Do male cats recognise their own kittens? I am referring to domestic cats because I’m sure the question is about domestic cats. It’s impossible to find a clean and direct answer to the question and therefore it is a good question.
I think, however, that I have found the answer indirectly. Let us first remind ourselves that most domestic cats are spayed and neutered and therefore it is relatively unusual for tomcats who are domesticated to roam around looking for fertile female cats.
However, when they do the female’s practice is to offer herself up to several males one after the other. In large feral cat colonies females mate with several males in sequence and the majority of their litters contain the DNA of more than one of the male cats. Females sometimes show a preference for male cats outside of their group to avoid inbreeding.
This background information is important because each male would have observed the female cat being mated by others but he cannot know which of the kittens are his or are not his unless he recognises them by their scent or appearance. This is a consequence of how domestic cats breed and mate. To put it very crudely and bluntly it’s a kind of orgy.
In addition, whole male cats do not associate with female cats except for mating. Therefore, I conclude that the answer to the question, “Can male cats recognise their own kittens?” is No. But this might only apply in the classic cat colony scenario. If there was one male and female breeding inside someone’s home it seems hard to conclude that the male cat would not recognise his offspring. I feel confident that he would.
It is worth noting that when male cats are neutered at about seven months or eight months of age which is the current trend they behave more like female cats in terms of sociability. Some owners prefer, it seems, to neuter their male cats later on in order for them to maintain more masculine attributes. This creates the danger of unwanted cats. I welcome anybody’s input on that observation. P.S. I have seen a male stray cat fathering kittens. This is a fluid situation.
As I said, this is a complicated question and the reference works that I have do not provide a direct answer but I think my conclusion is a reasonable one based upon the orgiastic behaviour of unsterilized domestic cats.
P.S. the reference to the possibility of male cats being able to recognise their kittens by their scent (body odour) would upset this assessment. We don’t have information on that as far as I know.