Mother Cat Sitting On Kittens

three kittens in straw

Why is my cat sitting on her kittens? This is a common question for cat guardians who have a cat with a litter. The answer is usually related to the lack of availability of space available for nursing her kittens, temperature issues, other environmental issues, or plain inexperienced mothering.

Let’s have a look at the situation in more depth and decide what the worst is that can happen and whether you need to take action to resolve the matter.

Is It Normal For A Mother Cat To Sit Or Lay On Her Kittens?

These things happen, particularly with large litters. In some circumstances your cat sitting or laying on her kittens is actually a purposeful act and in other situations, it is just a result of constraints or inexperience.

It is not a normal, everyday occurrence, so if it is happening regularly you may need to act. Let’s see why cats sit on their kittens and whether there is something you can do about the situation to make your cat’s life a little bit easier at this testing time.

a pair of silver grey tabby kittens sleeping together in a wicker cat bed

Why Do Cats Lay On Their Kittens?

As we have touched on, there are good reasons for your cat to be lying on her kittens and there are bad reasons. Let’s check out what is happening.

Space Constraints

This situation may be happening because your cat just has not got enough space. If they are too hemmed in, a situation can arise where it is just plain difficult to avoid sitting or lying on a kitten. 

Your cat might start to move her kittens in search of extra space if space is the problem.

Temperature

Temperature is a vital concern with newborn kittens. They are not able to adjust their body temperature in the same manner as adult cats and need a warm environment, but not one that is too warm, in which to develop.

If the temperature is below 85 degrees this can be dangerous and the cat may move to keep her kittens warm. But, an environment that is too warm can be equally dangerous leading to dehydration and fading in the kittens.

Your cat may be trying to balance temperatures and keep things stable in the spot that has been chosen for nursing her kittens.

The mother cat may spend time away from the kittens to let the temperature fall if things are getting too warm or alternatively they may sit or lay on the kittens if the area is just a little too cold!

a sleeping mother cat with front arm over sleeping kitten
warm and protected…

Protection

Your cat may be sitting or laying on the kittens to hide them. She may have decided that the local environment is dangerous and the cats need protection. She may fear predation or have an overriding instinct to avoid detection of her brood. 

Be aware that if you or your household are interacting with her and the kittens at these early stages she may see you as the problem that she needs to hide her kittens from!

Lack of Experience

Your cat may just lack expertise and experience. Although cats have strong maternal instincts it is not unusual for new mothers to make mistakes or demonstrate a lack of experience. 

If your cat has never had a litter of kittens before it may be that she is unaware of the dangers that her laying or sitting on kittens poses. She may not have the experience to understand that more space is needed.

a mother tabby cat lying down on a warm blanket with a kitten
careful mom!

Can A Cat Suffocate A Newborn Kitten By Sitting On Them?

Your cat can kill a newborn kitten by sitting or lying on them. They are suffocated by being crushed and unable to breathe.

This is more likely to happen in the first few weeks when the kittens do not have the strength to wriggle free or the development to vocalize and complain. The mother cat is usually very stressed in the early period after the birth of her kittens and this, along with inexperience and environmental concerns can lead to such a mishap.

A weak kitten that is struggling generally is the most likely candidate to suffer this fate. 

However, you might also find a situation where you think the mother has killed their kitten by sitting on them but in actual fact, the kitten has died of natural causes and you are misinterpreting the circumstances or the scene. Only 25% of kittens survive to one year in the wild so a kitten’s death or a kitten born with problems is not a rare event!

young tabby cat laid flat out on back on sofa exposing belly
I got room, thanks!

How Can I Stop My Cat From Laying Or Sitting On Her Kittens?

Is there any way to stop your cat from laying or sitting on her kittens? Have a look at these tactics and see if you can implement them if you think your cat is endangering her kittens – remember, some instances of laying on kittens might actually be good mothering skills!

Make Sure There Is Enough Space

Don’t be tight on space. Make sure your cat has enough room to spread out if she wants. If you have provided a basket or box, consider whether it is going to be large enough for the size of the litter and whether it will give enough room for the kittens as the family develops.

Get The Temperature Right

This one is tough. You need to avoid draughty areas but also avoid creating heat traps. 

You should also avoid using heat pads or the like because these can easily overheat kittens leading to dangerous episodes of dehydration that are very hard to rectify and are incredibly dangerous.

Additionally, stay away from blankets that can trap heat and catch kittens underneath and stick to good old newspaper that kittens can’t get trapped under but also reflect body heat rather than store and trap heat.

three silver and black tabby kittens sitting in wicker basket surrounded by balls of wool

A Quiet, Undisturbed Area

This is probably the single most important element. Ideally, you should have no interaction with your cat or kittens in the first few weeks. If the interaction is necessary it should be with the mother cat only. 

Anything that could lead the mother to misread the situation as dangerous could lead to her sitting or lying on the kittens to hide and protect them, to her trying to move the kittens, or distancing herself from the kittens and putting them at risk to draw off trouble.

Final Thoughts

A mother cat sitting on her kittens can happen for good reasons and for bad. Can sitting on the kittens be harmful? Yes, they can potentially die. If your cat is lying on their kittens, consider the environment they are in and the interactions that are going on. Ensure they have space, a quiet environment, avoid stress and are at a reasonable temperature and then leave them to it! Remember, a dead kitten may have died naturally – it is not necessarily because the mother cat sat on them or lay on them!