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Home > Cats > How Does a Mother Cat Discipline Her Kittens? 4 Different Ways

How Does a Mother Cat Discipline Her Kittens? 4 Different Ways

american shorthair cat and her kitten

A mother cat, also known as a “queen,” has more of a role as a cat mom than just giving birth and nursing—she also disciplines her kittens when warranted. Kittens need discipline to correct unwanted behaviors, just like any living creature. It’s a normal part of the job for a mother cat, which helps socialize the kittens and teaches them how to play with littermates.

But how does a mother cat discipline her kittens? She could hiss, use vocalization, and other techniques. Read on to learn more about how a mother cat disciplines her kittens!


Discipline vs. Correction

While discipline and correction seem to work interchangeably, they are actually two separate behavior modifications.

In the human world, discipline is typically associated with negative reinforcement or punishment. For example, a human child can have a favorite toy taken away as a form of discipline, but unlike an animal, a parent can explain to the child what went wrong and use discipline as a way of persuading the child to never do the unwanted behavior or action again.

Cats, dogs, and other animals do not understand an undesirable behavior being wrong unless caught in the act. If a pet parent comes home to find their favorite flip-flop chewed to bits, the pet parent may yell at their pet, but the pet will not have the capability to understand the issue, nor what it did wrong, unless caught in the act.

For mother cats, the type of behavior modification most used is through correction because it is immediate and instant. She may place a wandering kitten back beside her, or she may even hiss or bop the kitten on the head to show instantly the kitten is doing an undesirable act. In other words, she is “correcting” the behavior at the time of the event.

tortoiseshell mother cat biting an orange kitten in the neck
Image Credit: Chaikom, Shutterstock

The 4 Ways How a Mother Cat Disciplines Her Kittens

1. The Mother Cat Will Walk Away

Another form of correction is simply walking away from her kitten. The lack of attention is hurtful to a young kitten–after all, a kitten’s mother is its whole world in the first weeks of life. The mother may walk away if the kitten is too rough with its littermates or too demanding of her attention.

Do you see the difference between discipline and correction? By walking away, the mother is not using scornful actions but rather ignoring her kitten to show the kitten the behavior is unacceptable. 

A large kitten trying to nurse when it should be eating regular cat food will prompt the mother cat to walk away—this shows the kitten that the mother does not want the kitten to nurse, and the kitten will eventually understand that the behavior is wrong—this is also how a mother cat weans her kittens.

2. Vocal Corrections

If walking away is ineffective, the mother cat may use vocal corrections by meowing with force, hissing, or growling at the kitten. Kittens understand these sounds, known as distance-increasing behavior, from birth. When they hear them, they know mom means business.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a mother cat with her young, you may have noticed a time when the mother cat hisses at her kittens due to rough play. Kittens love to swat at their siblings’ tails or even bite at them, and the mother may hiss to instantly stop the behavior, as the sound startles the kittens. This type of correction also teaches the kittens to play more gently rather than so roughly.

cat and kitten sitting
Image Credit: schubbel, Shutterstock

3. Physical Corrections

Remember when we talked about the mother bopping the kitten on the head? This is definitely a physical correction. A kitten may become fascinated with its mother’s tail and swat and bite at it, and the mother may lightly bite the kitten in an effort to stop the unwanted behavior.

Kittens understand physical corrections for their mother but not from humans. Never try to mimic the mother cat’s actions, as the mother knows exactly how much force to use without hurting the kitten while teaching a lesson.

4. Kittens Learn from Littermates

The mother cat is not the only teacher; kittens learn from their littermates, too. Interaction among the litter is detrimental to early socialization. Kittens sharpen their social skills by learning bad behaviors from one another, such as a cry from a kitten that was bitten too hard by another kitten, and the result was the kitten who was bitten running away from the situation. The kitten that cried out automatically taught the other kitten that the behavior was unacceptable and to be gentler next time.

little kitten inside the litter box
Image Credit: Boonlert Saikrajang, Shutterstock

What Do Kittens Learn from Their Mother?

Kittens undergo essential socialization within the first 2–8 weeks of life before moving on to live with their human families. But before that happens, the mother cat will have taught her kittens the following:

  • How to hunt prey
  • Safety and self-defense
  • Toileting
  • How to interact with others

Cats instinctively have a strong prey drive, and the mother helps her kittens develop and perfect this all-important life skill. The mother also teaches the kittens how to play nicely with one another, as she will punish the kittens with one of the methods mentioned to show the behavior is unacceptable.


Final Thoughts

Cats are excellent mothers. They teach their kittens how to live with other animals and humans, and they have a few methods that are primarily in the form of correction rather than discipline.

However, the intensity of the disciple may escalate if the kitten does not understand the bad behavior. At any rate, even if it looks like the mother cat is hurting her kitten, you can rest assured that she’s only correcting an unwanted behavior and getting her kitten ready for the world.

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Featured Image Credit: ANURAK PONGPATIMET, Shutterstock

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