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Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Cats eating their kittens is a normal, though rare, behavior in cats.
  • Cats may eat their kittens due to birth defects or illness, to protect the rest of the litter, or if they feel threatened or stressed.
  • Male cats are less likely to eat kittens but may attack them if they perceive them as a threat to their territory or if they are trying to induce mating.
  • This behavior is also seen in other animal species, and researchers have found various reasons for cannibalism, such as improving future reproduction or reducing overcrowding.
  • To prevent a cat from eating her kittens, ensure she is healthy and well-nourished, provide a secure and private space for her and the kittens, and avoid handling the kittens until they are older.
A pet lover passionate about educating readers about animal health and care. Love reading studies and recent research.
Licensed veterinarian and animal behaviorist with over three years of experience and a Ph.D. in Poultry Science.
Published on
Saturday 6 January 2024
Last updated on
Monday 30 October 2023
Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies
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Having newborn kittens at home is surely a joyous sight for a cat owner. After waiting for your kitty’s babies, you finally welcome these new members to the family. But, with much horror, you discover that the mother cat devoured some of the kittens. Why do cats eat their babies? Let’s find out the answers and what you can do to save the kittens.  

Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies? 

Finding out that the kittens were eaten by their mother is both sad and terrifying. It also seems unbelievable, but do cats eat their babies? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Although it happens rarely, it is normal in cats. It’s an instinctual reaction to certain situations that may not be favorable to the cat or its young. It can be an act of love, aggression, or ignorance depending on the causes. 

The urge to protect babies is inherent among mothers across the animal kingdom, including cats. Babies are fragile and helpless, so they need their mother’s warmth, care, and nutrition to survive. Amazingly, females across different species have natural maternal instincts that help them in raising their young. This also applies to felines, except in rare cases where they turn to filial cannibalism or the act of eating their own offspring.  

Cats eat kittens for different reasons, including birth defects or sickness, malnutrition, or human manipulation of the kittens. Let’s check out the details for these causes and understand why cats eat their kittens. 

Birth Issues

A cat may eat a sickly or dying kitten to protect the rest of the litter. Visual signs of a sick kitten may be easy for us or the cat to notice. However, cats may also use their sense of smell to detect disease and foresee the survival of their sick kittens. A cat’s sense of smell is 40 times better than ours. So, it’s not surprising if they’ll know their sick kitten’s fate through a sniff. 

Since a sick kitten may endanger its siblings, the mother cat will dispose of it by eating it. The mother cat wouldn’t want the rest of the litter to pick up the disease. If the weak kitten dies, it will also harbor bacteria that may harm the rest of the litter. 


The mother cat knows that a lifeless kitten is of no use and may even harm the litter. Since the kitten had no sign of life since birth, it may be decomposing soon. So, she assumes that this dead kitten may start smelling bad and attract bacteria. Exposure to bacteria may affect the remaining kittens. So, she’ll instinctually get rid of the stillborn kitten by devouring it.  


Cats can get extra sensitive during pregnancy and after giving birth to their kittens. Like humans, they also go through hormonal changes in their bodies as well as physical pain during the entire process. So, any changes in the environment may easily stress them out. They are also very protective of their kittens. So, if they hear loud noises, see many people, or encounter other animals frequently, they may get threatened. 

When stressed or threatened, mother cats may start ignoring their kittens, or worse, eating them. This is common among young mother cats who aren’t mature enough to take responsibility for their new role. Thus, they manage stressful situations poorly and end up eating their kittens instead. 


Cats eating their kittens due to malnutrition rarely happens at home since domestic cats are well-fed. However, it may still happen in the wild or to stray cats who are deprived of enough food. Mother cats need to nurse their kittens to provide them with nourishment. This takes a toll on their bodies, thus, requiring more calorie intake to sustain enough nutrients in the body

However, not all cats have access to nutritious food. Plus, they also need to stay with their kittens to keep them warm, limiting them from hunting for food. So, because of malnutrition due to a lack of food, a cat eats kittens. It may sacrifice one or two to nourish its body and provide milk to the rest of the litter.

Cat doesn’t recognize her kitten

Too much handling of kittens by the owners may result in the mother cat eating its kittens. Why do mother cats eat their kittens in this scenario? Well, the kittens may lose their scent because of pet owners touching or holding them. Cats use their sense of smell to recognize the natural scent of their babies. If you touch or hold the newborn kitten, the scent will change and confuse the mother cat. 

Your cat may think that the kitten is not hers and could be a predator. So, to protect the other kittens, she’ll eat it. It’s best to avoid touching or holding the kittens for this reason. 

Do Male Cats Eat Kittens?

Male cats are less likely to eat kittens. However, they may attack newborn kittens due to dominance or to protect their territory. Male cats may kill kittens due to their unfamiliar scent. Cats recognize members of their family in the household through a common colony scent. Newborn kittens may not share the same smell yet. So, the male cat may assume the kittens are intruders or are members of another family. So, they attack them instead. 

Mating is another reason why male cats can be unfriendly towards kittens. Mother cats tend to be aggressive to other cats as it safeguards their offspring. So, it will not be receptive to a male cat’s call to mate. If the male cat wants to induce heat in the female for mating, he may attack the kittens. It’s uncommon for domestic cats to take advantage of a kitten’s vulnerability. But, in the wild, male cats may kill newborn kittens because they are easy prey, having no defense of their own.

Is It Normal For Cats To Eat Their Babies? 

It happens rarely, but yes, it is normal for cats to eat their young. It sounds terrifying, but cats aren’t the only animals that turn to filial cannibalism. Other species that eat their babies include polar bears, chimpanzees, dogs, and even fish. However, like cats, they also continue to take care of the remaining offspring. Researchers continue to study and try to understand this baffling act by these animals.

One study about fishes requiring paternal care has revealed that male fishes eat their babies to improve their future reproduction.  Another study done in 2016 mentioned that filial cannibalism may happen when the parent tries to lessen offspring overcrowding and improve nutrition. But it also says that the abundance of mates influences cannibalism as it’s easy to replace the lost offspring. This may or may not mirror a cat’s reasons for eating its kittens. But, it’s proof that it is indeed, normal for your pet to act that way. 

There are also other possible normal reactions a cat may show after giving birth. This includes ignoring or rejecting her kittens and aggression towards people or other animals. You may also notice your cat moving her kittens to another location. These situations may happen when there is a lot of human involvement or foot traffic in the area where the kittens are. The mother cat doesn’t feel secure so she tries to find another place to keep her babies. 

It’s best to stop yourself and other family members from touching the kittens and interfering with the mother cat. But, still continue to monitor your pet from a distance. Watch out for possible medical issues such as mastitis, hypocalcemia, endometritis, and milk fever.      

How To Prevent Cats From Eating Their Babies? 

Although we’ve learned that it’s normal for cats to eat their kittens, we shouldn’t just let it be. If you’re wondering how to stop a cat from eating her kittens, we’ve got you covered. Here are our tips to prevent your cat from eating her babies

  • Keep your cat healthy even before its pregnancy. If possible, keep your cat away from male cats if it is not yet over 18 months old. Cats under 18 months of age are usually aren’t mature enough to become mothers. 
  • Provide enough nutritious food from pregnancy up to postpartum and during lactation. A well-nourished cat is less likely to eat her babies for nutrition. She can also offer enough milk for her babies. 
  • Create a secure and private space for your cat and her kittens. It should be safe from noises and interference from humans or other animals at home. 
  • Resist the urge to touch the kittens until they are four weeks old
  • Continue to monitor your cat and its kittens from a distance. 
  • If you notice your cat rejecting a weak kitten, take the kitten away from its mother immediately. Bring it to the vet for a check-up and seek advice on how you can take care of it instead while it’s away from its mother.

Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies: FAQs 

Let’s take a look at the frequently asked questions and the answers about why cats eat their babies. 

Do cats eat their dead babies?

Yes, cats eat their dead babies to protect the rest of the litter. Dead kittens will eventually decompose and attract bacteria which may be detrimental to the other kittens. So, to prevent this from happening, the mother cat eats the dead kitten instead. 

What do I do if my cat eats her kitten?

If you notice your cat ate her kitten and is about to hurt another one, take the kittens away. But, make sure to keep them warm and feed them. Offer some food to your cat to rule out hunger as the reason behind her action. Reduce stressors in the area to help your cat relax. Contact your trusted vet immediately for advice or an urgent check-up on your cat and the kittens. 

How to know if a cat ate her babies?

If some of the kittens are missing, there’s a high chance the mother cat has eaten them. Newborn kittens are not yet able to see, hear, or crawl far from their location. So, it’s very unlikely that they disappeared on their own. 

Why do cats reject their kittens?

Cats may reject their kittens for a variety of reasons. The mother cat may refuse to take care of her kitten if it’s sick or has a birth defect. If the kitten loses its natural scent after a human has held it, the mother cat may reject it, too. In some cases, the mother cat refuses to nurse kittens if she has pain or if she isn’t mature enough to become a mother. 

It may sound barbaric, but it’s normal for cats to eat their babies. As a cat parent, it’s best to continue observing your cat for signs of filial cannibalism, so you can intervene and save the kittens. It’s instinctual for your cat, so you shouldn’t scold her it this happens. Instead, you should provide all the support you can to keep her healthy and comfortable. 

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