Will Tom Cats Kill Kittens?

Cats Snuggling
Resident male, Smokey, hugs newly adopted kitten, Sage

Many people believe that tom cats (unneutered male cats) kill kittens to bring female cats back into heat. However, some tom cats ignore their own kittens (and kittens sired by other toms), and others behave paternally toward their kittens if they have access to them, though they may not get the chance because females often drive males away from the nesting area once kittens are born.

Sage, now an adult male, snuggles with a young orphaned foster kitten

Males have been observed bringing food for the mother and young and defending them against people and other animals. Some males even take over mothering duties if the kittens are orphaned or the mother is incompetent.

It is uncommon for a male cat to kill his own kittens. This tragic event occurs very occasionally due to mistaken identity. In rare cases, the small size, erratic movements, and high-pitched voices of kittens confuse the cat’s hunting drive, causing a kitten to temporarily be viewed as prey by either a male or a female that has never had kittens. However, in most cases, males are either helpful or indifferent rather than hostile to their kittens.

Smokey, an adult male, hugs another unrelated foster kitten

Tom cat responses to kittens sired by other males vary from one cat to the next. In some cases, toms will kill another male’s kittens as a lion would kill cubs to bring females into heat sooner, particularly if there are other tom cats in the area and competition is intense. However, they are just as likely to tolerate or ignore unrelated, though adult feral males may drive juveniles away from the group when they reach sexual maturity. Because of the risk posed by strange males, feline fathers may run them off or groups of females will work together to defend against them.

Neutered males are far less likely to show aggression toward kittens, regardless of whether they are related to them. Our resident adult males take on a nurturing role with our foster kittens.

Further Reading:

For a full list of cat articles, see the main Cats page.

References:

    • Hartwell, S. (1996). “Cats That Kill Kittens.” MessyBeast.com.
    • Morris, D. (1987). Catlore. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd.

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