Mother cats are known for their fierce love and protection towards their kittens. They go to great lengths to ensure the safety and well-being of their offspring, including carrying them around by the back of their neck. This behavior, which is also observed in other species of cats, is known as “scruffing” and has puzzled cat owners and researchers alike. In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind why mother cats carry their kittens by the back of their neck and what this behavior means for feline parents and their offspring.
The anatomy of a kitten
Before we delve into why mother cats carry their kittens by the back of their neck, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a kitten. When a kitten is born, it is completely helpless and unable to see or hear. Its eyes and ears are closed, and it relies solely on its sense of smell and touch to navigate the world. In addition, its neck muscles are not yet fully developed, making it difficult for the kitten to support its own head.
Why do mother cats carry their kittens by the back of their neck?
Now that we understand the anatomy of a kitten, let’s explore why mother cats carry their kittens by the back of their neck. The answer lies in a feline behavior known as “scruffing.” Scruffing is the act of grasping a cat by the loose skin on the back of its neck, which is also known as the scruff. This behavior is instinctive in cats and is often used by mother cats to carry their kittens.
One reason mother cats carry their kittens by the scruff is to keep them safe and secure. By grasping the loose skin on the back of the kitten’s neck, the mother cat can ensure that her offspring is held firmly in place and cannot fall or wander off. This is especially important during the first few weeks of a kitten’s life when its neck muscles are weak and it is unable to support its own head.
In addition, carrying a kitten by the scruff allows the mother cat to transport her offspring quickly and easily. By grasping the kitten’s neck, the mother cat can lift and carry her offspring without having to use her mouth or teeth. This is particularly useful when the mother cat needs to move her kittens to a new location, such as a safer nesting spot or to escape from a potential threat.
Scruffing is Calming
Scruffing also has a calming effect on kittens. When a mother cat carries her kitten by the scruff, it triggers a reflex that causes the kitten to go limp and relax. This reflex is known as the “flehmen response” and is also observed in other species of cats. By going limp, the kitten becomes easier to carry and less likely to struggle or become frightened.
Finally, carrying a kitten by the scruff allows the mother cat to groom her offspring more easily. When a mother cat grooms her kitten, she licks its fur to remove dirt and debris and to stimulate blood flow. By holding her kitten by the scruff, the mother cat can groom her offspring without having to support its weight or risk injuring it with her teeth or claws.
Is scruffing harmful to kittens?
While scruffing is a natural behavior in cats, it is important to note that it should only be performed by adult cats and should not be attempted by humans. This is because adult cats have a strong grip and are able to support the weight of their kittens without causing harm. In contrast, humans do not have the same level of strength or dexterity and may inadvertently injure a kitten by attempting to scruff it.
In addition, it is important to note that scruffing should only be used in certain situations, such as when transporting kittens or grooming them. It should not be used as a form of punishment or discipline, as this can cause unnecessary stress and harm to the kitten. Scruffing a kitten as a form of punishment can also damage the trust and bond between the kitten and its owner, which can have long-term effects on the kitten’s behavior and well-being.
Instead of using scruffing as a form of punishment or discipline, it is important for kitten owners to use positive reinforcement training methods to encourage good behavior. This can include rewards such as treats or praise for good behavior, and redirecting unwanted behaviors to more appropriate activities.
It is also important for kitten owners to understand that while scruffing can be beneficial for kittens when done by their mother, it is not necessary for humans to perform this behavior. Kittens are naturally curious and playful, and it is important for them to explore their environment and learn through their own experiences. While it is important to provide a safe and secure environment for kittens to grow and develop, it is also important to allow them the freedom to learn and explore on their own.
In conclusion, mother cats carry their kittens by the back of their necks for a variety of reasons, including keeping them safe and secure, transporting them easily, calming them, and grooming them. While this behavior is natural and beneficial for kittens when done by their mother, it should not be used as a form of punishment or discipline by humans. Instead, positive reinforcement training methods should be used to encourage good behavior and foster a strong bond between kitten and owner. Understanding the reasons behind why mother cats carry their kittens by the back of their neck can help us to better care for and understand these fascinating animals.