Cat cannibalism – 9 reasons why it occurs, one of which is “murder”

Cat cannibalism is nearly always a form of abnormal maternal behaviour. Most often it concerns the queen (breeding mother cat) consuming her young. Often it is the first-born kitten. Apparently, it occurs quite commonly, particularly in catteries. The definition of “cannibalism” is the eating of another animal of the same species for food. The other animal might be dead, or it might be killed by the animal who is doing the consuming.

Starving cat forced into cannibalism
Starving cat forced into cannibalism. Photo: RSPCA. This is one of the cats forced in killing and eating a kitten in order to survive.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Here are 9 reasons why cat cannibalism occurs or might occur and sometimes it is due to human behaviour.

  1. Mother cats routinely eat stillborn kittens together with the products of delivery. Sometimes while their mother is eating the placenta, she may accidentally eat a kitten. It sounds extraordinary.
  2. Alternatively, the mother cat might damage one of her kittens while trying to sever the umbilical cord.  This is more likely to occur if a large umbilical hernia is present.
  3. Another occasion when feline cannibalism occurs is when it is done intentionally to destroy an inferior or malformed kitten.
  4. And yet another instance when cat cannibalism may occur is in cases of maternal aggression which may be activated by fear, anxiety, anger or a perceived threat to the mother’s survival.
  5. The conclusion is, that most cases of injury by the mother to her kittens are caused by psychological factors and most particularly when she feels insecure.
  6. If feline cannibalism occurs in a breeding category, the treatment, apparently, is to provide a quiet kittening location away from all distractions where the queen feels less threatened and secure.
  7. I have always argued that in some instances, euthanised rescue cats at animal shelters in America are sold to pet food manufacturers where they are rendered down and incorporated into pet food. This would be a form of cannibalism albeit the consuming cats and dogs would not have any knowledge of it.
  8. In 2019, The Washington Post reported that the USDA was turning lab cats into cannibals by forcing them to eat feline meat according to the White Coat Waste Project. I have written about this: please click the link. The lab cats were housed at a facility in Beltsville, Maryland, USA and they were fed tongues, brains and hearts of cats purchased in a meat market in China with the intention to study the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This was a form of forced cannibalism.
  9. There is a very disturbing story today, September 27th, 2022, online, on the Telegraph & Argus website in which a family was banned from owning animals for life because of their animal cruelty after a kitten had been eaten by starving cats. A veterinarian’ examination showed that the six-week-old kitten had been bitten by the other cats because they were so desperate for food. To be clear, the adult cats killed this kitten for food. This is the first time I have read about this form of very direct cannibalism starting, in human terms, with ‘murder’.

I will add a few more words about that case. As expected, all the cats were in poor condition. They were living in a property in Bradford, UK. A woman, Dawn Mawson, 49, was convicted of four offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Three other women were also convicted under the same Act. It appears that a former partner of one of the women, Elizabeth Mawson, handed over the body of the killed kitten to the RSPCA when an inspector from that organisation, Kris Walker, visited the property on August 30, 2019.

The inspector found two cats in filthy crates in the kitchen. They were covered in urine stains. There were five other cats running around loose in the home. The seven cats made good recoveries in the care of the RSPCA, and they were rehomed.

A post-mortem examination of the killed kitten showed wounds to the kitten’s neck and head. They decided that they were most likely bite marks causing death. A contributing factor was the poor condition of the kitten due to the circumstances under which he or she tried to survive.

The veterinarian who carried out the post-mortem said: “The fact that the other cats in the house attacked him (the kitten) is quite unusual and it is possible they had done this as they saw him as a source of much-needed food”. Comment: It is more than ‘quite unusual’. It is exceptional.

The RSPCA inspector said: “It was awful the state these cats had been left in and how hungry they were when we took them to the vets. Sadly, they were so hungry that they had picked off the weakest link among them.”

Note: If the cannibalism relates to firstborn kittens each kitten should be removed as and when born, placing them in a warm kitten box. They should be left in the box until the queen has completed her births. As a last resort, if the mother continues to demonstrate aggression towards her kittens they may need to be raised by hand or perhaps better still raised by another cat if that is possible.

The video below is one of mine made from material kindly supplied by Kathrin Stucki of A1 Savannahs.

Below are some more articles on mothering.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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