Feral cats are different in a lot of ways from domestic cats. They are not cuddly, loving animals that spend their days snuggled up on the couch. Instead, they are wild animals that need to live on defense, so they can survive, but why do they leave their kittens?
Feral cats leave their kittens at about five weeks old with the weaning process, though they don’t leave them outright. The mother restricts nursing, encouraging them to go out on their own and hunt. Eventually, the kittens become older and independent enough that they stop returning to the nest.
Read on to learn more about the relationship between feral cats and their kittens, including the mother and the father. Find out whether you can adopt a feral kitten and what you should do if you find a litter of street cats.
What Is a Feral Cat?
A feral cat is a wild animal that is not socialized to humans. It was likely born in the wild and has lived its whole life with minimal to little human contact. These felines live most of their lives hidden from human eyes. They hunt in the dark, either in the early morning or late at night, when their prey is most active. They stick to concealed areas and don’t approach homes, vehicles, or household pets.
A feral cat is different from a stray cat in a few key ways. Whereas a stray cat may have belonged to a human and a family at one point in time, a feral cat likely never had human influence or hasn’t for years. A stray may have run away from home or simply gotten lost, while a feral cat is a wild animal that is well adapted to living independently on the streets or countryside.
When Do Feral Cats Abandon Their Kittens?
Feral cats don’t abandon their kittens. They care for their kittens for a certain amount of time until they encourage them to fend for themselves. A feral cat may leave her kittens unattended for a short time while she goes hunting and finds food, but she doesn’t simply “leave” her kittens for good.
Feral cats stay with their kittens for the majority of the first two weeks of their life full-time, for the babies are blind and deaf for the first fortnight of their lives. After that, the mama will venture out to find food for herself to stay strong while continuing to nurse her babies. At about four weeks, the mother will start to wean her kittens, and by the end of the fifth week of their lives, they are expected to eat solid food and be starting to find it on their own.
Where Do Feral Cats Have Their Kittens?
Feral cats seek out secure places to give birth to their kittens. They look for areas surrounded on all four sides so that they are as hidden as possible from hunters. This way, the mother can also defend her kittens if an attacker arrives, and she has a better chance of scaring off an intruder if they only have one possible point of approach.
Her birthplace should not only hide the kittens, but it should be a safe area for the kittens to be located. As kittens may start to wander after a few weeks, the nest shouldn’t be located near any sort of drop-off or running water that the babies could fall into.
Once the mother has given birth, she doesn’t just leave her kittens in one place. Feral cats often move their litters around so that predators can’t track her scent to their nest when she is out hunting. Moving the kittens also means that only the mother knows where they are at all times, so outsiders cannot swoop in.
How Do Feral Cats Care for Their Kittens?
Feral cats care for their kittens much as house cats do.
- They find a secure place to give birth.
- They create a warm nest for their babies.
- They give birth, cleaning off their litter as they come.
- They nurse the blind and deaf babies for two weeks.
- They continue to nurse for the following two to three weeks.
- They start to wean the kittens off.
- They encourage their babies to explore and build strength.
Of course, if a domestic cat is having kittens, she might stay with her babies for longer until they are adopted out of the home. The kittens of a feral cat will begin to wander farther and farther as they gain autonomy and eventually stop returning to the last den they shared with their brothers and sisters.
Do Male Feral Cats Stay With Their Kittens?
Male feral cats do not play a large role in their kitten’s lives. Many feral kittens won’t ever meet their fathers. The male feral cats will mate with the females and then leave them to care for the brood she may or may not have become pregnant with after their interaction.
Most feral cats are independent and live their lives solo. However, some feral cats can come to create colonies, which loosely resemble lion prides. In this case, the males in the colony can sometimes care for the kittens of the group. They aren’t necessarily directly involved in the kittens’ lives that they have sired, but they may look after any kittens in the group, defending them from predators and breaking up kitten-fights.
Can You Adopt Feral Cats and Kittens?
Feral cats cannot and should not be adopted. Feral cats are wild animals that have lived their entire lives without human influence and would not adapt well to any sort of human interference. A feral cat is better left on its own in the wild, where it has learned to survive by any means necessary.
Feral kittens, on the other hand, can be adopted. As long as the kittens are brought into the human home before four months old, they can successfully become house pets. Suppose you’re planning on adopting a stray or feral kitten. In that case, you should be fully aware of the possibility that the cat might not be as cuddly or friendly as the standard housecat, and you’ll have to work extra hard to socialize the cat with humans.
What To Do if You Find Feral Kittens
If you stumble upon a litter of feral kittens or find a litter below your porch or any secluded area on your property, you should not attempt to touch or move them. If you are worried for the kittens’ well-being and there is no sign of a mother around, then watch the brood for the next 48 hours.
The mother may be off hunting or may be in the process of relocating her litter one-by-one. In either case, she may be gone for multiple hours, and if you move the kittens, she won’t be able to find them or care for them any longer. If no mother returns, you can carefully move the kittens indoors or call your local animal rescue society.
If there is a mother around, do not attempt to take or move the kittens. You may want the kittens off of your property. However, the best thing to do is to let nature run its course. The mother will likely move the kittens away from that location, or they will get old enough to venture away on their own. Once the cats are mature enough, you can deter them from your property using scent deterrents or by calling animal welfare.
Feral cats don’t often abandon their kittens. They care for their kittens for as long as they need to until the babies become independent enough to make their way in the world. Kittens born into a colony may leave or choose to stay with their “family.” Either way, they are not “left” by their mothers. On the other hand, feral fathers are usually not involved in raising the kittens whatsoever, and in fact, may not even be aware their mating was successful.
- AlleyCat: Feral And Stray Cats– An Important Difference
- The Humane Society of the US: Outdoor Cats FAQ
- International Cat Care: The Social Structure of Cat Life
- East Bay SPCA: Stray Cats, Feral Cats, and Kittens
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.