Maternal Behavior Problems in Female Cats

By PetMD Editorial on May 31, 2010

Mismothering in Female Cats


Maternal behavioral problems are classified as either the lack of maternal behavior when dealing with the mother's own young or excessive maternal behavior in the absence of newborn kittens. (Other types of maternal behavior problem also exist, but they are still poorly defined.)

Symptoms and Types

Inadequate Maternal Behavior 

  • Abandons her own newborn pups (most common after caesarean section)
  • Does not allow her offspring to nurse
  • Insufficient cleaning of the young
  • Inadequate retrieval of the young
  • Failure to stimulate elimination
  • Attacking and/or killing some or all of the newborn, especially if it has a different odor or appearance
  • If disturbed by people or other animals, may redirect her aggression to her young

Excessive Maternal Behavior 

  • Un-bred mother may attempt to nurse unfamiliar pups
  • Guarding of inanimate objects such as stuffed animals
  • An increase in the size of mammary glands


The lack of maternal behavior shown by mothers with newborn pups, especially after caesarean section, has been attributed to gradual decrease in oxytocin, which is important during the sensitive period of acceptance of dam’s own neonates. Conversely, when there is an absence of newborns, excessive maternal behavior is due to the increased progesterone levels resulting from estrus in un-bred queens, followed by an immediate and sharp decline in the progesterone levels.


You will need to give a thorough history of your cat’s health, including the onset and nature of the symptoms, to the veterinarian. He or she will then perform a complete physical examination as well as a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and complete blood count -- though the results are usually normal unless a disease is present.


Medical treatment may be required in some females, but proper care and management typically help in resolving such behavioral problems. Spaying should be delayed for at least four months after estrus to avoid abnormal behavior. That being said, spaying has been suggested to help in preventing future excessive maternal behavior.

Living and Management

In case of lack of maternal behavior the queen should be fed freely to encourage lactation and meet her energy demands. Nursing females should also be placed in quiet, comfortable, and dark area, where she will not be disturbed by other people and animals. If the queen is seen biting her neonates, she may require a muzzle or may need to be removed from the room. If aggression persists, the separation can be done for several weeks until aggression subsides.

Conversely, in case of excessive maternal behavior, the queen should be separated from the stolen puppies and their actual mother. Moreover, the mothered objects like stuffed animals should be removed from the environment of the queen. In these females, food intake should be restricted for few days to prevent lactation.

Many experts recommend against breeding queens with a history of maternal behavioral problems, as these problems are shown in subsequent pregnancies.

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