How Well Father Cats Know Their Kittens

The answer to if father cat knows their kittens:

Father cats may not know their kittens because a female cat can have litters of kittens from different fathers.

After mating, the male goes away and has nothing to do with the female. Some male cats with nurturing instincts recognize their kittens.

Father cats rarely display parental skills. 

If you own a mama cat that has got a litter of kittens, you may wonder if their father knows his kittens.

Perhaps you have seen the father hanging around the kittens, or he sometimes just ignores them.

Keep reading to know if father cats know their kittens, and if they have parental skills.


Some Male Cats Know and Like Their Kittens

Domestic male cats and even their relatives in the wild are not known to have fathering skills. They may sire as many kittens as possible, but they don’t get involved in raising the kittens.

However, not all male kittens are indifferent or even dangerous to their young ones. Some have shown interest in their kittens by caring for and playing with them.

These are male cats with unusually strong nurturing instincts. They may groom, play, and sleep with the kittens.

We have seen cute videos on YouTube of father cats staying with the mother after she has given birth, even assuming parenting roles.

But since male cats have had a reputation to kill kittens, it’s best to play it safe. Don’t allow a male cat to be alone with kittens unsupervised.

This is because it is difficult to know if your male cat is the type that likes kittens, or might harm them while you are away.

If your tomcat shows some fathering skills towards the little ones, you can slowly introduce them, but only after they are about 6 or 8 weeks. We will talk more about the introduction process later.


A Litter of Kittens can Have Different Fathers

Before answering the question if male cats can recognize their kittens, it’s good to have some background information on male cats.

Most domestic male cats are neutered, so it is unusual to see them roaming the neighborhood looking for female cats who have reached sexual maturity.

However, when they are not neutered, the female offers herself to several males in sequence. The majority of their litters will therefore contain the DNA of one or more of the tomcats.

So, as the male lines up waiting to mate with the queen, he watches the other tomcats mating the female cat. He cannot know which of his kittens are his or not, unless he recognizes them by their scent.

In addition, male cats do not associate with female cats that closely unless they are mating. Once the mating season is over, the male cat goes away and will have nothing to do with the female cat.

Considering that sometimes these male cats come from distant places to mate, it might be hard for them to know the kittens they have sired. Therefore, they would rarely know their kittens.

But if you have only one female and male indoor cats in the house, the female will just mate with that one cat. In this scenario, he would recognize his kittens.  

Studies suggest that male cats recognize their offspring. However, most of them do not take a personal interest in the kittens, like a mother cat.


Kittens Can Seem Like Prey to a Male Cat

Cats are hunters, and so this behavior just comes naturally to them. Very young kittens can elicit a father cat’s interest, something that can bring hunting instincts to the surface.

The little kitten moving about and meowing can start to look remarkably similar to the prey animals such as mice, or squirrel.

He might try to paw on them because they look like prey. Of course, the kittens will get hurt because they are still small and fragile.

However, as mentioned earlier, this behavior does not describe all male cats. Some tolerate their kittens and can bond with them through play, and grooming sessions.


Male Cats React Slower to a Kitten in Distress

Female domestic cats respond to kitten calls depending on how urgent they sound. According to a study, female cats can distinguish between normal kitten calls and one that indicates a heightened level of urgency. This helps them to react accordingly.

However, male cats do not respond to kittens in distress in similar ways. Researchers in that study found that male cats do not show an urgent response to kitten calls that indicate a high level of urgency.

Female respond to these urgent calls 10% faster than male cats. Since the tomcats are not involved in raising kittens, the urgency conveyed in a kitten call may not be as relevant to them as it is for a female cat.


Separate Kittens From their Fathers for Safety

While male cats can get along with their kittens, he still does not have parenting skills. Therefore, he will be rough when handling these young ones, hurting them in the process.

Even if he gets along well with his kittens, this won’t last for long. The next time the queen is in heat, he will want those kittens out of the way so he can breed the female again.

For these reasons above, it is advisable to always separate a female cat and her kittens from a male cat, whether he is their biological father or not.

This helps avoid undesirable outcomes even if the tomcat has not displayed aggressive behavior towards the young ones.

Even if the tomcat is neutered, he will still act on his instinctual behaviors towards the kittens and harm them.

The female may also be stressed by the presence of a male kitten around her kittens. She is protective of her kittens, and is agitated when a father cat is near.

This may cause her to be aggressive even if she is the calm type. On rare occasions, the male might also attempt to attack the mother because she smells differently after giving birth.

If you remove the father cat from the kittens, you ensure the babies are safe, and their mother is not stressed.


Female Cats Can Be Helpful to Other Cat’s Kittens

Female cats are known to be the best caregivers to young ones. Another female cat may act as a midwife to a fellow cat.

Other female cats even babysit the kittens when their mother is not around.

 A father cat is not concerned so much about the safety of their kittens, and they may be of little help when it comes to babysitting.

A male cat cannot evaluate the emotional need of a crying kitten the same way a mother cat does.


Female Cats Lose Interest in Their Older Kittens

A mother cat is very attentive when taking care of her kitties. She grooms them, teaches them wrong from right, and purrs when around them.

As you watch all this happening, you might assume that she can never forget them, but eventually, she does. Felines survive in a world of scents. This type of communication is important for them to mark territory, and identify their family members.

Perhaps you have noticed your cat rubbing itself against you. This assures them that you are part of its family.

During the first 12 weeks, a mother cat spends a lot of time with her kittens. This close companionship leaves a scent distinct for mom and her litter of kittens. As long as they stay that way, she recognizes her babies through scent.

A mother cat can also recognize each of her kittens’ cry.  Each meow is distinct, and the mother knows if the kitty is distressed, or just wants attention.

As the kitties grow, the mother will bring them food and groom them. Once separated, the kittens pick up new scents. This makes it difficult for their mother to recognize them. Cats depend on scent for recognition, and not the visual appearance.

If the mom sees her kittens a few weeks later, she will view them as strangers. She may be distressed a few days after the separation and cry out while roaming the house looking for her kittens.

But she soon forgets them and goes on with her normal routine.


How to Safely Introduce a Male Cat to a Kitten

There are some situations in a multi-cat household where you will need to introduce a male cat to kittens.

Perhaps your female cat has just given birth to a litter of kittens, and you are worried about how the father will treat the kittens. Maybe you already own a male cat, and want to bring in a kitten to your home.

Or, you could have a kitten but are thinking about bringing an older male cat.

Here are things you can do to make the introduction process go as smooth as possible:


1. Supervise the interactions

If the kitten is still too young, its small size and lack of experience make it vulnerable, especially if the adult male is aggressive.

Supervise the introduction, and be ready to pull the kitten away if the adult male is unfriendly towards them.

Watch how the adult male cat reacts when shown the kitten. The new cat should be in a separate room away from the family cat for a few days.

This gives them time to get used to each other’s scent but from a distance.


2. Use a physical barrier

You can use a physical barrier such as a baby gate or something of similar construction with netting across when introducing your felines.

Alternatively, you can keep one of the cats in a large pet carrier. To make the introduction more pleasant, you can use this time to feed them.

This ensures the cats associate each other with something they enjoy.


Typical Male Behavior

Understanding your male cat will help you know how to handle it, what to expect, and it also enables you to understand their behavior towards kittens. Here are some general behaviors of male cats.  


1. They spray urine

Probably the most annoying behavior of male cats is the habit of spraying. They often do so in their territory as a warning to other cats to keep off that area.

A male cat also sprays urine to advertise his sexual prowess when trying to impress a female to mate with.

Spraying can also be a comfort action to soothe himself when he is anxious, by spreading his scent.

But these are not the only reasons why your tomcat sprays urine. A medical condition such as kidney stones can make a male cat spray to gain a little relief from the blockage. Therefore, if your cat spays all too often, let a vet check him.

If the spraying is due to mating reasons, neutering your cat may help. If the habit is due to anxiety, pheromone diffusers such as Feliway can help calm your cat.


2. They have wanderlust

People who own male cats are used to their pet missing for days, then coming back. Male cats like to roam, and sometimes they can go miles from home.

Often during these adventurous trips, they get involved in catfights. This explains why your cat may come back looking all rugged and with bruises on his face and body.

Factors that lead to this wanderlust are:

  • Desire to increase his territory
  • Seeking a female in heat whose scent he has detected miles away
  • Curiosity
  • Hunting instincts

The outside world may seem exciting to your male cat, but it is not safe. He can get run over by a car or catch some diseases.

It’s good to keep them indoors and neuter them to prevent them from seeking females in heat.


3. Stronger urges for scratching and clawing

Scratching may be behavior common in cats of both genders, but you will notice that a male cat has a stronger urge.

Wild cats scratch and fence post as a visual marker and leave their scents from their paw pads on these places. This serves as a warning to other cats to keep off.

Since your male cat is territorial, it has a stronger urge to scratch furniture and other items in the house. Understandably, this can be a bit frustrating to a pet owner.

Place different types of scrathing posts near the exit area to satisfy your cat’s scratching needs.


4. They engage in street fights

Your cat has scratch marks on its face and body because male cats like to get into fights with other males they encounter.

This behavior is mainly driven by a desire to defend or spread their territory, or seeking to mate with a queen.


5. Males spend time grooming

Grooming is an essential routine in both male and female cats. It helps them keep their coat clean and tidy, lose heat in hot weather, and reduce parasitic burden.

However, while female cats might groom each other, male cats do not groom another male cat. They prefer to lick the head and shoulders of a favorite female.


6. Yowling

If your sleep has ever been interrupted by the sound of yowling cats, these are male cats advertising that they are ready to mate.

These loud cries, also known as caterwauling, serves to attract female heats from a distance, and warn off other male suitors.


7. Hunting

Male cats enjoy hunting. It provides them with mental stimulation. If your cat is an indoor pet, entertain it with interactive games such as puzzle feeders.

This helps reduce boredom which can make your tomcat engage in annoying behaviors such as clawing.


Understanding a Male cat’s Body Language

Tomcats like to fight, but often this is the last option. Fighting results in serious injuries, and once injured he can’t hunt and fend for himself.

So, to defend himself, a male cat will use body language to intimidate another cat that appears to be a threat.

According to the ASPCA, here is what their aggressive body language is:

  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Tail held low or below the legs
  • Stiff legs at the rear end
  • Growling or yowling
  • Whiskers held back flat against the face

Don’t attempt to hold your cat while in this state. He will most likely attack. Some cat owners say they distract the cat by sprinkling some water on him or making a loud noise.

Keep young kittens away from father cat if he displays these signs of aggression.


Neutering Does Not Change Their Personality

The male behaviors we have discussed are mainly driven by high testosterone levels. Therefore most owners think neutering will help stop nuisance behaviors. However, this is not always the case.

If your cat already has an ingrained habit such as clawing, neutering will not improve its behavior.

A male kitten neutered at 6 months or before has not yet learned destructive behavior so will less likely engage in it.

But a mature male cat has deeply ingrained habits. You might be disappointed if you neuter him in hopes of changing his character.

True, some neutered males are better behaved than those not yet neutered. But this all boils down to personality, genetics, and socialized they are, but not hormones.


Writer: Flora Ojow

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