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What Does a Mother Cat Do with a Dead Kitten: Facts & FAQ

dead kitten_schubbel, Shutterstock
Image Credit: schubbel, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Christian Adams

Even though cats have been domesticated for many years, they are still animals with many instincts. Becoming a parent brings out instincts for any animal, including a mother cat. The instincts of mother cats don’t only apply to taking care of their live kittens. When a kitten is born dead or isn’t strong enough to survive the first several days outside of the womb, a mother cat knows what to do. Their behavior toward that kitten might surprise you.

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Mother Cats Start by Licking the Kitten

mother cat_ Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

Right after a mother cat gives birth to new kittens, she licks them clean. It is an instinctual behavior for her to do right after giving birth. It might seem rather harsh at first because it is typically a rigorous cleaning. However, she does this to stimulate the kitten to breathe because it won’t feel natural for them at first.

It is also necessary for her to clean away the placenta and liquid that might be blocking the kittens’ lungs from taking in the air they need. This treatment is necessary, so don’t take your kittens away from their mother, even if it looks painful.

It might be a sad sight to see, but even when a kitten is dead, the mother cat will continue to groom them. She will cuddle and lick the kitten to try to get them to respond and start breathing. The process might go on for quite a while before she starts to focus more on the live kittens again.

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Do Mother Cats Eat Their Dead Kittens?

British kitten and cream rose_Marketa Barborikova_shutterstock
Credit: Marketa Barborikova, Shutterstock

After a mother cat ultimately gives up on the kitten ever breathing, she is prone to do a couple of things that might seem dramatic. One is that she might eat the dead kitten. A mother cat will only eat her kitten when she is sure that they are dead. That means she will often leave the body alone for hours, just in case the kitten revives. The reason that a mother cat will eat the kitten is twofold.

The first reason has to do with survival for her and the rest of the kittens. By eating the newborn, a mother cat will re-absorb the nutrients that her body had first used to generate the kitten. These nutrients will help her support the surviving kittens by getting dissolved into her milk.

The other reason that cats do this is out of affection for their kitten and safety for the live kittens. They don’t want anything else to smell the kitten’s body and come to eat it. Not only would the other animal get those nutrients, but it would also put the mother and live kittens in danger.

Domestic cats that feel safe in their home are less likely to eat their kittens because they don’t have to worry about their nutrient sources. It is much more likely for a stray mother cat to do this. However, it is still an instinct, and although it’s rare for a domestic cat, don’t be shocked if that happens.

If this is something that you don’t want her to do, you might want to take away the dead kitten before she can eat it. But don’t be surprised if she hasn’t given up on them reviving and gets angry and aggressive toward you while you try to take the body away.

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Why Did My Cat Bring Me Her Dead Kitten?

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

Cats experience grief in somewhat similar but simpler ways as humans. When they trust their pet owner and rely on you for comfort, they will often turn to you in times of grief and need. Has your cat ever brought you a token of appreciation, like a dead mouse or bird? In a way, this act is similar. The mother cat might bring her dead kitten to you, signaling that she needs your help. She might want you to fix the kitten or to take care of it because she can’t.

Don’t be surprised if your cat veers the other direction, though, and instead of offering you her kitten, she hisses and scratches whenever you come near. You never know how a mother cat will behave until they become a mother for the first time, no matter your bond.

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Mother Cats Will Bury Their Kitten

cat in grass_Winessyork, Shutterstock
Image Credit: Winessyork, Shutterstock

Finally, and perhaps the most surprising, a mother cat might bury her kitten. She instinctively knows that the kitten might be dead for some kind of health reason and wants to move the body a safe distance from their other kittens.

She might bury it, or if she has quite a few live kittens left, she will take it away from them and abandon it. If she doesn’t have live kittens—and sometimes, even if she does—her grieving process might be burying her kitten and lying over the burial spot for hours.

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Cats are not only mysterious creatures, but they are also instinctual. A mother cat will do everything that she can to keep her baby kittens safe. If they are born dead or die soon after birth, you won’t see her give up on them too quickly. Instead, she will do her best to reanimate them. Once she loses hope, she will do everything that she can to keep her live kittens safe and sound.

Featured Image Credit: schubbel, Shutterstock

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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