Categories: mothering

Why do cats move their kittens?

Photo: Pinterest. So impressive.

Mother moves her kittens to a new nest. Why? It usually happens when the kittens are between 30 and 40 days old. We have all see it; mother picks up each kitten by the scruff of their necks and purposefully carries them off to a fresh location. In the video she takes them to a mosque in Istanbul where the imam lets street cats enter to improve their chances of survival.

The mother keeps her head as high as possible to ensure her kittens don’t drag on the ground. Although if she is transporting them a good distance her head may sag but the kittens will remain passive (kitten response to scruff bite) with their tails curled up and their hind legs bent to minimise bumping along the ground.

When she gets to the new nest, she drops the kitten. Immediately she diligently returns to pick up the next kitten and so on. She makes a final trip to check no kittens are left behind.

The Reasons

There are two reasons.

One reason for this laborious process is because the function of the nest has changed. Initially the nest is chosen for security and comfort. When the kittens grow up she has to train them to hunt and in order to achieve this she brings home prey animals and the kittens have teeth to eat the prey. The new nest is selected for its suitability in carrying out this stage of parenting which means it needs to be as close as possible to the best food supply.

This ritual can still occur with domestic cats despite being fed by their owner because it is “an ancient pattern of maternal feline behaviour which, like hunting itself, refuses to go away simply because of the soft lifestyle of domestication”1.

The other reason is to remove her kittens from what she now considers to be a dangerous nest-site. The cat may search for a new, more private home if for whatever reason (perhaps human intervention) she thinks it is unsafe.

Human intervention in the wild

For the wild cats interference of the kittens by humans can drive the mother to abandon them or eat them. She thinks they are alien because of the change in their scent. As aliens they become prey species and are killed and eaten. This is unlikely to occur with domestic cats because they are familiar with human scent.

1. Dr Desmond Morris in Cat World.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • I go through this with my verra wild feral mum cat,her last litter I caught her trying to move her kittens but I got to them before she did and all now are vetted and up for adoption at our SPCA.

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