Do cats eat their dead babies? As harsh as it might sound like asking the question and hearing the answer.
The answer is astounding. Yes, cats do eat their dead kittens. The thought of this may seem horrifying to some people or even heartless to others. Nevertheless, knowing the truth behind the act might change your mind about how the animal kingdom works.
Just as parents want to give their loved ones a heartfelt and compassionate send-off, cats, in general, feel the same way about their dead kittens.
Although they do not bury their kittens as humans do their loved ones, their way of disposing of their dead is just as logical to them as it is to human behavior.
Nature might seem as cruel as some animals to those who do not understand the behavioral instincts of animals.
We as humans will not result in the cannibalism of our dead loved ones.
What makes animals like cats consume their dead?
The answer might leave some of us dumbfounded, and others may completely understand and be sympathetic. The first instinct of any mother, human or otherwise, is to protect their young.
Does it make mother cats any less compassionate because their instincts are different from human parents? I think not. Every mother wants to have healthy babies, but that is not always the case.
For the mother cat, eating her dead kitten is not the same as eating a dead animal. For her, it is the safest choice if she and her surviving kittens are to strive in an environment where predators prey on their vulnerability.
Human mothers are just as protective, whether we admit it or not.
When cats are about to give birth, they seek a haven where predators cannot find their young.
This is the first stage of protection a mother cat displays. This haven is off-limits to humans and other animals. For us humans, our haven is the hospital, where our newborn babies can receive immediate attention if a problem were to arise. After giving birth, the mother cat examines her kittens and looks for signs of illness and weakness.
Weak and sickly kittens will soon die, and their decaying body scents will lead the way for predators to find the mother and her remaining kittens.
Therefore, mercy killing or eating of dead or sickly kittens helps the mother cat to provide a safe place for her family. How far would you go to protect your young?
What Does a Mother Cat Do with a Dead Kitten?
For someone who does not know the behavior of animals, one would assume that burying the dead would be appropriate. At least that is what we do, I hope.
However, when you are speaking about a specific breed of animal, specifically feral cats, burying their dead is not an option. When a mother cat gives birth, she makes an observation to see which of her kittens are sick, diseased, dying, or stillborn.
If the mother determines that one or more of her kittens are too sick to survive, born dead or deformed, she will do what is necessary for the safety of herself and that of her healthy litter.
To get technical, you could say that a mother cat devours her dead cats out of love. Being a mother comes with great sacrifices and responsibilities. However, we will not eat our dead, right?
What we know about cats can be put in a nutshell, which leaves little room for expansion. When someone sees a mother cat devouring a kitten or two, the first thought is, why is she eating her babies? I asked the same question when I saw my cat eat several of her kittens.
A friend stated the mother was hungry, and that is why she ate their kittens. I never thought about it again until I saw my dog do the same. After researching and drafting this article, I now understand the compassion and mercy killing that animals experience.
It must be difficult for a mother to make the ultimate and necessary decision to put an end to a helpless and frail baby after hours of labor pain and delivery. Nevertheless, the love of the deceased animal is just as strong as the love for the living.
What is the Purpose of Eating their Dead Kittens?
Sometimes, when animals die, predators consume their bodies. In some instances, bone fragments and pieces of flesh are left behind for other scavengers to feast on. For the mother cat, this is not acceptable.
According to an article written by a staff writer on the website reference.com, a mother cat eats her babies for the good of the kitten or kittens. A mother cat can sense when one of her babies is weak, deformed, dead, or dying.
As an act of mercy, the mother chooses to eat their weakling to prevent the decaying body from attracting dangerous animals. Most animals or predators have a keen sense of smell, like the vulture, who flies around scouting out the dead and dying.
By eating the dead kittens, the mother cat is saving her kittens from a horrible after-death experience and saving their remaining kittens from being found. Newborn kittens are helpless, just like newborn infants.
Any chances of the newborns surviving depend on the actions of the mother. It is the instinct of the mother cat that leads her to properly dispose of her dead kittens in the only way she knows.
What is the Process of Cats Eating their Dead Kittens?
Animalpath.org has a fascinating article that cat lovers and cat owners should read. It gives specific details that lead up to the moment a mother cat devours her litter.
After the mother cat gives birth, she licks her kittens. This initiates breathing, the same way a doctor smacks a baby on the butt and gets it to breathe by making the baby cry. By licking the kittens, the mother cat removes any liquids from the lungs and removes any remaining afterbirth.
This process might look volatile and rigid, but for the mother cat, it is a normal and necessary part of the birthing process.
If the kitten or kittens do not respond during the licking process, the mother cat will abandon the dead litter and focus on the surviving ones.
At this point, the mother cat will eat the dead litter, which will provide her with nutrients that she can pass on to her remaining kittens through her milk as they nurse. This behavior, though it seems barbaric, is rooted deep in the natural biological instinct of the mother cat.
Licking also exhibits the affection of the mother cat towards her kittens. Even after forceless licking her dead kitten(s), she is still hoping for a movement or some sign of life.
When all else fails, she gives up and walks away or consumes the dead kitten because the dead kitten can pose a hygiene risk. This is typical for Feral cats, but this is not typical of domestic cats.
What are Some Other Reasons Why Mother Cats Eat their Dead Kittens?
A kitten or kittens might not be deceased when the mother cat eats them. Animals are born with parental instincts and know when something is not right with their young.
Some cats will bring their dead kitten(s) to their owners, expecting help or empathy as they grieve over their loss.
This is a sign of trust because the mother is looking for help in fixing their young. Sadly, there is no way to help in such cases. However, showing empathy should suffice.
In other instances, some mother cats will not allow anyone near their dead kittens, and this behavior is also understandable.
Some cats are known to bury their dead instead of eating them. This entails separating the living from the dead and avoiding pollution of the decomposing body.
Cats are sensitive to their young, often protecting them from hurt, harm, and danger.
However, the mother cat has no control over giving birth to sick, deformed, or stillborn kittens.
Is Eating Dead or Living Kittens Normal for Mother Cats?
Mother cats go through the loss and grieving process in diverse ways. However, all animals do not exhibit the same instincts as others when they lose their young.
There is no right or wrong way for cats to grieve.
They are born with certain parental instincts that set them apart from other animals. Kittens do not have to die before their mother eats them. Other circumstances can lead to mothers eating their kittens even if they are healthy.
This is due to stress, malnutrition, fear, or danger surrounding the newborn kittens, first-time motherhood, or feline mastitis (a condition where the mammary gland is inflamed due to a bacterial infection).
This condition can be painful as the condition can be passed on to the newborns. Some cats may not recognize their young if they are handled by humans during the first week of life.
Their scent is masked by other scents, making the kittens not recognizable by the mother. This causes the mother to confuse her kittens for that of prey rather than her offspring, putting the kittens in grave danger.