How does a male cat recognize his offspring?

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by water, May 21, 2004.

  1. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    How does a male cat recognize his offspring?

    How can he sense whether a certain offspring is not his -- and he therefore kills it?

    Practical problem:
    We have a situation at our house: The neigbour's cat has kittens in our shed; there were four kittens in the beginning.

    There are altogether some 10 cats in our street, 3 males and 7 females (+ 2 castrated males), not counting occasional visitors.

    One of the 3 males is really big and aggressive, and he wishes to rule the territory. I don't think that the kittens in our shed are his though, they don't look so.

    I think he knows about them, already for a week or so, but he hasn't killed them. Yet two kittens are missing!

    What is going on?
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  3. Dr Lou Natic Unnecessary Surgeon Registered Senior Member

    Well, going from what I know about lions, I don't think they can tell if babies are their's but they can tell if they were birthed by a female they haven't fornicated with.
    How I'm not sure, probably the smell.
    Male lions will kill babies they don't think are their's but sometimes aren't sure and let babies that aren't theirs live and even hassle them and share their food because to them there is a possibility the cub could be theirs.
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  5. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    I have heard before that it is smell. Apparently their genetics codes for a smell "fingerprint" from which the adult can derive its family line. Can't remember the reference though

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  7. coluber Registered Senior Member

    then what could have happened to the other two kittens Dr Lou Natic
  8. weebee Registered Senior Member

    might help. As far as I know there are very few studies of domesticated cats, because they are hard to monitor, and no one really cares. The studies that I’ve seen are based on farm cats, in where a female rule and the males scamper…
    I think the killing relies more on if the tom encounters a scent marking of another male in the area, not a different scent marking on a kitten.
  9. water the sea Registered Senior Member


    Thanks for the link. Some things said in that article apply to our situation here:


    This may be the case. When there were still all four of them, I noticed that one was smaller and much more vibrant than other kittens, and another kitten had a slightly oversized head and eyes further apart than what seems normal. -- It is these two kittens that are now gone. The two remaining ones seem very normal.

    But this may be true as well: The cat first made her nest in an unstable place in attick of the shed, then removed them to an even less stable place, which was better hidden though. But it was more dangerous, as it was on the top of a logwood stack leaning against the shed, and two of the kittens (one of which is now missing) fell behind the stack. So we had to put away the logs to save them -- but the kittens seemed ok. We then made a new nest in a safe place in the shed, and the cat came back to the kittens and fed them. It was a day after that that two disappeared.

    The mother cat is some 8 years old, and has already had many litters, and is experienced with humans around, even though she is not tame.

    This is what I was fraid of. But we had to save the kittens from where they fell into, so touching them was unavoidable. But like I said, after we re-placed the nest, she did come back to the kittens.

    Even that could be the case, as another, very powerful cat in the neighbourhood also has kittens.

    We really have a complex situation here ...
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Dogs are like that too. It's not a smell thing, the males just remember which females they've mated with. This from an animal that can't remember he peed on the floor ninety seconds ago and that's why you're punishing him. . . . I know, the universe loves its little jokes.

    Anyway the females learned how to deal with this: When they're in heat they mate with every male the can find. That way all the males think that at least one of the puppies in the litter is theirs. Not only do they not hurt the puppies, they actually defend them. Female dogs can be really tough, going around killing each other's babies. The males stop them. They'll actually sit there with the babies while the mother goes out for exercise and keep all the other females away.

    Our females even go out of their way to mate with our neutered males. (If you didn't think a castrated dog could get an erection and a tie, well like I said, the universe loves its little jokes.) That way even those males will protect the pups.

    This seems to be one of the few differences that dogs have evolved since they became domesticated. DNA analysis shows that they are really the same species as wolves, but there are a few differences in the two populations. A wolf pack will actually take in a litter of orphaned cubs if the parents are killed.

    I shouldn't be so harsh on dogs, not all females are that violent. In many cases if you have two nursing females and one of the pups wanders over to the wrong teat she'll just go ahead and let him nurse anyway. But in breeds with a high incidence of the alpha gene like Lhasa Apsos or pitbulls, a female who's trying to propagate her genes can be a real killer.
  11. Buckaroo Banzai Mentat Registered Senior Member

    About domestic cats, I've seen in tv I guess, that is different than the case of lions, because famale cats are promiscuous, unlike lionesses, so the cats are never sure if the offpring is their or not. But I wouldn't take the risk myself, but is interesting that apparently when I had to take care of some very small kittens (more or less 20cm head to tail, I guess) and eventually they needed to share the (almost) same space, when they actually met each other, the adults seems more to be scary of them, hissing, and menacing, but I removed them before seem if the things go uglier than that. But many times that wasn't even necessary, the adults actually run away (I think that is important to say that they're not exceptionally cowards, as it may suggest). I also had the impression that when they were going to attack they are not using claws.... but as I said before, I'd not bet the kittens safety on that impression...
  12. Dr Lou Natic Unnecessary Surgeon Registered Senior Member

    I think someone should study the behaviour of cats and dogs in neighbourhoods.
    Cats obviously are never restrained to their yards, and are wandering around neighbourhoods interacting and so on so it would be interesting to learn the little details of what they are doing the way we do with wild animals.
    Dogs too, people are getting better at keeping their dogs in their yards but not everywhere.

    I remember when I was younger our dog would take himself for walks everyday without fail. Even if we tried to exhaust him with long walks and extreme exercise, he would come home have a nap and then get out and take himself for another walk. No fence could contain him, if he couldn't jump it he'd dig underneath it and my dad put barbed wire around the bottom of the fence and large rocks but he'd just knock the rocks out of the way and crawl under the barbed wire. He actually seemed to enjoy the way the barbed wire would scratch his back. When we tried to chain him up he snapped the chain and when we got a bigger thicker chain he pulled it out of the wooden kennel it was attached to and dragged it around the streets.
    He really really needed to patrol his territory everyday and there was nothing we could do to stop him.
    It was a pretty lower class neighbourhood and synomous with that is that just about every dog would get out of its yard (if they had one) and would be wandering around the neighbourhood.

    I came to a realisation when watching a documentary 'wolf battle field' that that neighbourhood I lived in as a child undoubtedly had a secret world of complex dog activity, with alot more to it than 'dogs just wandering around'. They were living a life as significant to them as going to work and partying and etc is to us. They were going about serious business establishing territorial boundaries, competing in a complex heirarchial social system and breeding and so forth.
    I personally would love to see a documentary on the secret lives of cats and dogs. A really well made one, similar to 'wolf battlefield' but about a suburban neighbourhood of out of control dogs and cats.
    Perhaps I'll make it one day

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    except time is ticking because people are really cracking down on dogs running loose and neighbourhoods overrun with loose dogs and cats would have to be becoming rarer. Also the documentary would be interupted constantly by owners finding their dogs and swearing at them for running away. Also swearing at me for sitting their filming while their prize winning show dog is being impregnated by a mangy mongrel.
    I wish I could travel back in time, the neighbourhood I lived in when i was 10 years old would have been perfect.
  13. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    I think we should start a thread on cat and dog behaviour in our neighbourhoods, exchanging observations we have made.

    It could be start for your show, dr. Lou.
  14. vslayer Registered Senior Member

    maybe they just ran off
  15. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    Yup, they're all gone now. But they were too small to run off themselves.
  16. invert_nexus Ze do caixao Valued Senior Member

    Sounds like your momma cat is a bit of a cannibal. It is possible that you interfered with her natural rythms too much. You said she's not tame. A wild animal will often kill it's young when it feels there are threats about. The dangers of interfering.

    Did they go one by one?
  17. weebee Registered Senior Member

    Well I’m not convinced that she’s not just moved them somewhere else. I worked in a stable and we had loads of cats all from one maternal old grand cat. When ever we stumbled over them they’d be moved in a couple of days. It wasn’t unusual for her to move half of them and then wait for a few days to see if they were found.
  18. water the sea Registered Senior Member

    First, there were the two of them missing, gone at once. The last two went one by one, about 12 hrs difference.

    In my native language, we have the saying "To move something around the way a cat moves around her kittens" -- meaning 'to move around a lot'.

    Maybe this was the case here.
  19. greywolf The Hellbound Hellhound. AWOOO Registered Senior Member

    I would think that it would be by sent.

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