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The Father and His Kittens in a Small Cattery

Father and Son

A father and son greet each other. Notice that the kitten is totally unafraid.


About 15 years ago I was told by a friend who’s a feline behaviorist that much of what I “knew” about cats when I was growing up was not fact at all. Instead, it was a mix of truth and lots of misinformation—extrapolations from canine studies, unscientific or flawed “research,” old wives tales and myths, anecdotal observations, and even some pure bunk. It was a second shock to realize that although modern research was making up ground as quickly as it could, there were, and still are, many aspects of cat life that we know very little about. It appears that the relationship of stud cats to their kittens is one of those areas.

Research

I left childhood with the vague idea that male cats would kill or were dangerous to kittens. But it appears from the behavior of my own studs that I was wrong!

This issue of how male cats behave towards their kittens is one of those topics that hasn’t really been studied, at least in the research I’m familiar with. The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior,a has studies of social patterns among cats, but makes only two off-hand comments on the topic:

  • “The young also recognize other adults [besides the mother] in their own group and readily accept care from them” (page 13)
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  • “In the absence of their mother, kittens of 12 weeks will suckle from the teats of intact adult males” (page 140)

However, the facts about males taking care of kittens (at least, their own) are given more support by such websites as Suite 101,b which says:

“Male cats, though more inclined to ignore their kittens, may also choose to be active participants in raising them. Males have been observed bringing food for the mother and young and defending them against people and other animals. Some males even take over mothering duties if the kittens are orphaned or the mother is incompetent.”

This seems to be the case with stud cats in a small cattery.

The Accident

My stud and my queens live in my house, going where they want to go. The exception was that when a queen gave birth I used to keep her and her kittens in a room where they wouldn’t see another cat until the kittens were 10 weeks old. One afternoon, after checking the nest of a six-day-old litter, I exited that room and did some housework. About three hours later I went in the nesting room to check on the kittens again. I took hold of the nesting box to drag it over to me. It didn’t budge. I tried again—even though I expected the queen to be in it, the nesting box was incredibly heavy. I turned on my flashlight and shone it in the nest…and was greeted by the sleepy eyes of my 16-pound stud. He and the queen were both curled up in the nest and the kittens were sprawled all over them, asleep.

Father pottying kitten.

This father potties one of his kittens.

I sat quietly and watched. Eventually the queen came out, stretched, and went off to the litter box. The male started nosing around the kittens, selected one, and pottied it! Then he settled back down and slept some more. And I settled back and began to learn.

Lessons

Studs typically sleep with mother and kittens, potty the kittens, groom the kittens, play with the kittens when they get old enough, and even protect them. (Try putting eye ointment in a vocal kitten’s eye, and the queen isn’t the only one who’ll come to be sure the kitten is alright!) I have even seen a male bring mouthfuls of food and put them on the ground in front of a kitten that was too small to reach the feeding station! Also I routinely see males standing back and letting the queen and weaning kittens eat first. On two occasions I have seen a male pick up a kitten by the scruff (just like the mother does) and carry it back to the nest.

Here the kittens are sacked out on the father for some much-needed rest. The father desultorily licks one of them.

Nervous or overwhelmed queens can really benefit from a stud’s help. The queen may have too many kittens or otherwise be having difficulty keeping the kittens in line, but with the stud’s assistance there is typically enough parenting to go around. In fact, the stud can do everything except supply milk—but you can do that, right? What you can’t do is cuddle them 20 hours out of 24, be ready to potty them constantly, and give them the 24-hour comfort and security they need. Even if the male just sleeps with the kittens when mom wants some rest it can be a big help. I find it particularly useful to have two adult cats playing with the kittens at once, and playtime is done in about half the time it normally takes.

I would like to say that kittens who are exposed to their father in a parenting role when they are little are friendlier than kittens who don’t know their father in this way. It makes logical sense that it would be so, as it means they are exposed to more adults at a young age. However, it is hard to judge how these kittens would compare to others who were not raised by two cats, and degrees of friendliness with humans may vary depending upon the individual person the kitten/cat is in contact with. Also, I don’t feel that my small cattery produces enough kittens/cats to be a large enough sample for cats in general, or even just Bengal cats. But it may be that kittens raised with their father may be a little better adjusted…I just don’t know for sure!

Considerations

I’m on my third stud since the day I discovered one in the nesting box,c and I fully expect that the studs I had previously would also have done some parenting…I just didn’t know to try it. Here are some thoughts and things I’ve learned.

  • Except for pottying, which seems to be ongoing behavior, the male seems to become more involved with the kittens as they age.
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  • Fathers are particularly useful when the mother cat has too many kittens or health issues that impact her ability to care for the kittens herself. In addition, if I had a litter whose mother had died, the father would definitely be part of their raising.
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  • Be sure to separate the male from the queen and her litter for about a week if the queen goes into heat after she’s basically stopped nursing the kittens (unless you want to get her pregnant right away).
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    This kitten is about to find his playtime take off to a new level when he pounces on his father's rear end.

  • The Domestic Cat makes a strong delineation between the behavior of the outsider male, who lurks around a feral cat colony hoping to steal food or jump a female, and the male that is a (more or less) regular member of the colony. The outsider male, sneaking around the “extended family group” that is the colony, is the dangerous one. Even so, even the dangerous outsider male rarely kills kittens. When you have cats in a cattery, feral conditions are not present. The cats have enough food and the male is put with the female when she is in heat, and in fact may be her companion for months or years at a time. There are no outsider males, unless the queen is sent to another cattery to be bred or unless the cattery is a large one, with perhaps four or more males and a multitude of females. As long as the queen is a companion of the male, he should be at least indifferent to the kittens and probably an active parent.
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  • To be on the safe side, I let the male stay with the queen up to the time she delivers, then let her have three to seven days alone with the kittens—until the kittens are feisty enough to make themselves heard if the male accidentally lays down on them. I think this could happen by accident with a very young kitten.

Things I haven’t tried (yet) are having a stud who is not the father of the litter take care of the kittens and having a male help two queens who are cooperatively raising their litters. I also haven’t tried a neutered male in this situation.

I hope that if you have some thoughts on this or some experience of your own with studs involved in raising litters you’ll share them!

Mother, Father, and Kittens

The mother, on the left, and the father on the right with the kittens, both help groom the kittens.


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a The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior, second edition, Ed. Dennis Turner and Patrick Bateson, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

b http://www.suite101.com/content/tom-cats-and-kittens-a122729

cLakewood Odyssey was here for a year’s swap with PrinceRoyal Hunter, my wonderful Gogees Spellbinder of PrinceRoyal was here for five years, and now it’s JuJuKats Johnny Kool of PrinceRoyal. All of them are wonderful fathers.

Note: This post is not about Bengals that are three generations or less from the Asian Lepoard Cat (e.g., early generation cats).
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This site (text and images) is © copyright January 2011 by Nancy Prince, PrinceRoyal Bengals. All rights reserved.

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