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How Do Cats Carry Their Kittens? & Why It Doesn’t Hurt Them

Written by: Patricia Dickson

Last Updated on February 1, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Mother cat running with newborn kitten in her mouth

How Do Cats Carry Their Kittens? & Why It Doesn’t Hurt Them

If your cat has recently had kittens, you’ve probably seen her moving the kittens around by the scruff of their necks. Many pet parents worry that this hurts the kitten and that the mother cat does it as a form of discipline.

First, this is a myth; the mother is not punishing the kitten, and a cat would never intentionally hurt her babies in this way. Second, carrying the kittens by the scruff of their necks is how the mother moves them from one spot to another in the first few weeks of their lives.

So, why do cats carry their young this way? We answer this question and others for you here.

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How Do Cats Carry Their Kittens?

Kittens cannot walk or move their bodies by themselves in the first few weeks after birth, so they need the mother cat to move them. To do this, she will grab the kitten by the scruff of their neck and carry them to where she wants them to be. After all, she doesn’t have arms or hands, so moving the kitten with her mouth is her only option. There’s an extra patch of skin on the back of the kitten’s neck for this very purpose. Mothers instinctively know how to carry their kittens and will do so until they are old enough to be on their own.

Does This Hurt the Kitten?

A mother cat will never intentionally hurt her babies. A first-time mother will still be learning how to care for her babies and may grab the kitten in the wrong spot, but she’ll quickly put the kitten down and readjust her hold.

You might see your kitten struggling to get away or meowing, but that’s usually because the kitten doesn’t want to be moved.

cat carrying its kitten_ightcube, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Lightcube, Shutterstock

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Why Does a Mother Cat Move Her Kittens?

There are quite a few reasons that a mother cat might need to move her kittens. When they start to move around on their own, she might move a kitten back if they stray too far from the spot where she’s keeping them. Let’s go over a few other reasons that a mother cat might need to move her kittens.

The Area Is Too Cold

Kittens can’t regulate their temperatures until they are around 4 weeks of age. This means the mama cat has to do the job for them. If the mother feels that the room is too cold, she’ll move her litter to a spot she considers to be warmer.

She Feels Unsafe

If your cat feels threatened by other animals, humans, or even noises in the house, she’ll try to move her litter to where she feels they’ll be safe. You can help her with that by keeping her bed away from loud noises and foot traffic. Make sure that you keep her food, water, and litter box nearby so she doesn’t have to leave her kittens to go eat or use the bathroom, or she might try to move them.

cat drags a kitten in a secluded place
Image Credit: Pukhov K, Shutterstock

It’s Maternal Neglect

It is possible that as a first-time mother, the cat is feeling overwhelmed and may neglect the litter. Some mothers will move a kitten that they feel is sick or weak away from the other kittens and stop taking care of them altogether. If you think your cat is neglecting the litter, it’s best to talk to a vet to get the help you need.

The Kittens Are Outgrowing the Nest

As you’ll notice pretty quickly, kittens grow at a rapid rate. They double in mass during their first week of life and keep growing from there. Your cat may be moving her babies somewhere else because they’ve outgrown the bed she has them in, and they need to be in a bigger place.

Should You Stop Your Cat From Moving Her Litter of Kittens?

It’s essential to give a mother cat and her kittens a bed that is safe and situated away from busy areas. Unless where the mama cat is moving her kittens puts them in danger, you need to let her do what she feels is best for her family.

If you think your cat is not taking care of her litter of kittens or is abandoning one kitten, it’s best to talk to your vet. They can help you with the kittens and tell you what to do to keep them alive and safe until they are old enough to make it on their own.

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Cats can’t carry their kittens the same way that we carry our babies, so they carry them by picking them up by the scruff of their necks. This doesn’t hurt the kittens; they have extra skin on their necks for this very reason.

Your mother cat may move her kittens for a variety of reasons, and it’s best to let her, as she should know what’s best for them. However, if you feel that your cat is singling out a kitten or is neglecting her litter completely, you should make an appointment with your vet to determine the cause and get recommendations on how to keep the kittens alive and help them thrive.

Featured Image Credit: Rita_Kochmarjova, Shutterstock

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