Why do cats eat their kittens?

Revealed: Why do cats eat kittens?

The mother cat’s primary goal when eating her kittens is to protect her litter. She will choose to protect her stillborn or a kitten with birth defects by eating her. If by any chance she feels threatened, mama cat will eat kittens to protect them from predators.

Why do cats eat kittens?

Why mother cats eat their kittens is something that puzzles most cat owners.

I remember receiving a call from my mum telling me she had walked in on my cat eating two of her kittens. Saying I was shaken would be a vast understatement!

At the time, I did not understand why my cat would choose to eat her kittens. I did some extensive research to try and understand this behaviour only to find out that it is completely normal!

  • Stillborn kittens
  • Kitten has birth defects/deformed
  • To protect them from predators
  • Stress
  • Threatened
  • Kitten is malnourished
  • Mama cat has mastitis.
  • Mama cat can’t recognize her kittens.

1. Stillborn kittens.

‘Mama cat will eat any stillborn to protect her living kittens. A dead kitten is prey and will attract predators to where the other kittens are. A decomposing kitten will also pose a hygienic risk to the surviving litter.

While in the wild, a dead kitten will attract other predators who can smell a dead/decomposing body. Since a cat can only move one kitten at a time to saft]ety, she will choose the easy way out which is to eat the dead kitten and clean up her nest to keep the predators away. Domesticated indoor cats have maintained this behaviour.

Maternal instincts kick in, and the queen will eat her stillborn kitten(s) to protect it and the surviving kittens. Eating the dead kitten will also provide her with sufficient nutrients to be able to cater for and provide enough nutritious milk for her surviving litter.

2. Kitten is deformed.

As much as cannibalism seems gruesome, cats will eat their deformed kittens to protect them from the extensive suffering that will come along with the birth defects. This explains why it is rare to come across a cat that is deformed. Eating up a deformed kittie ensures that the feline generation continues without any weaknesses such as deformities.

Alternatively, the queen might choose to reject the deformed kitten. If this happens, you will notice that she does not nurse the kittie with birth defects and may choose to take the deformed kitty away from the rest of the litter. Gently take the secluded kitten and feed her. You can also take it to the vet for a checkup.

Why do cats eat their kittens?

3. To protect the kitten from predators.

Whenever mother cats feel that their kittens are in danger of predators, she will eat them up to protect them from being prey. Cats will only let their kittens grow where they feel they are safe. Although this instinct is common to wild/outdoor cats, indoor cats will also not hesitate to do whatever it takes to protect their young ones.

To avoid such a scenario, you need to protect your cat and her litter from unfamiliar noises and pets. It is crucial for the cat if you give her time to give birth and nurse her kittens. Stay away from the room they are in and only go in when it is necessary. The queen will introduce the kittens to you with time whenever she is ready to do so. DO NOT pressure her!

4. Stress.

Just like pregnant humans, cats also undergo stress during maternity. If mama cat experiences too much pressure, pain and anxiety during her labour, all these may be too much for her, and she may end up eating her young ones.

Cats eat kittens when they sense some environmental stress that may result from excessive foot traffic in the room she is in, loud noises, over-handling and manipulation of her kittens. All these may trigger some amount of stress and nervousness in the cat, and she might feel threatened.

When mama cat is stressed and nervous, she’ll start worrying about her kitties and their safety. She’ll begin worrying about predators getting to her, or you taking the kittens to predators and end up eating the kittens to protect them.

5. Mama cat feels threatened.

While in labour, nursing and taking care of her litter, the queen does not want to feel threatened. Mama cat will consider anything as a threat from other pets to humans. It does not matter to her if, before her labour, she was comfortable with other pets and humans, all she cares about is the present and her maternal instincts feel threatened. DO NOT attempt to move the kittens from where mama cat has placed them. You should respect her privacy and understand that she gave birth, where she feels comfortable.

If this happens, cats will eat kittens. You need to limit access to where she is and wait for her to introduce her kittens to you. If you’re excited and a little impatient, you can gradually introduce the kittens to the household once they are in heir weaning stage.

6. Kitten is malnourished.

Cats eat kittens whenever they are malnourished. This is, however, more common in outdoor/wild/stray cats, Mama cats instincts will tell her which kitten will not be able to survive, and she will choose to eat them.

If the mama cat is malnourished, she will gauge how many kittens she can comfortably nurse and eat the remainder. The kittens she will eat will provide her with enough nutrients to enable her to breastfeed the remaining kittens. Pregnancy requires the cat to feed on properly balanced meals to help her during and after her pregnancy.

To avoid this, you can consult with your vet during pregnancy to get feed recommendations.

7. Mama cat has mastitis.

Mastitis will bring pain to mama cat whenever she is trying to breastfeed her young ones. As a result of the immense pain the queen may be feeling, she might choose to either eat or completely ignore her kittens.

Feline mastitis is life-threatening to young kittens as the queen can easily pass it on to them while they nurse. If you see any of these signs, it’s time to make a visit to the vet:

  • Mama cat doesn’t want to nurse/suckle her kittens.
  • Kittens not putting on enough weight.
  • Some swelling on the mammary glands
  • Mama cat vomiting.
  • Anorexia.
  • Gangrene or abscesses.
  • Bloody or pus discharge from mama cat’s mammary glands.
  • Fever.

8. Mama cat does not recognize her kittens.

Why do mother cats eat their kittens?

Sometimes the queen may not recognize her kittens, but this is mostly if she underwent a C-section. The mama cat may not be able to know that the kittens came from her, and consequently, her body will not produce maternal hormones that bond queens with their litters. Usually, mama cats eat kittens they do not recognize as their own.

Sometimes, first-time mothers may also confuse their kittens with prey and end up eating them.

Humans over-handling/manipulation of kittens may also make cats eat kittens. The different scents tend to confuse the mama cat, and she will not recognize her kittens as her own.


  • Provide your mama cat with a well-balanced meal during and after pregnancy.
  • Limit the foot traffic to the room your mama cat is with her kittens.
  • Reduce human over-handling kittens.
  • Separate deformed kittens from mama cat and care for them separately.
  • Don’t stress mama cat (reduce loud noises where she is).
  • Visit the vet to treat and care for your cat with mastitis.


Some male cats will kill kittens to bring their mother on heat faster than she would normally have while nursing the kittens. If the Tomcat feels threatened by the kittens, he will eliminate the threat by killing them. This is a typical behaviour cutting across the cat family where even lions kill cubs from another pride.

Some male cats will also kill kittens that they did not sire. Due to their high pitched sounds and erratic movements, Tomcats (even first-time mothers) may confuse the kittens to be a prey and kill them by mistake.


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Traces of blood and cat hair in areas where the kittens were is a clear indication that your mama cat has eaten her kittens. In some cats, You can expect to find the kitten’s head as proof of the cat eating up her young one. Check behind cupboards and refrigerators, especially if you had a sickly/deformed kitten.

When my mother walked in on my cat, eating her two kittens, she had already eaten one and was in the process of eating the other one. However, my mama cat did not eat her kids’ heads.

What does mother cat do with dead babies and should you show her a dead kitten?

After giving birth, mama cat will groom all her kittens, including the dead one. If she notices one is not moving while licking it, she will then proceed to eat up the dead kitten. If the kitten was not stillborn and managed to live some few hours before dying, cats eat kittens to maintain her nest’s hygiene. Eating her dead kitten is also a way of saving it from predators who can smell a dead/decaying body (indoor cats have managed to retain this behaviour despite domestication).

If mama cat is not aware that she has a dead kitten, don’t take it away before she can see it. She will mourn the dead kitten for as long as she feels like before she can eat it. If you’re not comfortable with seeing your mama cat eating up her kitten, then remove the dead kitty after some time and properly dispose of the body.

Taking away the dead kitten before mama cat can see it will only make her suffer trying to search for her baby. When my cat had her first birth, one of the kittens died, unfortunately. Before she could realize one of them was dead, my sister and I decided to dispose of the dead kitten. I must admit, my mama cat was significantly hurt, and I could see the pain in her eyes as she kept on searching and calling out for her kitten.


Domesticated adult cats will only eat other cats when faced with extremely tough situations where they have to kill to survive. It usually is a battle for life where the fittest survives like this cat in Australia. In normal conditions, cats engage in fights but do not intend to kill each other. Unspayed male domestic cats tend to fight for mates but rarely aim to kill; they only aim to scare the loser away so they can have the female cat to themselves.

However, cats can still die from the injuries sustained from the fights.

Do cats kill other cats?

Now that you know why mama cats eat their kittens, would you like to understand other cat behaviours like why cats eat grass? You can also discover and understand the cat tail language to help you communicate with your cat effectively!


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