A mother cat is protective of her kittens. You and your family may even find yourselves at odds with your mama cat. This protective behavior is also apparent when dogs are present. A mother cat will attack dogs to protect her kittens. Maternal instincts are natural; maternal aggression is powerful.
A cat's maternal instinct includes affection and concern for her kittens. It occurs in all mammalian species such as horses, pigs, dogs and cats. The mother will do anything to protect her young, including risking her own life. Familiar faces are usually not a problem, but unfamiliar humans, dogs and male cats are certainly an issue for the protective queen and her litter. The best you can do for the mother is provide a comfortable and quiet environment for her and the little ones.
Four hormones affect a mother cat's behavior -- estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and oxytocin. The four hormones interact during birthing and nursing. The sight, smell, sound and touch of the newborn during nursing contribute to the release of the hormone oxytocin -- the bonding hormone. This hormone also contributes to lactation and uterine contractions. Prolactin levels increase during birthing and are important for the development of lactation, as well as maternal behavior. Progesterone is important to maintain the pregnancy. When the birthing process begins, the progesterone levels drop. Estrogen is responsible for the physical and behavioral changes during the cat's heat cycles. During birthing, the estrogen levels rise and help protesterone, prolactin and oxytocin interact.
The hormones dictate physiological changes as well as affect the mother's behavior. When you add the powerful maternal instincts, extreme aggression may occur. Your kitty may even refuse to let you near the kittens regardless of your past bonding with her as a pet.
Behavior is also affected by the cat's own previous experiences. If a dog harmed her in the past, she will display aggression toward the dog, even if the dog had frightened her.
Keep dogs away from your cat and her kittens. Provide a place to nurse and bond with her offspring. If she is aggressive toward you, you may be able to eventually handle the kittens with calm words and small treats for her. The aggressive state will pass as the kittens grow.
It's important to understand the basic nature of cats. Cats are territorial. The place where she and her kittens are living is her place for now.
Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.