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

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on February 9, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

mother cat with kittens

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

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.

Mother Cats Start by Licking the Kitten

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 fetal membranes and liquid that might be blocking the kittens’ lungs from taking in the air they need. This procedure is necessary, so don’t take the kittens away from their mother, even if it looks painful.

It might be a sad sight to see, but even when a kitten is stillborn, 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?

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. This is not very frequent, but it might occur, and 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 make sure she leaves no evidence that she has given birth. This is to protect her and her kittens from predators.

The other reason that cats might do this is to get some form of nutrition from it.

Domestic cats are less likely to be seen eating their kittens because their owners will probably take care of the stillborn kitten before the mother takes action. It is much more likely for a stray mother cat to do this. However, since this behavior is instinctual, 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.

Mother cat breastfeeding little kittens
Image Credit: Azami Adiputera, Shutterstock

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Why Did My Cat Bring Me Her Dead Kitten?

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. 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 May Hide Their Kitten

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.

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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

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