Male Cat Behavior With Kittens

Male cats have always been given a bad rep compared to females, due to a list of factors. In general, male cats aren’t known to be the best father figures to kittens, and you might have probably heard one or two (or ten!) cat owners advise you to keep your kittens away from male cats as they are notorious for being kitten killers.

Tomcat behavior

In the wild as well as in domestic situations, male cats (called tomcats) exist mainly to father as many kittens as possible with their female mates, in order to spread his genetic seed across his territory, thereby keeping his lineage intact for generations to come. This is common wild behavior in animals, and cats are no different.

There are several situations where the male cat is known to kill kittens – one of the most common victims being kittens that they didn’t father. This is wild behavior that stems from the fact that any other male cat that shares his territory is considered a rival – so killing their rival’s offspring would keep them from spreading their genes in a particular territory. Yeah, we know – welcome to the jungle indeed!


The hierarchical structure of cat communities

In order to understand male cat behavior individually, let’s look at how their communities operate. Male cats, much like other animal communities in the wild, have a loosely-defined hierarchy with the largest cat usually being the dominant one, followed by smaller subordinate cats down the line. Dominant males will control the largest territories, while the subordinates will have smaller areas of turf that they control, usually overlapping with each other.

These overlapping territories usually include a few female colonies, so as to make mating possible when the females are in heat. Neutered male cats that are let back into the wild have a lower propensity to defend their turf with aggression as compared to intact male cats. If an intact male cat comes face to face with another intact male, it is more likely that the confrontation will end in a violent dispute.


Who is responsible for kitten raising?

In many feral cat colonies and domestic groups alike, mama cats are the ones most responsible for raising kittens. At the risk of stating the obvious, it is the female cats who can lactate and feed the kittens with mother’s milk until they are weaned off. Male cats do not have such abilities, so they aren’t as fully invested in the raising process as females are.


Paternal instincts in male cats

In some cases however, male cats have been shown to provide a different kind of responsibility towards kitten raising. In some feral societies, male cats can take an interest, albeit a limited amount, in grooming the tiniest, youngest members in the colony. This includes licking, rubbing and maintaining physical contact when not around their mother or another close female cat in the colony. This is uncommon, but it does happen in the wild and sometimes in domestic situations as well.

When the kittens grow older, the relationship between adult males and young cats start to change. Although most of the time the male cat is nowhere to be found during these years, some adult males who choose to keep close may actually help the mother to teach the offspring how to hunt, stalk and conduct themselves in the feline community.

It is during these years that altercations are at the highest risk of occurring, and this is where the stereotype of kitten killers come into play. However, in reality, this is not as common. Male cats have been shown to have some pretty serious fatherly instincts. In domestic situations, it is not unknown to have a male cat who’s knocked up another female in the wild bring his kittens home when the mother cat is seen to be struggling to raise his children. That responsibility then, of course, is passed on to you or other female cats in the house (how convenient, huh?!).


Introducing male cats to kittens

As we’ve discussed above, male cats are super territorial creatures – they don’t take too kindly to any other cat – or any other living creature – encroaching upon their turf. However, there is bound to be an occasion or two when cat owners have to have the kittens and their fathers in the same area, or maybe another unrelated adult cat in the vicinity of a new litter. This may be troubling for some cat parents, however there are some steps you can follow to minimize the risk of aggression or unexpected kitten deaths, which can be a truly heartbreaking thing to happen.


1. Keep them away for a few days

 Like most other situations where a new cat is introduced into the household, the same principle applies when introducing kittens to adult males. Keep them in separate rooms and let them get used to each other’s scents.


2. Establish a visually-enabled barrier in between

Once they get past the scent test, use a baby gate, or netting in between them to enable them to see each other. This is a crucial step that will define their relationship with each other moving forwards. Ideally, this should be done during a pleasant time, such as during feeding. If at any time your adult male is showing hostility or fear, remove him from the situation immediately and calm him down.


3. Observe your adult male before, during and after interaction

 There are several telltale signs to know if your adult male cat is being suspicious or hostile towards kittens. Things like hissing, ready-to-pounce body language and general stalking behavior means that he is suspicious or at the point of hostility. In some cases curiosity will be the defining disposition – this means the bonding is going well.


4. Give your adult male reassurance

There’s nothing worse for an adult male cat than knowing his territory is being stolen – and he will feel even more helpless if you, his best friend, is punishing him for his aggression towards the ones who he thinks is threatening his dominance. Reassure your adult male cat that it is still business as usual and you may find that he will be able to adjust a lot better to kittens around him.



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