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

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

mother cat transferring kitten

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


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Despite being some of the earliest domesticated animals, cats retain most of their wild instincts. It’s why they hide their food, bury their waste, and pee 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, many of the “abnormal” behaviors a cat displays are instinctual, including moving their young. So, 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 losing their vulnerable kittens to other predators.

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.

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 your 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.

Noise and danger are not the only factors that can make a cat move her kittens. Other possible reasons include the following.

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 doesn’t 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 they can welcome the tiny munchkins home.

However, you may need to pump the brakes. A 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 the papa cat is not allowed to see his children for a while. To avoid clashing with everyone over her kids, the mother cat might move them to a spot that she deems safe from all the attention.

3. She’s Listening to Her Internal Clock Timing

Many mother cats instinctively move their kittens to a new den when they are a few weeks old, possibly because they no longer want them in the birthing place, as it might be crawling with pests or might not be as “clean” anymore (after all, this is where they gave birth).

This is why many pet owners notice that one day, their cat decides to move her babies from a seemingly immaculately clean den to another one. This usually happens when the kittens are around 3–4 weeks old. It’s also the time when a cat will start bringing prey (dead or half-alive) to the den to begin training her kittens on how they should hunt.

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 of her own volition.

Nonetheless, when a cat does that, it probably 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, a mama cat will only bring her kids to you when she is unable to find a good spot for them. This may mean 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 there was 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. It is best to allow the cat to inspect the den first. If she finds it satisfactory, she will often relocate her kittens there herself.

grey mother cat nursing kittens
Image Credit by: 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.

Areas in your home that fit the criteria include:
  • Under furniture
  • Drawers
  • Closets
  • The washing machine
  • The dryer

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 closet or kicking off your shoes without looking, and so on.

Please note: The laundry room is particularly dangerous for felines, as many detergents and chemicals commonly found there are toxic for cats and kittens.

Reducing the Likelihood of Your Cat Moving Her Kittens

As mentioned, cats usually 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 your mama cat is as comfortable as possible. That said, she may instinctively move her kittens no matter what you do. Still, keeping their den clean and comfortable is vital to ensure the health of the kittens.

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 the mama’s behavior and body language when handling her kittens. For starters, do not handle them until they are at least 2 weeks old. Before that time, a mama cat’s maternal instincts may make her too aggressive to allow handling. However, from week two onwards, you can handle the kittens if she allows it. Any interactions between children and kittens must be supervised due to how rough kids can be.

If you notice the 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. 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, so moving them is a natural behavior.

In a safe and warm human home, the stakes are not that high, but a mother cat’s 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.

Instinct may drive mother cats to move their kittens, anyway, as they tend to do so on an internal timer of sorts. However, they usually don’t tend to mind the alternative options provided by their owners in such a circumstance.

Featured Image Credit: schubbel, Shutterstock

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