When a mother cat, also known as a queen, displays infanticidal behavior, it can be deeply distressing to humans who witness or discover this act.
However, from an evolutionary and behavioral standpoint, there are reasons that might trigger this behavior in felines.
Overpopulation and Resource Management
In environments where food and resources are scarce, a mother cat may feel the pressure to ensure that only the strongest of her kittens survive. By instinctively understanding that she cannot provide for all her kittens, she may resort to killing some to ensure that the remaining ones have a better chance of survival.
![Kitten scavenging for food]
Trauma or Disturbance
Any undue stress or trauma, such as frequent handling of the kittens by humans or the presence of other threatening animals, can cause the mother cat to feel that her kittens are in danger. In some cases, out of fear or distress, she might harm or kill her kittens to prevent them from suffering a perceived worse fate.
In some instances, when a new male cat comes into the territory and takes over, he might kill kittens that aren’t his to bring the mother into heat faster. Sensing this, a mother might preemptively kill her kittens to avoid this violent scenario.
Cannibalism Due to Nutrient Deficiency
Very rarely, a mother cat might resort to cannibalism if she’s severely malnourished. In such cases, she might consume her weakest kitten to regain vital nutrients, especially right after giving birth when her body is recovering.
In the realm of the animal kingdom, mother cats, known as queens, possess an instinctual ability to discern the health and viability of their offspring. When a kitten is born with congenital defects or appears to be unfit for survival, the queen can intuitively detect these issues. These innate perceptions extend beyond just physical appearance, delving into more subtle indicators of health that might be invisible to the human eye.
The actions of the mother cat may seem harsh or even cruel from a human perspective. However, one must remember that historically, the laws of nature demanded a ruthless approach to breeding. In wild conditions, ensuring the continuation of the strongest genes has always been paramount. Thus, animals evolved behaviors to prevent the transmission of genes that could compromise the health or survival of future generations.
A kitten with physical impairments or challenges undeniably faces a more difficult journey to adulthood, often fraught with vulnerabilities. Nature, in its quest to sustain the species, might lean towards favoring those with a higher survival probability. Hence, in such situations, a mother cat might prioritize the care and nourishment of her healthiest kittens, believing them to have the best chances of survival and ensuring the lineage remains robust.
They Don’t Recognise The Scent Of Their Kitten
One of the more nuanced aspects of feline behavior revolves around the importance of scent, especially when it comes to newborn kittens. Scent plays an essential role in the bond between a mother cat and her kittens. It’s through this unique scent signature that a mother identifies and bonds with her offspring.
The act of a mother cat grooming her kittens shortly after birth isn’t just for cleanliness; it serves a dual purpose. While cleaning, she also imprints upon them, marking them with her own scent. This olfactory bond is a crucial factor in the mother recognizing her offspring and attending to their needs.
However, human intervention can inadvertently disrupt this natural process. When someone handles a newborn kitten, they risk overlaying their scent on the kitten’s delicate scent profile. This alteration can create confusion for the mother cat, making it difficult for her to recognize her own offspring. As a result, she may distance herself from the kitten, perhaps not even acknowledging its cries for attention and nourishment.
For a newborn kitten, the first hours of life are vital. Their primary source of nourishment and warmth is their mother. Without her care, especially feeding, a kitten’s life becomes perilously fragile. A kitten can perish within a day if not nursed. Hence, it’s always advised that, unless necessary, one should minimize direct contact with newborn kittens to preserve the natural bonding process between the mother and her kittens.
She May Mistake A Kitten For Their Placenta
The act of giving birth is an intense and demanding process for cats, as it is for many animals. Once the kittens are born, it’s instinctive for the mother cat to consume the placenta. This might seem unusual or even unsettling to us, but it’s a natural and beneficial behavior that has evolved over time.
The placenta, the organ that connects the developing kitten to the mother inside the womb, is rich in vital nutrients. Consuming it helps replenish some of the energy and resources the mother expends during the birthing process. Moreover, the act of eating the placenta offers hormones that can aid in milk production, ensuring that the newborn kittens receive essential nourishment.
Beyond the immediate benefits to the mother’s health, this behavior has roots in the cat’s wild ancestry. In their natural habitats, leaving behind remnants of birth, such as a placenta, could draw the attention of predators or scavengers. By consuming the placenta, a mother cat eliminates potential traces of her vulnerable state, thus ensuring a safer environment for her newborn kittens.
However, complications can arise if the mother becomes confused in the moments following birth. If a kitten is particularly small or underdeveloped, there’s a risk the mother might mistake it for the placenta or another form of afterbirth. In these rare instances, instinct can override maternal care, leading the mother cat to act towards the kitten as she would the placenta. It’s crucial for breeders or caretakers to monitor the birthing process closely to intervene if necessary and ensure the safety of all kittens.
Lack Of Prolactin Hormone
Prolactin plays a pivotal role in a cat’s maternity cycle. This hormone is paramount not only in the birthing process but also in ensuring the subsequent care of kittens by their mother. The presence of prolactin facilitates the maternal instincts in cats, nudging them to care for their young ones.
The intricacies of hormone balance are delicate, especially when it pertains to prolactin. If there’s an inadequacy in its level post-birth, a mother cat might not recognize her kittens as her own. This absence of maternal recognition often becomes particularly evident in cats giving birth for the first time. For them, the hormonal dance accompanying maternity is an unfamiliar one, potentially leading to this disheartening disconnect with their offspring.
For a typical pet owner, discerning a prolactin imbalance in their cat is an intricate challenge. The more observable manifestation of this imbalance is the conspicuous absence of maternal behaviors in the cat towards her kittens. In such scenarios, it’s not uncommon for concerned cat owners to step in, providing the necessary care that the mother cat seems to withhold.
The window for prolactin’s influence is time-sensitive. If the required levels of this hormone aren’t achieved immediately post-birth, the chance of the mother cat developing those maternal instincts diminishes significantly. This can lead to situations where the mother remains indifferent, if not entirely disengaged, from her kittens, leaving their care largely to the human guardians.
Mother cats, like many animals, operate primarily on instincts, especially when it concerns the safety of their offspring. While human beings often prioritize the safety of their young above all else, the feline world has a different set of survival rules.
Consider a scenario where a mother cat perceives an imminent threat, perhaps sensing the presence of a predatory animal lurking close by. Humans might find her reaction bewildering, but in such moments of acute stress or fear, a mother cat might make the heart-wrenching decision to eliminate her kittens. This drastic measure is taken not out of cruelty but from a desperate instinct to prevent potential predators from harming them.
![Scared Cat] Such actions might seem counterintuitive to our human sensibilities. We often view animals through an anthropomorphic lens, expecting them to display emotions and reactions similar to ours. But, in the wild world of cats, such decisions are made with survival at the forefront. If faced with a threat that allows limited time for action, a mother cat might determine that relocating her entire litter to a safer place is unfeasible. As a result, she might move some kittens while tragically sacrificing one or two. This heartbreaking choice ensures her survival and, consequently, the survival of the remaining kittens, whom she can then nurture and protect.
Too Many Kittens?
When a cat gives birth to an exceptionally large litter, it poses a significant challenge for both her and her kittens. Imagine a scene where a weary mother is surrounded by numerous tiny mouths, all clamoring for nourishment.
For the mother, a large litter means a constant demand for milk production which requires her to consume more food to keep up. However, the task may be strenuous and can lead to complications. A horde of kittens nursing can cause injury to the mother’s mammary glands. In severe cases, such damages can result in infections like mastitis.
When you factor in the potential exhaustion from the labor or a particularly difficult birth, the situation becomes even more critical. The mother might instinctively identify the weakest link, often the smallest kitten, which might regularly miss out on nursing. To ensure the survival of the majority of her offspring, she may take the drastic step of consuming the weakest one to focus her energy and resources on the kittens with better survival chances.
The act of a mother cat consuming her offspring, while shocking to us, is rooted in survival instincts. In nature, it can serve multiple purposes – from satisfying her hunger after the exhaustive process of giving birth to erasing any evidence that might attract predators.
Do cats eat their kittens?
While it’s a misconception that mothers will consume kittens if humans touch them, the act of a mother consuming her young is not entirely baseless. Typically, it’s the kittens with evident health issues or deformities that face such a fate. This behavior can be better understood when you consider the wild. In nature, some felines live in communities where collective protection against threats is available. But many cats lead solitary lives, lacking any assistance in safeguarding their young.
In such situations, the mother’s top priority becomes ensuring the safety and survival of the majority of her litter. If that means eradicating any signs of recent childbirth, relocating her nursing spot, and, in extreme cases, consuming one of her kittens, nature dictates she will do what is necessary.
Ensuring the Safety of Mother Cat and Kittens
The birthing and nursing process is an essential phase in a cat’s life, filled with numerous instinctual behaviors that can sometimes be challenging to understand from a human perspective. If you have a pregnant cat, particularly one giving birth for the first time, close observation is crucial to ensure the well-being of both the mother and her kittens.
Observation without Interference
Resist the urge to meddle, especially when it comes to the nursing space. This area, including the kittens and any blankets or cat bedding, should remain untouched. That said, it’s essential to be vigilant and notice any unusual behavior on the mother’s part, such as rough or aggressive handling of a kitten. If you see the mother trying to bite or attack a kitten, particularly targeting sensitive areas like the jugular, swift action is needed.
If such a situation arises, it’s advisable to wear gloves to remove the endangered kitten without altering the scent of the other kittens or their surroundings. The separated kitten will now be your responsibility. Feeding it a special cat milk formula is essential, typically required every few hours. But caring for motherless kittens is no small feat. These little ones might need an incubator for warmth and daily stimulations for bowel movements. Regular weight checks ensure they are growing healthily. Fortunately, it’s relatively rare for a mother cat to show aggression towards all her kittens. Typically, if one is removed for safety, the others can remain and thrive under the mother’s care.
The Role of Male Cats
The question often arises: Is the father a threat to his offspring? Surprisingly, in the feline world, the father doesn’t usually play an active role in nurturing. While some male cats recognize their progeny and wouldn’t harm them, others, driven by the urge to mate, might perceive the kittens as obstacles. Since nursing mothers are not receptive to mating, especially in the initial post-birth days, an impatient male may harm the kittens to hasten her availability. It’s not always the biological father; any male with an interest in the mother might exhibit such behavior.
In summary, while cats have their natural instincts, a watchful eye, and timely interventions can ensure the safety and well-being of the entire feline family.