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Why Do Cats Move Their Kittens? 3 Reasons for This Behavior

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

Despite being some of the earliest domesticated animals, cats retain most of their wild instincts. What would you say about hiding their food, burying their waste, or peeing to mark their territory?

However, one of the most perturbing behaviors cats display is moving their kittens. Why do they do it? The simple answer is instinct. Like the aforementioned instinctual behaviors, moving kittens is something mama cats are hardwired to do.

Therefore, do not think your cat is abnormal for doing so. In this article, we shall take an in-depth look into why cats move their kittens, and what to do about it.

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Reasons Cats Move Their Kittens

As mentioned, the majority of the “abnormal” behaviors a cat displays are instinctual, including moving their young. As such, to understand the reason for this behavior, we must first look at how cats in the wild behave when it comes to pregnancy and raising their young.

In the wild, when a pregnant cat is almost due, they start looking for a secure place to give birth. Even lionesses, which can be considered the least vulnerable of all cats will do this. The reason is simple – to avoid trouble as much as possible.

Nonetheless, what goes into identifying an ideal birthing place is not always easy to discern. You might set up a den in what you think is the most secure and comfortable spot in your house, only for your cat to choose somewhere else to give birth.

Excuse Her Maternal Instincts

This location problem only gets worse after a cat gives birth. As the mama cat’s maternal instincts kick into high gear, she becomes highly conscious of her environment, perceiving any potential threat to her babies.

While her protective instincts might seem to be a bit over the top, they are justified. Unlike most ungulates (hoofed animals) whose young can run within seconds of being born, kittens are born blind, deaf, and unable to walk.

This means that newly-born kittens can neither defend themselves nor run away from a threat, making them easy pickings for opportunistic predators. Mommy cats understand that intuitively, which is why they go above and beyond when choosing the appropriate hiding spot for their kittens.

Now, while Missy the cat knows that your home is safe from predators and other dangers, her maternal instincts will still propel her to find the safest spot for kittens inside your house. It is not that she doesn’t trust you; she simply cannot afford any risks.

Moreover, it could be that the spot you chose is noisy or has too much human traffic. To your cat, those are valid reasons for moving a den.

Nonetheless, noise and danger are not the only factors that can make a cat move her kittens. Other possible reasons include:

1. She Does Not Like the Nest

In some cases, the actual den might be the problem. Despite setting it up in a good spot, something about the den might be off-putting to the cat. For example, the bedding might be uncomfortable or could have a scent she does not like.

cat carrying its kitten
Image Credit: Lightcube, Shutterstock

2. She Does Not Like the Attention

Who does not love kittens? We are so enthralled with the beauty and charm of our feline companions that households with an expectant mama cat cannot wait for her to deliver so that they can welcome the tiny munchkins home.

However, you may need to pump the brakes. Mama cat doesn’t want you fawning all over her babies minutes after she has delivered them. As mentioned, her maternal instincts are usually in high gear during this period, meaning that she interprets everything but herself as a potential threat.

This is why even papa cat is not allowed to see his children for a while. To avoid clashing with everyone over her kids, she might move them to a spot that she deems safe from all the attention.

3. The Den Is at an Elevated Spot

While cats love perches, mama cat does not share the same sentiments when it comes to the ideal den spot. She cannot risk her kittens falling from any kind of height. This is why she will even decline a comfortable bed. To her, the floor is the safest option.

mother cat and kittens in a box
Image Credit: Pixabay

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What It Means When a Cat Brings Her Kittens to You

Cats taking kittens to their humans is another form of moving. During the course of this discussion, the recurrent theme has been that mother cats prefer to nest their kittens in a secluded spot. Therefore, it would seem paradoxical that a mama cat would bring her kittens to you out of her own volition.

Nonetheless, when a cat does that, it means that she trusts you to take good care of her kittens. After all, you have provided her with proper care all this while. However, mama cat will only bring her kids to you when she is unable to find a good spot for them. This means that she wants you to help her find a nice and secure spot.

Therefore, do not take this matter lightly. Start with assessing the previous den spot to try to determine why your cat does not like it. Perhaps it was in a noisy location, or was there too much light and human traffic?

If the issue is not obvious, look for a better spot to set up the den anyway. Make the den as comfortable as possible. If you are not allergic to cat dander, consider setting up the den in your bedroom. Doing this will allow you to keep an eye on them without unnecessary interference.

grey mother cat nursing kittens
Image Credit: Rashid Valitov, Shutterstock

Where to Look for Hidden Kittens

Mama cats are creative when looking for ideal den locations. Therefore, do not be surprised when you are unable to locate the hidden kittens. However, you can make your work easier by limiting your search to places that match the criteria of a good den spot i.e., warm, dark, and secure.

Some of the areas in your home that fit the criteria include:
  • Under furniture
  • Drawers
  • Closets
  • The washing machine
  • The oven

However, when looking for the kittens, it is best to assume that they could be anywhere. This will ensure that you act with caution to avoid harming the little ones accidentally. This means not starting an appliance without first checking, not tossing stuff into your closets without looking, not kicking off your shoes, and so on.

Reducing the Likelihood of Your Cat Moving Her Kittens

As mentioned, cats only move their young when they feel that the current spot is not safe or comfortable for them. Therefore, to reduce the chances of kittens moving, make sure that mama cat is as comfortable as possible.

This will involve looking for a dry, clean, and comfortable nesting box, and then placing it in a dark and quiet area inside your home. The ideal size of a nesting box should be around 2 feet square. For bedding, use either tight-weave towels or artificial fleece blankets. Do not use terry cloth, as it tends to snag claws.

Most importantly, pay attention to mama’s behavior and body language when handling her kittens. For starters, do not handle them until they are at least two weeks old. During that period, a mama cat’s maternal instincts make her too aggressive to allow handling. However, from week two onwards, you can handle the kittens if she allows it.

Nonetheless, any interactions between children and kittens must be supervised due to how rough kids can be.

If you notice mama cat getting agitated, return the kitten to the nest immediately. Doing this lets her know that she has the final say regarding who can handle her kittens, and when it is appropriate to do so. As a result, she will be more comfortable in that spot, as she knows that she is in control of her kittens’ environment.

Remember to wash your hands meticulously before handling kittens. This is because their immune systems are still developing, meaning that they are not strong enough to fight off disease-causing microorganisms.

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In the wild, the stakes are too high for cats to take any chances with their kittens. This is why moving them is only natural.

At home, however, the stakes are not that high for Missy the cat. Nonetheless, her maternal instincts cannot allow her to be complacent, which is why she is always looking for the safest nesting spot. Therefore, unless the spot she chooses presents a potential danger, do not interfere. Just make sure that she is comfortable.

Featured Image: 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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