kitten is born dead.
Following are typical behaviors that a mother cat may exhibit with a dead kitten:
1. Lick the kitten
Licking the kittens is the mother cat’s instinctive behavior after giving birth. It will rigorously lick and groom each kitten. Licking the kittens stimulates breathing, helps to remove any remaining placenta and helps to remove liquid from the kitten’s lungs. The grooming can look quite violent and vigorous but it is normal and necessary.
When a mother cat sees its kitten not moving or breathing, it will lick and cuddle the kitten to try to get it to respond. It may do it for quite some time until it gives up and abandons the kitten to take care of the surviving ones.
2. Eat the kitten
It may sound gross but some mother cats eat their kittens when they seem to be dead. Eating their dead kittens will provide nutrients that will be dissolved in the mother’s milk and will be beneficial for other kittens.
Is it normal for mother cats to eat their dead kittens?
Yes, eating their dead kittens is a normal behavior. It is very rate but a mother cat may to ingest the remains of its stillborn kitten. Although this is a distressing sight for humans, this is a normal behavior for animals.
In the wild, if a kitten does not survive the birth, their body can attract predators. Their decomposition also provides a serious hygiene risk to the surviving litter. By consuming the dead kitten, the mother will actually provide a better chance of survival for the others.
A cat will also eat its placenta and afterbirth to get extra nutrients for milk production. Eating a weak or dead newborn kitten will act for the same purpose. This process may seem cruel, but it is a behavior rooted in deep biological instincts.
3. Bring it to the pet parent.
Some cats are very trusting to their owners in times of grief or loss. Not all cats do this but some may lay their kitten at your feet for help or empathy. Many cat owners have experienced this and interpret it as their cat’s way of showing it trust you to fix its young.
In contrast, some mother cats are overprotective over their young. They will not allow anyone, even their pet parent to come near their kittens, dead or alive.
4. Bury the kitten into the ground
Sometimes a mother cat will dig the ground where it will bury its dead kitten. It will then cover the body with mud and might lay on the spot for several hours. But for some mother cats who have other kittens to attend to, they will simply remove the dead kitten and abandon it. This is to separate the dead far from the live ones to avoid any health risks.
Image: istockphoto.com / Funtay