Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies?

Last updated
Updated by Laura Martin
Medically reviewed by Laura Martin

I’ve worked in the pet grooming business for over a decade. One day, a cat parent narrated how her cat gave birth to five kittens, which were healthy (according to her) and moving. 

The owner put the kittens in a cardboard box in her bedroom, close to her bed. When she couldn’t sleep at night, she reported hearing her cat eating one of her kittens but wasn’t sure because it was dark and she was too lazy and sleepy to care. So, she just continued to sleep.

She said that when she woke up in the morning, she found one of the kittens split into halves. The scenario was so traumatizing, and she immediately judged that the cat had eaten her kitten.

The owner moved the remaining kittens, but the incident triggered her to ask me:

Is it normal for cats to eat kittens?

Is It Normal For Cats To Eat Kittens?

Yes, it’s normal for momma cats to eat their kittens. Some felines eat one kitten, while others consume their entire litter.

Science remains shaky as to why a mother cat will do what most cat parents consider barbaric. However, the action doesn’t bear on you because you can’t stop or always control nature. 

You can try to understand the reason behind the act and take some steps to prevent it. But even prevention doesn’t guarantee success because it largely depends on why your mother cat would eat her kittens.

Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies?

Maternal instincts in cats are strong, and most cats will care for their kittens by grooming them, nursing them, and providing warmth and protection.

However, some situations can cause your cat to at its kittens, such as:

1. The Kitten Was Born Unhealthy

The most common reason your cat will eat its kitten is because it’s unhealthy and unlikely to survive. The behavior is natural and isn’t evil for your cat to do. 

Mother cats judge, for whatever reason, that one or more babies are not ‘viable’ and will consume them to recoup nutrients.

While you might not note any defects in the kittens, your cat has over 200 million odor sensors in its nose and uses them to detect things humans can’t. Most experts believe cats use their smelling capabilities to identify defects in kittens.

If a kitten is born unhealthy, weak, or stillborn, the mother may perceive it as a threat to the survival of the rest of the litter. The mama will consume the unhealthy kitten to eliminate chances of infection or disease that could harm the surviving kittens. 

Plus, your cat’s ancestral instinct is not to attract the attention of predators. Sickly, weak, poorly hidden, and even dead young ones can attract predators in the wild. While your cat is no longer in the wild, stress and fear can trigger this instinct.

2. The Kitten Is Stillborn

Your cat has a strong instinct to survive. The feline perceives stillborn kittens as a threat to the survival of the rest of the litter. So, it eats them to prevent infection or disease transmission to the surviving kittens. 

While it can be barbaric to watch, your kitty will eat the kitten to get nutrients to pass through her milk to the surviving kitten. What’s more, giving birth can be physically demanding. Consuming the stillborn kitten could help the mommy replenish her energy and nutrient reserves.

Other times, the mother cat will not eat the stillborn kitten but neglect or ignore it. Some cat parents report their kitty removing dead kittens from the rest of the litter and leaving them in a separate area.

If you catch your mama cat ignoring a stillborn kitten, gently remove it from the rest. If you find it eating the kitten, don’t intervene immediately. Trying to take the stillborn kitten away forcibly can stress the mother and potentially harm the surviving kittens.

3. The Litter is in danger

A mother cat can eat her kittens if the litter is in danger. Cats are instinctual animals, and their behaviors are often driven by a desire to ensure their survival first, then of their offspring.

When the litter is in danger, the cat can eat its kitten for the following reasons.

  • Predator Avoidance: In the wild, if a mother cat senses the presence of a predator or an intruder, she may consume her kittens to eliminate their scent and any evidence of their existence. The cannibalization makes the mother feline less vulnerable, hard to find, and difficult to harm by the threat.
  • Resource Scarcity: If a mother cat perceives the danger of food shortage or limited resources to care for her entire litter, she may sacrifice some kittens to ensure the survival of the stronger ones. 

The behavior is an extreme measure to conserve resources and increase the chances of survival for the remaining kittens.

  • Stress and Anxiety: When a litter is in danger, a mother cat can have high stress or anxiety, triggering aggression towards their kittens. In stressful situations, a mother cat may become more likely to harm or eat her kittens.

The above behaviors are rare in domestic cats because most have a safe and secure environment. If your cat has a good home, it’s unlikely to eat its kittens because it feel safe. And even if it’s threatened, your mama cat can move its nest to a different location in your home.

4. A long, stressful labor

If a mother cat is stressed during birth or her environment exerts stress after birth, she might act on the pressure by eating her kittens. 

Since cats have hardly wired survival instincts, the mother cat may perceive difficult or long labor as a sign that some of her kittens are weak or less likely to survive. To increase the chances of survival for the rest of the litter, she may consume the weak kittens. 

Stress can also affect your cat’s behavior, instinct and hormonal balance.

A long stressful labor can disrupt a mother cat’s normal maternal instinct. Difficult labor can agitate or confuse a momma cat, affecting her ability to properly recognize and care for her kitten.

Instead of caring for the kittens, stressful labor can make the mother cat perceive her kittens as a source of stress or danger. She might eat them to eliminate the source of stress.

Plus, stress can lead to hormonal imbalances, including increase in stress hormone like cortisol. The hormonal change can affect the mother’s behavior and decision-making, leading to kitten cannibalization.

5. Inexperience

Inexperienced, first-time mothers or immature cats are more prone to eat their kittens. Such mother cats may not have fully developed maternal instincts or know how to care for their kitten properly. The lack of instictual knowledge can lead to confusion or anxiety, making them more likely to eat their babies.

Inexperice or youth can also contribute to higher stress levels during birth process. Stress and anxiety can disrupt a cat’s normal behavior and instincts. When overwhelmed by motherhood responsibilities, an immature cat may perceive its kittens as a source of threat or stress.

Young cats may struggle to provide adequate kittens resources such as milk and warmth. When the mother cat feels unable to meet her kittens’ need, it might resort to eating some of them to conserve her energy.

6. Malnourishment

Malnourished cats struggle to find enough food to sustain themselves, let alone to provide for a litter of kittens. When a mother cat perceives insufficient resources to support her and her kittens, she may eat some kittens to increase her survival chances.

A malnourished mother cat is more likely to give birth to weak or sickly kitten due to the lack of proper nutrition during pregnancy. During birth, the mother may eat the kittens she perceive unhealthy or unlikely to survive in attempt to redirect resources to the stronger ones.

Malnourished mother cats are also more likely to experience high stress and anxiety levels. Such momma cat doesn’t get enough food, are often physically weak, and may struggle to care for their kittens adequately. If it’s unable to provide enough milk, warmth, or protection for its litter, it might become desperate and eat its kittens.

7. The Mother Doesn’t Recognize The Kitten

Sometimes, a mother cat may reject her kitten and eat them. However, this isn’t a general cat behavior but due to specific reasons.

  • Health Problems: If the mother cat is not in good health, she may reject her kittens. Illness or pain can make her agitated and less able to care for her young. The mother cat may not want her kittens to nurse because it can be uncomfortable or painful to her. The discomfort and pain may cause her to avoid, push away, or eat her kittens.
  • Inexperience: Sometimes, first-time mothers (queens) may have problems recognizing their kittens. They might not know how to care for their kittens properly and eat them.

8. Her Litter Is Too Large Than She Can Feed

When the litter is too large, and the mother cat cannot find enough food to sustain herself and her large litter she may eat some of her kittens to conserve herself and the remaining kittens. 

Sometimes, the mother cat’s milk production is insufficient to feed a large litter of kittens. She may eat some kittens to balance the demand for milk with her supply. The mother kitten will identify the weaker or ill kittens, and eliminate them to improve the chances of the stronger kittens surviving. While you might consider the move harsh, it’s a feline natural way to ensure the survival of the fittest.

Besides resources, a mother cat with a too large litter can have high stress level or fear because of the huge responsibility of taking care of her babies. The stress can agitate the mother cat and make her eat some of her kittens.

9. Rejection (And Eventually Eating The Kittens)

I’ve heard many cat parents reportintg their cat rejecting some kittens and eventually eating them. Some situations that can result in a mother cat rejecting her babies and eating them include:

  • Health problems: If a mother cat senses that one or more of her kittens are weak, sickly, or unlikely to survive due to congenital health issues, she may instinctively reject or even cannibalize them. 
  • Inadequate milk supply: If the mother cat is unable to produce enough milk to feed all her kittens adequately, she may reject some of them to reduce the demand for milk.
  • Stress and Anxiety: Environmental stressors, such as disturbances, changes in the environment, or threats from other animals, can cause a mother cat to become highly stressed or anxious. This stress can trigger a mother cat to reject and be aggressive toward the kittens.
  • Inexperience: First-time mother cats may not have maternal instincts or experience as more seasoned mothers. They may struggle to care for their kittens and reject or harm them.

10. Stress Before or After giving birth

Stress before and after giving birth can make a mother cat eat its children. Just as humans experience stress during pregnancy, so do cats. 

Before giving birth, stressors such as changes in their environment, new people or animals, or disruptions to their routine can lead to elevated stress levels. The pre-existing stress might affect the mother cat’s behavior towards her kittens once they are born. The mother cat can eat her children if the pressure is too high.

On the other hand, after-birth stressors can make your cat eat her kittens. Some of them include:

  • Disturbances: After giving birth, mother cats typically seek a quiet and safe location to care for their kittens. Your cat can become highly stressed if you frequently disturb its nesting area with loud noises, other animals, or other humans. 

Elevated stress levels can cause the cat to eat its kittens.

  • Environmental Changes: Moving a mother cat and her kittens to a new location or changing their environment can be extremely stressful for the mother. She might react to this stress by rejecting or harming her kittens.
  • Fear: If the mother cat feels threatened or fearful for her kittens’ safety, she may react by aggression towards her kittens and even eat them. Fear-induced stress is a significant factor after your cat gives birth.
  • Inadequate Shelter or Resources: If the mother cat perceives that her shelter or resources (such as food and water) are insufficient for her and her kittens, it can lead to stress.

The cat might eat some of her babies to reduce resource competition among the kittens.

11. The Mother Cat is Suffering From Feline Mastitis

Feline mastitis is an infection and inflammation of the mammary glands in mother cats. Some research connects mastitis with maternal behavior of feline cannibalization. 

Mastitis can be extremely painful for a mother cat. The inflamed and infected mammary glands can cause significant discomfort when the kittens nurse. Such pain can make the mother cat agitated and irritable whenever her kitten tries to nurse.

She may hiss, growl, or even attack her kittens to prevent them from nursing, as it causes her pain.

The aggression and rejection towards nursing kittens can escalate if the mother cat becomes stressed and overwhelmed. In extreme cases, this stress and aggression can lead to her rejecting or harming her kittens, although it’s not directly caused by mastitis itself.

Some symptoms of feline mastitis include:

  • Swollen, red, or inflamed mammary glands
  • Pain and discomfort in the affected mammary glands
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abnormal mammary secretions
  • Maternal neglects
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Limping and lameness

If you suspect your cat has mastitis, seek immediate vet care.

How To Stop My Cat From Eating Her Kittens

If you have a cat that’s eating her kittens, there are a few things your can do to stop her. You can:

Provide A Stress-Free Spot

Providing a stress-free environment for your cat can reduce feline cannibalization. A calm environment can help your cat’s anxiety and reduce aggressive behavior toward its kittens. Creating a quiet and peaceful space can help her feel more at ease.

A less stressful environment can foster a maternal bond between the mother cat and her kittens. When the mother kitten feels safe and secure, she’s more likely to show maternal behaviors such as grooming, nursing and protecting her kitten.

To create a stress-free environment for your cat and her kitten, you should:

  • Provide a quiet and secluded nesting area away from high-traffic areas in your home.
  • Ensure the temperature in the nesting area is comfortable and draft-free.
  • Limit human and pet interactions with the mother and kittens, especially during the early days after birth.
  • Keep the environment clean and free from strong odors or chemicals.
  • Provide fresh water and easily accessible food for the mother cat to help maintain her health and energy.

Ensure Your Cat Is Well-Fed and Well-Nourished

Nourishment plays a critical role in preventing a mama cat from eating her kittens. The cat needs adequate nutrition for her overall health and of her kittens, which can positively impact her maternal behavior.

Proper nutrition supports the mother cat’s physical health and energy levels, ensuring that she has the stamina and strength to care for her kittens. Weakness or health issues due to inadequate nutrition could lead to a mother cat neglecting or harming her kittens.

More importantly, a well-nourished mother cat is more likely to produce an adequate milk supply for her kittens, which is essential for their growth and development. Inadequate milk production can lead to kittens being dissatisfied and the mother becoming frustrated or stressed.

To ensure your cat is well-fed and well-nourished, you should:

  • Provide a High-Quality Cat Food: Choose a high-quality, balanced cat food that is appropriate for nursing and lactating cats. Consult with your veterinarian for recommendations if needed.
  • Monitor Her Appetite: Pay attention to the mother cat’s appetite and feeding behavior. She may require more food than usual while nursing. Adjust her diet as needed to ensure she is getting enough nutrition.
  • Give access to fresh water all the time: Ensure she has access to fresh water at all times, as dehydration can negatively affect her health and milk production.

Monitor Kittens And Mother

Regular monitoring allows you to detect any potential problems or health issues in both the mother cat and the kittens promptly. You can quickly identify signs of illness or distress in the mother that could lead to aggressive behavior.

Check the mother interaction with her kittens to ensure she’s providing adequate care. If you notice any neglect or aggression, you can take steps to address the issue in time. 

Alternatively, monitoring helps you identify if any kittens are weak, underweight, or unwell. These kittens may require special attention, such as supplemental feeding or medical care, to improve their chances of survival.

Keep the Nesting Area Clean

Keeping your cat’s nesting area clean protects both the mother and kitten from diseases, which might reduce chances of your cat eating her babies. After all, the most common reason why cats eat their young ones is because diseases.

Kepping your cat’s nesting place clean can help preven infections such as matitis to the cat’s mother. Mastitis, for example, can cause pain and discomfort, which can result in the mother becoming agitated and rejecting or eating her kittens.

Avoid Handling Kittens

Leaving the kittens alone, especially in the first week can help reduce stress and anxiety of the mother cat and lower the risk of eating her kitten. If you handle her kittens frequently, your mother cat can be stressful for the mother cat, especially if she perceives it as a threat to her nest or her authority as the mother. 

Reducing handling can help maintain a calm and stress-free environment. Mama cats are naturally protective of their kittens. Excessive handling may cause the mother to become anxious or agitated, as she feels the need to protect her kittens from perceived threats.

You should give your cat time to have uninterrupted bonding time with their kittens.

Avoid Separating Kittens From The Mother

Don’t separate kittens from their mother too soon to prevent you mommy cat from getting stress and anxious. Allow time for maternal bonding.

Kittens rely on their mother not only for nourishment but for emotional comfort and security. Seperating them too early can disrupt the crucial bonding process between her kittens and mother. If they don’t bond, your mother cat may consider them foreign and eat them.

Avoid Breeding Cats Less Than 18 Months Old

Female cats (queens) typically reach full physical maturity around 18 months of age. Waiting until this age ensures that the queen is physically capable of handling pregnancy, labor, and nursing. Younger cats may not have fully developed reproductive systems or may struggle with the physical demands of motherhood, making them prone to eating their kittens.

Cats also need time to develop emotionally and behaviorally. By 18 months, a cat is more likely to have the necessary maternal instincts and emotional stability to care for her kittens. Younger cats may be more prone to stress and anxiety, which can sometimes lead to abnormal maternal behavior, such as kitten abandonment or aggression.

Speak to the Vet to Figure Out Why She Did It and What You Can Do To Protect the Remaining Litter

If you can’t pinpoint the reason your cat eats her kitten consult a vet. The vet will examine your mama cat to check her physical healt and overall well-being. 

Depending on your cat’s behavior, your vet can try to determine the underlying cause and recommend a treatment plan of behavior modification strategies. The vet will suggest measure to protect the remaining kittens.

Other Unexpected Mother Cat Behaviors That Are Completely Normal

Many cat parents wish they could have a secret decoder that explains strange cat behavior after giving birth. Here’s a breakdown of confounding cat action that you can expects.


A queen will care for her kitten intensively during the first three weeks of their lives. During this time, she may be more territorial, nervous, and aggressive than usual.

The aggression is part of her behavior to care for her kitten.

Moving her kittens

Mother cats may relocate their kittens to a different nesting spot within the first few weeks after giving birth. This behavior is believed to be a survival instinct to prevent predators from discovering the nest. As long as the new location is safe and clean, there’s usually no need for concern.


Some mother cats may initially reject one or more kittens from the litter. This can happen for various reasons, including illness or perceived weakness. In some cases, the mother may eventually accept and care for the rejected kittens, but it may be necessary to provide extra care and monitoring.

Ignores kittens

In the first few days after giving birth, a mother cat may spend limited time with her kittens, which can appear as though she’s ignoring them. This is normal, and she usually returns to nurse and care for them once her immediate post-birth needs are met. As the kittens grow, she becomes more attentive to their needs.

How to care for newborn kittens your mother cat can’t take care of

If you find yourself in situations where your cat is not taking care of some or all of her kittens, you should act quickly. Your first step is to assess the situation to determine any underlying medical issues causing the neglect.

If you can’t address the underlying condition of the mother cat, you should get feeding and care supplies you’ll need. These might include:

With all the supply, you can then proceed as follows:

  1. Use the heating pad to keep the newborn kittens warm as they can’t regulate their body temperature.
  2. Kittens need feeding every 2-3 hours. Feed the kittens with the kitten milk replacer (never use cow milk as it isn’t suitable). Use the nursing bottle or feeding syringes with nipple.
  3. Ensure you follow the instruction on the milk replacer packaging.
  4. After feeding, gently par the kitten’s back to help them burp.
  5. Kittens can’t eliminate on their own at start. After each feeding, use a warm, damp cotton ball or soft cloth to gently stimulate the anal and genital area to encourage them to urinate and defecate.
  6. After 3-4 weeks, you can introduce solid food to your kittens.

Why Do Cats Eat Their Babies: Wrapping It Up

The most common reason your cat will eat a kitten is that it was born sick or stillborn. While cats might eat kittens for other reasons, it’s uncommon for domesticated cat.

Eating kittens for any other reason is only common in ferals living in the wild without shelter or food.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do male cats eat their kittens?

Male cats don’t eat kittens and are mostly concerned with protecting their territory and gathering females for mating. There is little to no risk that the father will even get close to the kittens during the first few weeks.
However, a male cat might kill kittens when it want to establish dominance and induce female into heat.

Do cats eat their kittens if you touch them?

No, your cat won’t kill a kitten because you touch them. In rare cases, cats eat kittens because of issues like stress, sickness, female mastitis, birth defects, or stillborn.

Should I separate the kittens and the cat?

It depends. If possible, you shouldn’t separate kittens from their mother until at least eight weeks of age unless recommended by your vet. 
However, some situations might warrant separation, such as:
* When the mother cat is sick or has a contagious disease
* Maternal aggression
* Kitten rejection

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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