Why is my cat breastfeeding my other cat’s kittens and why is their mother allowing it?

This is something that happens quite a lot. Mother cats who are related frequently share nursing the young of their respective relatives. The question in the title, however, does not imply that the two mothers are related. If the mon cats were, the answer is as above, but if they are not then it does show that mother cats can be equally indiscriminate when identifying their own kittens from those of other cats even when the mothers are unrelated.

Mother cat with kittens
Ahh…Mother and offspring.
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It would appear that for a mother cat, if kittens are in her nest then she treats the kittens as hers. This characteristic of mother cats is frequently exploited by animal rescue centres. You may have seen it online. Young offspring of other species such as squirrels are often raised by mother cats (queens) because they accept them as their kittens.

Some rescue organisations place orphaned kittens with nursing queens and they are accepted when gently slipped in with the mother’s own kittens. It doesn’t matter if the ages don’t match.

Cat nursing a squirrel
Cat nursing a squirrel

Some mothers will accept the entire litter of another cat introduced to them after their own kittens are weaned.

Dr Bradshaw in his book Cat Sense refers to a story in which a local authority asked him to handle a small colony living underneath some buildings. He found an animal charity to trap and relocate them. It was springtime and three of the females were heavily pregnant.

They gave birth within a few days of each other and were given separate boxes. The mothers soon put all their kittens together and each fed them indiscriminately. Dr Bradshaw saw 10 kittens feeding from three queens, “all within a few inches of each other, producing the loudest chorus of purring I have ever heard”.

It seems that there’s an issue of survival at stake when related mothers raise the kittens of other parents. So if one mother raises the kittens another mother she might expect her kindness to be reciprocated later on. This benefits the entire family and enhances survival generally.

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