why cats move their kittens

Anyone who has ever spent significant time around a mother cat with newborn kittens to care for knows that the mother cat can be very protective.

Sometimes, a mother cat’s instinct to protect her kittens may lead to a decision to move the kittens. Some mother cats may move their kittens multiple times even when you can’t see any reason why.

Cat owners who try to stop the mother cat from moving her kittens will quickly discover there is no changing the mama cat’s mind. But why do cats move their kittens? In this article, learn about all the common reasons why cats move their kittens.

Why Cats Move Their Kittens?

While it may not make sense to humans, mother cats move their kittens when they perceive there is a threat.

The threat may be a scent, a movement, a lack of camouflage, a change in the weather or time of day, the presence of another feline or any animal or person, a need for a cleaner place, or some type of similar motivation.

Learn More About Mother Cats Moving Their Kittens

As this short YouTube video illustrates, when a mother cat chooses to move her kittens, she is typically responding to a deep survival instinct about what is best for her offspring.

A mother cat may move her kittens once, twice or three or more times depending on what is going on nearby. Her goal is always to protect her kittens from predation or harm.

Common Reasons Why Cats Move Their Kittens

The first thing to understand about mother cats is that the father cat is never in the picture. Mother cats raise their kittens as single parents.

This is a lot of responsibility. The more kittens there are, the more work they will create for the mother cat, who has to feed them, keep them warm, stimulate them to do their business, keep them safe and help them grow up healthy and fast.

As Fix Nation explains, sometimes it can seem like a mama cat moves her kittens for no good reason.

But if you look closely enough, there is always a reason that makes sense to that mama. Here are some of the best-known reasons why a mother cat might move her kittens.

Simple misdirection

It is very common for mothers cats to move their whole litter within days of giving birth. A mother cat may do this again and again even if the nesting site seems just fine.

When a mother cat keeps moving her kittens from one perfectly adequate site to another, this is usually a simple precautionary measure to keep potential threats or predators from finding the kittens.

No protection

Whether the threat is bad weather, too much foot traffic, noise, drafts, or something else, a mother cat is likely to move her kittens when she feels the current location lacks protection.

Too dirty

Mother cats have a big job that starts the moment the kittens are born. Newborn kittens cannot eliminate unless the mother stimulates them by licking their private area.

Over time, this can lead to a messy nest. The mother cat may move the kittens to a cleaner location for this reason.

She found a better place

As Broward County Animal Services explains, mother cats will always be on the lookout for a better and safer place to shelter with their kittens.

The moment a more suitable nesting site is found, the mother cat will start the process of moving the kittens.

Presence of predators or pests

Fleas are a huge problem for newborn kittens since neonates cannot yet be given pest treatments. A flea infestation can quickly cause anemia in newborn kittens.

As Catwatch Newsletter points out, mother cats will often move their kittens to try to prevent flea infestations.

Other pests such as wasps, ants, mosquitoes, flies, or ticks can also pose risks, as can hungry predators such as possums and foxes. Moving the kittens frequently is a mother cat’s best defense against these types of risks.

Too hot or too cold

As the Neonatal Kitten Coalition points out, newborn kittens are not yet able to regulate their own body temperature. They rely on their mother to keep them warm and safe.

If an area is too cold for the mother cat to stay adequately warm, she may move the kittens for everyone’s safety. The same holds true if the location gets too warm and the mother cat is at risk of becoming overheated.

Presence of people

Some mama cats cannot tolerate any attempt by people to handle the kittens, even if the people are the cat’s owners.

Attempts to handle or even approach the kittens may cause the mother cat to decide to move the kittens to a safer and less accessible location, as Pool House Veterinarians explains.

Intact male cat is nearby

If there is an intact male cat nearby, that male cat may kill the kittens to trigger the next heat cycle in the mother cat.

Mother cats frequently move their kittens when there is an intact male cat in the area.

Strange scent

According to PAWS Chicago, a cat’s sense of smell is 14 times better than your own sense of smell.

So if a mother cat smells a new or strange scent, or any smell she can identify as threatening, you can bet she will be moving her kittens immediately to get away from it.

Even if the new scent is just coming from scented kitty litter or the new laundry detergent you decided to try, your cat may interpret it as a potential threat and decide to move her kittens farther away from a smell she does not recognize.

Upsetting loud sounds

As Animal Planet points out, cats can hear quite well and can also hear sounds of a much higher frequency than humans can hear.

You may not even be able to hear a sound that your cat is picking up that is loud and upsetting. Your cat may decide to move her kittens to get away from that sound and find a quieter nesting site.

Why Would a Cat Move Only One Kitten and Leave the Others?

There are several reasons why a mother cat might decide to move only one kitten and leave the rest behind.

The kitten has a health issue

One of the most common reasons why a mother cat may move only one kitten away from the others is because that kitten has some kind of birth defect or health issue that means it is non-viable.

Because it is so taxing to a mother cat to raise a litter of kittens, if one kitten is not going to make it, the mother cat may make the decision to remove it from the nest. In rare cases, the mother may even ingest (cannibalize) the kitten herself.

She is moving the whole litter

It may seem like a mother cat is only moving one kitten when in reality she is just moving the first kitten. If you go and pick the kitten up and return it to the nest, your mother cat will have no choice but to move that kitten again.

Different mother cats handle moving their litters differently. Some may transport all the kittens to the new location first before tending to them.

Other mother cats may move one kitten, get that kitten fed and situated and then return for the next kitten, continuing until all the kittens are moved.

The mother cat is stressed

As the Pet Health Network explains, mastitis is a common health problem that causes bacteria to infect the mammary (milk) glands.

Mastitis is just one of many health issues that can afflict mother cats and cause stress, disorientation and strange behaviors.

If a mother cat becomes ill or severely stressed out, the mother cat may make decisions that literally make no sense, such as moving one kitten away from the others.

The mother cat cannot care for all the kittens

Many animals will cull weaker siblings out of the nest if they perceive they will be unable to successfully raise all of the young to maturity.

If a mother cat perceives there is a lack of available food or resources, she may separate the weakest kitten from the litter and focus all her attention only on the strongest kittens.

Should You Stop a Mother Cat From Moving Her Kittens?

As anyone who has ever tried to stop a mother cat from moving her litter knows, this is usually a losing battle.

If a mother cat decides to move her kittens, she has a reason that makes sense to her. Trying to stop her is only likely to cause stress and perhaps provoke aggression.

It is best to let your cat move her kittens.