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Why cats kill kittens...

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  • Why cats kill kittens...

    After learning my mama cat did this I read up and found this.. It helped me understand ....I hope it helps other people that this has happend to understand too.......


    Why do cats, either male or female, sometimes kill kittens - either their own kittens or those belonging to another cat?

    At present there are several recognised reasons for this, all supported by field observation, documented by breeders and related to other known feline behaviours.

    Females Killing Kittens

    Kitten-killing is more often seen in females, simply because the tom is usually absent from the nest. There are numerous reasons for this behaviour.

    As in tomcats, some females cannot switch off hunting behaviour in response to the presence of kittens. Some have poorly developed maternal instincts or they may have a hormonal imbalance so that the maternal behaviour is not triggered by pregnancy and kittening. Because the kittens may inherit this as a genetic trait (hypothetical but very feasible), it is wise not breed from such females again - not just to avoid the tragedy of seeing kittens killed by their mother, but to avoid the problem becoming more widespread. Females which haven't given birth may treat kittens born to other females as prey. Pregnancy and birthing cause hormones which generally trigger maternal instinct. A female without kittens has not gone thorugh this process and the size and sound of the kittens triggers her hunting instincts.

    Some kittens are born with abnormalities that humans cannot detect. For this reason they may not thrive, they may even act or smell 'wrong' to the queen. Where one or two kittens are either killed or abandoned, these kittens are often found to be somehow 'faulty'. The mother simply does not want to waste energy on raising kittens that have little chance of survival. In addition, she has expended a lot of energy during pregnancy and she may eat all or part of some of these kittens in an attempt to recoup some of those losses (just as she eats placentas) and to dispose of 'carrion' that could potentially lead predators to her nest. The same goes for kittens which have an illness - she can smell the problem, humans cannot.

    Kittens born at a 'bad time of year' e.g. early spring/late fall/winter in the wild state, have a poor chance of survival due to lack of prey. A number of female cats will kill litters born at 'bad times of the year' in order not to use up valuable energy in raising kittens when they themselves have problems in finding adequate food. This has been noted in feral cats.

    It is well known that a mother cat may kill kittens if the nest is disturbed, especially if she is confined and cannot move or hide her litter. This is attributed to a frustrated 'protection' instinct. Unable to protect her kittens against a perceived threat, she kills them in a futile attempt at protecting them. Perhaps instinct tells her that it is better to kill offspring herself and make good her own escape than to attempt to defend them against insurmountable (in her view) odds and possibly endanger herself in the process. A few mothers have accidentally killed kittens by trying to push them underneath a doorway in an attempt to move them to a new nest and some over-anxious but non-confined queens have killed kittens as a result of maternal incompetence or perceived threats to the nest. These mothers are generally either desperate or inexperienced or both. A few nervous queens are disturbed enough by the scent of a tomcat nearby that they will resort to the eat-is-protect mechanism.

    Stressed mothers may simply decide to cut their losses. Perhaps finding that they cannot successfully rear or save their own kittens, it becomes preferable to try again at a later date or in a more favourable/safer location. However, she has invested a lot of effort in pregnancy and suckling those kittens (and in hunting for food for older kittens) so she eats them in order to reabsorb some of that energy investment. By reabsorbing the nutrients they gained from her, she will more quickly return to breeding condition and may successfully raise kittens later in the same breeding season. Some mothers will simply abandon kittens, but in doing so they lose whatever investment they put into partly rearing the offspring and might not breed again until the next season. This may also explain why some females kill some, but not all, kittens - by reducing the number of kittens in their litter, they increase the chances of successfully rearing their surviving kittens.

    Sometimes she will kill the kittens because they have been handled by another person or animal. Her own scent has been obscured and she either no longer recognises them as her own or she feels threatened and unable to escape. They either become prey - in size, sound, smell and movement - or she attempts to 'protect' them by the last resort method of killing them. A female that has prevously been in an abusive situation may be anxious with kittens and may kill them as a result; stress seems to over-ride normal maternal instincts.

    Where several litters have been born in one colony it is not unknown for one queen (generally the more dominant one) to either kill her rival's kittens or to 'kidnap' them. This may enhance the survival prospects of her own litter; it may remove the genetic competition from the other queen; it may be that the predatory queen's maternal instincts do not extend as far as recognising the other kittens as something other than prey or alternatively it may be that her attempts to kidnap the kittens and raise them as her own (over-developed maternal instinct?) result in the accidental death of the kittens as one queen tries to kidnap them and the other tries to defend them (even to the point of killing them herself). In a number of such cases the queens may move into a single communal nest and take turns in nursing the kittens, but in other cases some of the kittens (usually the smaller, more fragile, ones or those of the less dominant queen) die. The kidnapping of offspring is better documented in dogs, but has been observed in cats as well.

    Another cause of kitten killing is rare, but not impossible. An inexperienced or over-anxious mother may clean her kittens excessively. In some cases a queen has been known to bite off a kitten's paw, tail or ear due to excessive cleaning behaviour when the kitten is small and relatively fragile. In a very small number of cases, her efforts at cleaning (and restraint) are forceful enough to kill a tiny kitten. In an attempt to hygienically dispose of the body she may consume or partially consume it.

    Finally, kitten deaths occur naturally and for diverse reasons. Many queens will dispose of the body by removing it from the nest or moving the nest away from it. Another way of disposing of carrion is to eat it. Where the kitten is only partially consumed it may appear that the mother has killed it even if she is simply trying to dispose of a potential predator-magnet.

    Happy Families

    At the other end of the spectrum, cats in colonies (ferals, breeding catteries etc) can exhibit some truly social behaviours. They may co-operatively raise kittens along with other nursing females, with non-nursing females or even with males (most often, but not exclusively, neutered males). In most cases the participating 'aunties' and 'uncles' are related by blood, usually sisters or mother/daughter pairs who may pool their kittens or co-operate in kitten care. In most cases the kittens may have the same father (or multiple fathers since kittens in a single litter may have different fathers) or the queens may be closely enough related that the communal raising of kittens is in the genetic interest of participating queens. In the domestic setting, the co-operating cats may be unrelated but may be very familiar with one another and act as though closely related. Even if they have been mated to different toms their instincts may be fooled into allowing this co-operative behaviour especially if there is a resident stud cat on the premises - the females are unlikely to compare notes about who they actually mated with and simply view themselves as part of that cat's harem bearing litters which share a common father. Some males also become excellent and trustworthy kitten-sitters.

    In a domestic situation, the owner may be viewed as 'the other queen' and it is not unknown for a female to transport all of her kittens onto the owner's lap, chair or into the bed so that the human can mind the babies while the queen takes some time out from maternal duties.


    Fortunately the domestic cat is adaptable enough that a 'happy families' situation usually prevails. Kitten killing is more common in inexperienced or highly stressed mothers and, because the surviving kittens of a kitten killer may grow up into poor mothers themselves, there may be some genetic problems (leading to hormonal or behavioural problems) influencing kitten killing behaviour in queens. In males, the kitten-killing behaviour is most often due to their highly competitive natures, something which has been modified by selective breeding but which has not been entirely eliminated as it is part and parcel of the male instinct. Since it seems linked to the number of competing males present, it might be reduced by preventing rivalry situations. There are no studies as to whether "rogue fathers" pass on their tendencies as they rarely have access to the kittens.
    Mommy to
    1 Saint Bernard -Cloey
    1 chocolate lab-Chelsea
    1 big ol poodle-Tigger
    1 mama kitty-Tinky
    and my three perfect children.