Do Male Cats Act Paternal and Fatherly Towards Kittens?

Occasionally a tom cat will show fatherly interest in kittens.
i Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If your mama cat has a new litter of kittens, you've probably been counseled by well-meaning friends and family to keep them safe from male cats. The story that male cats are notorious kitten killers has its basis in fact but that doesn't mean that male cats never act fatherly.

Typical Tom Behavior

Domestic male cats as well as male cats in the wild aren't known for their fathering skills. Other than siring as many kittens as possible, tom cats don't tend to get involved in the raising of the kittens. Male cats have been known to kill kittens, usually kittens that they didn't father. This behavior is a throwback to instincts from wilder days when killing a rival's young would keep the rival from spreading his genes about the countryside and giving the killer a better chance of advancing his own genetic agenda.

Anything is Possible

Not all male cats kill kittens and some have even been known to participate a little in caring for their own young by cleaning and playing with them. People have even reported having their tom cats turn up with litters of kittens in tow, as if to inform their humans that they were living up to the responsibilities of fatherhood.

Females Are More Helpful

Although typically male cats aren't known to be the biggest helpers when it comes to caring for the babies, female cats often help their friends and family when it comes to looking after the little ones. Some female cats act as midwives, attending a birthing and helping to clean the newborn kittens. Female cats have been known to "babysit", watching over and even nursing another cat's kittens. And mama cats often foster kittens that aren't their own, even taking in babies of an entirely different species, like squirrels, raccoons and rabbits.

Playing It Safe

If you have both male and female cats in your family, it's best to play it safe and not allow the male cat access to the newborns, at least not unsupervised. If you feel that your tomcat might have some fatherly instincts you can gradually introduce him to the babies, but only after they're a bit older, like after the six to eight week mark. But be ready to intervene if he shows the slightest bit of aggression and continue to keep him separated from mama and her babies.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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