a sleeping mother cat with front arm over sleeping kitten

Why Do Cats Eat Their Kittens?

Have you heard some cats eat their babies? Do you even believe some cats eat kittens? If they do, don’t you want to know why do cats eat their kittens? Check out how rare this event is, why your cat might carry out this strange act and what you can do to ensure such a weird thing doesn’t happen to your kittens…

Is It Normal For Cats To Eat Kittens?

It is normal for mother cats to eat their own kittens, but it happens very rarely! When we say normal, a cat eating its own babies is a natural phenomenon that is well documented. It generally occurs for completely natural reasons. Cats that eat their kittens are not crazy kitties, devil cats, or psychopaths – they are responding naturally to an issue in their environment or with their litter. 

It is not unheard of for cats to eat a single kitten in a litter or the entire litter depending on the circumstances. 

Whilst this behavior sounds bizarre and abhorrent, it is often a natural reaction that once understood can be appreciated as being an understandable, but extreme, course of action given the circumstances. 

In most cases a cat will simply reject and walk away from her kittens in preference to actually eating them – hence eating kittens is actually quite rare. 

Why Do Cats Eat Their Kittens

a mother cat lying down on a fluffy blanket with two very young kittens

So why do cats eat their babies? Why would a cat engage in this extreme behavior? Well, actually there are several documented reasons why this kind of thing happens, here is a rundown of the likely causes :

Birth Defect

The mother cat may have detected a birth defect with a kitten or a whole litter of kittens. The defect may be such that she is convinced the kitten/litter is unviable and does not want to invest resources into the kitten or the litter. 

In most circumstances, the mother is just likely to abandon the kittens with the defect – but it has been recorded that in some instances the mother will actually respond to the situation by eating the kitten (s).

You would not expect to see abandonment or eating of babies for a minor birth defect like being born with extra toes or such. If the litter was born significantly premature and underdeveloped or if kittens were born with serious handicaps that made independent life untenable, like down’s syndrome or such, then in these circumstances the mother eating the kitten is more likely to occur. 


If the mother cat is stressed during birth or feels unduly stressed by her surroundings following the birth she may act to reduce the stress by eating her kittens with the aim of alleviating the stress she feels she is under. 

Some situations she may find stressful include if she has chosen a loud or busy area to have her kittens in, if her kittens are being handled by others, if she feels potentially threatened by predators or other cats or if she is separated from her kittens for any period of time.

Still Born

A stillborn kitten represents a threat to the remaining kittens as they can encourage disease and infection in the other kittens if the stillborn kitten is allowed to remain with the litter following birth. 

The mother may react to this situation by eating the stillborn kitten to remove the possibility that it will affect the health of her other kittens. The alternative may be removing the remaining health littermates to a separate location – which carries its own risks.

close up of a cat eating from a bowl

She Is Malnourished 

If the mother is malnourished and gives birth to a large litter she may reduce the size of the litter and renourish herself by eating the less viable kittens. This offers the best survival odds for her litter. The size of the litter is reduced to a manageable size and renourished she can better offer them resources to guarantee their survival.


Mastitis in cats is a bacterial infection that affects the mammary glands. It is very painful for the cat and requires veterinary treatment with antibiotics to clear the infection up. Usually, the infection is caused by the cat living in unsanitary conditions and having sustained some sort of trauma to the teat or teat canal. Bacteria use the traumatized area as an entry path and cause infection.

A cat suffering from such a condition, even though the condition is quite rare in cats, is likely to be in such pain that a kitten attempting to suckle is likely to be rejected at best and at worse, eaten in a misguided attempt to ease the pain.

If you have a cat with kittens, and she is struggling to nurse her kittens a call to the vet is required in case she has mastitis.

Not Recognising Kittens As Her Own

If the cat is an inexperienced first-time mum or if the kittens have been born by cesarean, she may not recognize the kittens as her own and maybe completely confused with the situation. It is rare but not unheard of for the cat to suffer stress in this scenario and end up rejecting, or worse, eating her kittens. 

Do Male Cats Eat Their Kittens?

Male cats do eat their own kittens but this phenomenon is even rarer than when mother cats eat their own kittens.

When this situation does arise it is usually limited to activity in feral cats. It is speculated that male feral cats may be eating their own kittens to limit or manage the size of the feral colony, maybe exerting dominance on the colony or may have accidentally mistaken the kittens for prey items. 

Other male cats who are not the father of the kittens may be prone to dispatching the kittens as a way to bring the mother back into heat so that they can mate with the female and create their own kittens.

Male cats eating kittens is very rare but is usually the work of an unrelated male killing kittens.

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

How To Stop My Cat From Eating Her Kittens

If you have a cat that is about to give birth you may worry she could end up eating her kittens. So what can you do to stop or prevent her from eating the kittens? The best thing to do is to try and provide the best conditions possible to reduce the likelihood that she will feel the need to eat the kittens. Here are some easy steps you can take :

Provide A Stress Free Spot

Select a place that is warm and comfortable for your cat. The area needs to be quiet and free from household traffic or other family pets. Think stress reduction and a safe environment when you choose a spot and you will be on the right path.

Provide Nutrition For Mother

Make sure your cat is well-fed and well-nourished so there is no reason for her to feel she has to reduce litter numbers to ensure survival.

Provide Toileting Facilities Nearby

Place a litter tray in the same room as your cat and her litter. You want to avoid the cat having to leave the kittens as this may cause stress that could end badly. Obviously, don’t place the litter tray too close to the cat but near enough that she doesn’t have to lose sight of her kittens when using the tray.

Monitor Kittens And Mother

Are any of the kittens struggling or smaller than the others? If there is a runt of the litter be mindful that this kitten may need extra support to avoid becoming a target for the mother. The mother may simply abandon the runt as a lost cause – but in this situation, you could nurture the runt to full health. Worse, she could target the runt for disposal if she views the runt as unviable or a drain on resources.

Additionally, pay close attention to the mother cat. Any signs of distress when feeding the kittens will need a vet check. If feeding is refused then this is a serious development that needs fast intervention if the kittens are to avoid fading syndrome.

an orange tabby kitten lying down

Keep the area clean

You need to provide clean bedding and a sanitary area for your cat and kittens. Both mother and kittens are prone to infection at these delicate stages and an infection may bring about an unpalatable response from your cat. Kittens and mothers need the best chance of good health at this stage.

Avoid Handling Kittens

The rule of thumb is generally to avoid handling kittens in the first two weeks to ensure the mother bonds, does not fear the removal of the kittens, and does not fear for the safety of the kittens. If the kittens are handled too early the mother may become stressed and react badly.

Avoid Separating Kittens From Mother

A separation during the first few weeks can create anxiety and stress in the mother which may have undesired consequences. How long can a mother cat be away from her newborn kittens? In the first six weeks as little as possible!

How To Tell If My Cat Ate Her Kittens

If the number of kittens in the litter suddenly reduces and there is no visible evidence as to where they are located you should assume that the mother has eaten the kitten.

When the mother eats the kitten they usually leave no trace and the kitten is gone in a few gulps. Occasionally the mother may leave a partially eaten body but this is unusual as they usually avoid leaving a body that might decompose and create a risk for the remaining kittens.

A rejected kitten will be away from the group and clearly ignored by the mother.

Do Cats Eat Their Kittens If You Touch Them?

As we touched on, handling kittens too early can be risky. The mother may feel the kitten is endangered or she is about to lose the kitten. In these circumstances, she may decide the litter is unviable, feel stressed, or decide to withdraw resources. At that point, she may either reject the kittens or carry out a mercy killing of the kittens – all as a result of your handling the kittens too early! 
Although kittens need socializing, this should not be carried out too early. Leave handling kittens until they are two to six weeks of age to avoid creating problems with mom.