People with a cat that has had kittens for the first time may find themselves confused by some of the behavior mama cat displays after her babies are born. While watching a cat discover their maternal instincts is often adorable, your cat may occasionally engage in behavior that seems aggressive, like biting her kittens. It typically isn’t something to be concerned about, as biting is a form of communication for felines, and though it may seem like the cat is hurting the babies, they often aren’t.
So why is your cat biting her kittens? There are a variety of reasons your cat could be doing this. Whether it’s a quick nip to correct bad behavior or because mama cat just needs a break from the chaos, here’s why your cat may be biting her kittens.
Why Is My Cat Biting Her Kittens?
There are several different reasons for a cat to bite their kittens. Here are the most likely ones; it’s important to remember that the sort of biting we’re discussing here shouldn’t be overly harsh or aggressive.
If a kitten isn’t displaying proper social behavior (fighting too roughly, not respecting boundaries, climbing all over mama), your cat may bite them to discipline them. This sort of biting lets the kitten know their behavior is unwanted so they can learn how to properly interact with other felines. You might also see a mama cat simply walk away from her babies or hiss at them to let them know what they’re doing isn’t acceptable.
2. To Get a Kitten’s Attention
Like discipline, a cat may bite her kittens to get their attention. This may be because they’re doing something she disapproves of, as this is a simple way to get their attention and redirect them to more acceptable behaviors or to keep them out of danger.
In this case, we don’t mean your cat is defending herself against her kittens. Rather, she is teaching them how to defend themselves. One of a mama cat’s main jobs is teaching her kittens how to survive and defend themselves against predators and other threats. And even though there are no threats to the kittens or your cat in your home, this is a long-held instinct that won’t be denied. So, your cat may sometimes bite her kittens to teach them how to react to threats and defend themselves.
Kittens are wildly playful and rough and tumble, and sometimes, they try to bring their mother into whatever games they’re playing. These games might look like your cat and kittens are attacking one another or biting harshly, but it’s not as bad as it looks. This sort of play is excellent for forming good bonds between mama and babies and learning social behaviors, so unless your cat looks angry, let them play!
5. Being Affectionate
Biting at a kitten can also be a form of affection from mama to child. You may see her groom and then lightly nip her kittens, potentially as a way of showing she cares.
6. Redirected Aggression
If the mother feels threatened by a new animal or human in the home, she may bite her kittens due to redirected aggression. She may not be able to do anything about the unwanted intruder, so she attacks the next closest thing-which is often her kittens.
What if My Cat Is Biting Her Kitten’s Neck?
A common mistake for people who have kittens around for the first time is thinking that their cat is biting her kittens on the back of the neck, but this isn’t actually biting. This is simply the way mama cat picks up her babies to move them around when needed. Kittens have loose skin on the scruff of their neck for precisely this reason. After all, your cat doesn’t have hands, so she can’t really cart them around any other way! This loose skin and a kitten’s innate instinct to go limp when picked up this way keep this from hurting them or causing harm.
What if I Think My Cat Is Being Aggressive When She Bites?
In all the cases above, your cat shouldn’t be aggressive with her kittens or biting them all that hard. If your cat is engaging in aggressive behavior or biting, there could be an issue. The most likely reason for more aggressive behavior is that your cat has rejected one of her kittens (though this is a thing that occurs rarely).
Why would your cat reject one of her babies? There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that the kitten could be ill in some way, and she has rejected it to protect the other kittens.
She might also reject a kitten if her litter is too large for her to handle. Too many kittens mean there may not be enough milk for them all, so rejecting the kitten (or kittens) she deems weakest ensures the healthiest among the bunch have a better chance of survival.
If a kitten has been rejected, you may see your cat acting hissing, biting aggressively, or engaging in other negative behaviors with the little one. If this happens, contact your vet because you’ll need to be the one to feed the kitten until it gets big enough for cat food, and you want to make sure you’re taking care of them correctly.
There are many reasons your cat may be biting her kittens, but in the majority of instances, this biting is nothing to be concerned about. Mama cats may bite their little ones because they’re gently disciplining them, playing with them, or even showing affection. However, if you see your cat aggressively biting at a kitten, hissing, or swatting it, she may have rejected the kitten for some reason. In this instance, you should step in to take care of the little one.
Featured Image Credit: Lightcube, Shutterstock