Male cats in their feral state aren’t noted for their paternal instincts. Kittens are raised by their mother and other female cats, with the males having little to do with nurturing, although they may help by providing the mother with food while she can’t hunt. Only once the kittens are old enough to start hunting do they really get involved. It’s even possible for feral males to kill kittens, especially if the litter is from another male. Domesticated male cats are generally more amiable but again tend to play only a minor role in caring for young kittens. That said, there are exceptions and a few male cats are very good with small kittens.
Do male cats raise kittens? Not usually, although they are often supportive and affectionate towards mother cats and kittens. There are some male cats, however, with unusually strong nurturing instincts who will clean and care for kittens.
If you’ve found your way to this article, you obviously have questions about male cats and their interaction with kittens.
- Will a male cat help in raising the kittens?
- How will a male cat behave towards a pregnant mother cat?
- Is it safe to have a male cat around kittens?
- Is it safe to introduce a male cat to a kitten?
Read on to find out more.
Do male cats raise kittens?
In feral cat colonies, it is the females who raise kittens when they’re very small. Obviously, it’s only female cats who have given birth who can lactate, so they are the ones who feed the babies until they’re weaned. However, it’s common for females in the same colony to nurse another female’s kittens. The task of feeding and raising the colony’s infants is usually shared by all the mature females, with kittens being reared communally.
Male feral cats take a limited amount of interest in kittens when they’re very small, although some do groom the colony’s littlest members. When the kittens are old enough to leave their mother’s side and start hunting, though, the relationship changes. Male cats may then take a more active interest, helping the mother cat teach the kittens how to hunt prey and how to conduct themselves in feline society. In rare instances, male cats can become aggressive towards kittens, especially those of other males, but this is not as common as stereotypes hold.
In a typical domestic setting, of course, things are very different. Male cats tend to be neutered and thus are rather less aggressive, especially towards kittens. With ample resources, a safe place to live and no pressure to outbreed other males, domesticated male cats are more receptive and relaxed around kittens than a feral male would be. It’s not unknown for a male cat who’s become a father to bring his new kittens home to his human owners so that they can be cared for if the mother cat is struggling.
Some male cats are particularly nurturing and will actually go so far as to foster orphaned kittens. One domestic shorthair male named “Pokey” is reported to have helped foster over 80 kittens. The affectionate tom, an Instagram darling who has found fame throughout the internet, supports his owners in hand-rearing kittens by grooming and caring for the young cats until they’re old enough to move on. Although unusual, Pokey is not unique in being a male cat who acts as a caregiver to small kittens.
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I want to introduce a male cat to a kitten. How can I do it safely?
There are a number of situations where you might be faced the process of introducing a male cat to a younger cat or kittens, and vice versa. Perhaps you have an expectant female in the home and you’re concerned about how the father, or another male cat in the household, will respond to the kittens. Maybe you already own a mature male cat and you’re planning on taking in a new kitten or introducing a younger cat to the home. Alternatively, you may already be rearing a kitten and contemplating the introduction of an older male.
When introducing cats to one another, it’s important to be careful and to supervise all of their interactions. This is particularly important when one of the cats is still a kitten, as the kitten’s small size and lack of experience will make it very vulnerable to an aggressive adult cat. The new cat should be kept in a separate room from the established cat for a few days. This will allow both cats to become familiar with each other’s scent.
The next stage will be to introduce the cats to each other with a barrier in between them. You can use a baby-gate or something similar, perhaps with netting across it if the cat is small enough to slip through the bars. You can also keep one of the cats in a pet carrier. Make sure that the first interaction occurs in a setting where the animals will have a pleasant experience, such as when they are being fed. This way, both cats will associate the other with something they enjoy. Ideally, the cats should take every meal together; this may not be possible with a kitten, as they need to be fed more frequently than your adult male cat does. Make sure the kitten is around when the adult cat is being fed.
If the cats become accustomed to each other and are not showing signs of hostility or fear, you can allow them to have a brief, supervised interactions without the barrier. Be ready to remove one of the cats if the situation deteriorates. You may find that your adult male cat is indifferent to the kitten; he might also be suspicious or hostile. In many cases, though, the older cat will be curious and may be eager to get to know the youngster.
My female cat is going to give birth soon. How can I make sure the kittens are safe with my male cat?
When your female cat is about to give birth, you generally need to keep her separate from the rest of the household — including other pets. In a few cases, another adult cat can be supportive and may provide companionship during the birth. Usually, though, it’s best to set up a kittening room in a quiet part of the house and make sure that the expectant mother is left alone. If you have other pets or children in the house, they should be kept away from the mother and her kittens when they arrive. The mother cat will probably want to be alone with her babies initially. Once the kittens are big enough to explore, you can allow the male cat to interact with them. As always, you should start slowly, bringing the male cat to meet the kittens in his carrier. Supervise the interactions while the kittens are small.
In most cases, you will have no problems. The male cat will often be happy to accept the kittens, playing with them and mentoring them as they learn how to behave like adult cats. Sadly, there are exceptions. In rare instances, an adult cat may become dangerous to the kittens. This can cause a lot of heartbreak. It’s possible for an adult cat to injure or even kill small kittens. If the kittens’ mother or another cat tries to protect them, that cat might be injured too. This is highly unusual behavior but it does happen from time to time. If an adult cat really isn’t okay with the kittens, even after the most careful introduction, it may be necessary to separate them until the kittens are mature enough to defend themselves.
You can reduce the risk that an adult cat may attack the kittens by ensuring that the adult is very secure, has plenty of space and does not feel that his territory is threatened. This means making sure that every cat has somewhere they can retreat to, like a cat bed or a den; at least one litter-box for each cat; and separate feeding and water dishes. You also need to make sure that your adult cat’s hunting instincts are being fulfilled in a safe and enjoyable way, by giving him interactive toys and engaging him in lively physical play at least twice a day. Don’t try to punish your adult cat for displays of aggression towards the younger cats. He is not capable of understanding why he’s being punished and will simply associate the kittens with fear and pain. Gently remove him from the situation and make sure he has a chance to calm down. You can try to reintroduce him another day, keeping a barrier between him and the kittens until you’re certain that they can all get along.
When it comes to male cats and kittens, everything depends on the cat’s background and general disposition. A tomcat who tends to be nervous or aggressive towards other cats may struggle to adjust to the presence of kittens in the home. Other males have very loving and nurturing personalities. Not all male cats will want to take on a mentor role but with your support and guidance, there’s no reason that your adult male and your younger cats can’t have a positive relationship.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.