Did you find a litter of kittens in a nest of sorts? The chances are that the mother cat is only temporarily away, finding food or taking a break, and will be back shortly. But do mother cats choose to abandon their kitten, and if so, when do they do it?
Mother cats leave their kittens for short periods to hunt food or taking a break, but they don’t leave their kittens for long unless something happened to her. Mother cats might also reject one or more of her kittens if they are too sick or deformed. Kittens can leave their mothers at ten weeks old.
When mother cats leave their kittens, it’s not for very long, but if kittens have been on their own for more than a few hours, she might have abandoned her kittens. What should you do if that happens?
Mama Cat Might Be Away Hunting for Food
If you come across a litter of kittens without the mother cat somewhere nearby, you might start to worry about her babies. Don’t do anything with them just yet, as they are probably fine. The mother cat might be out hunting for food for herself and her babies. If the kittens appear fed and well-cared for, chances are the mother cat is nearby and will come back to her babies shortly.
While you don’t want to abandon the kittens altogether, wait at least 24-48 hours before taking the kittens home with you. A mother cat will disappear for a few hours at a time, but she will always come back to her babies after a while. If you check on them later, and you know the mother cat has not come back, chances are she either abandoned them, or she was killed.
At this point, you can intervene and take the kittens home or re-home them.
While you’re waiting for the mother cat to return, you might want to set food and water nearby so they can have something to eat in the meantime. Of course, if the kittens are very young, they might not have the ability to eat solid food just yet. But, mother cats don’t leave their kittens for long when they are that young.
Kittens Can Leave Mom at 10-12 Weeks of Age
Mama cat weans her young from nursing at around six weeks, but they are still too young to leave mom before they are at least ten weeks old. Kittens need to learn about the world very quickly while still feeling secure and safe. Mother cats teach their kittens how to fend for themselves, how to use the litter box (if they have a home), and how to protect themselves.
Kittens that leave their mothers too soon tend to be more fearful, anxious, and depressed, with bouts of depression and aggression. Unless a kitten finds the one person, they bond with deeply, they are not very happy. Kittens, whose mother was killed before they were ready to leave her side, tend to be more excitable and jumpy than other cats. With a good home, kittens will grow to be normal cats.
Mother cats don’t usually choose to leave their kittens before they are ready to leave the nest, especially if she is still alive. But as kittens mature and get ready to live independently, the mother will leave the nest more often and for longer periods because she knows they will be okay.
Mother Cats Might Reject One or All Kittens for Several Reasons
Sometimes, mother cats reject their kittens and refuse to care for them. They might run away and leave her babies because she is too young, or the kittens are too sick for her to care for them. Or she is weaning her babies and needs some space for herself.
The other reason a mother cat might reject her kittens nursing is that she has mastitis, and it is too painful for her to continue nursing her babies. If that’s the case, and she is your cat, she needs medical attention immediately for her comfort.
Mama Cat is Too Young
A very young mama cat might not be mature enough to handle caring for her kittens. They might act confused or show no interest in her babies at first. While most cats will soon get a handle on motherhood, some don’t and will abandon their babies. If that’s the case, and you find her kittens, you might need to take them in to care for them yourself.
One Kitten Might Be Too Sick
While a mother cat might not reject all of her kittens at once, she might push one or two kittens away because they are too sick or small to survive. While this seems cruel to you, it’s a normal part of the animal kingdom. Any creature that is not fit enough to survive is left to die.
She Might Have Mastitis and Needs to Heal
Sometimes, mother cats develop mastitis and cannot continue to nurse her babies. If she is your pet, then she needs immediate medical treatment to get it under control. If she is in the wild, there’s not much you can do for her. But you can help care for her kittens if you’re concerned.
Mom Is Weaning Her Kittens
In the wild, mother cats will leave for more extended periods to hunt for food once her kittens are old enough for solid food. During her time away, her young are learning how to survive without constant nursing, so in a sense, she is weaning them from her milk while providing other food for them as well.
Like a pet cat, she might be hiding from her kittens to accomplish the same goal. You needn’t worry about the kittens in the wild, as she has a handle on the situation. Keep an eye on the kittens to make sure they are being cared for.
The Mother Cat Could Have Been Killed
It is a negative part of life that cats and other animals get killed by cars, predators, and other reasons. If you’ve discovered a nest of kittens, and the mom hasn’t come back within 24-48 hours, it’s quite possible that she’s been killed. At that point, the kittens need care, and it would be safer to take them in rather than leave them there.
If you decide to do this, you must see the project through until they are weaned from nursing, and you find good homes for each kitten once they are ready for it.
What Do You Do If You Find a Litter Of Kittens?
Once you are sure the mother cat is not coming back, prepare your home for the kittens. You will need feeding equipment, such as small bottles and the proper formula made for kittens. You will need to prepare for their litter box needs, which might be slightly different than older kittens.
To care for kittens younger than four weeks old, consult your local veterinarian for the proper procedure.
Mother cats don’t mean to leave their kittens before they are old enough to make it on their own, which is around 10-12 weeks. But sometimes, she is unable to care for her kittens and will either disappear or gets killed.
When your pet cat has a litter of kittens, things are slightly different in that the kittens are already in your home, and you know what is happening with your cat and her young. If she shows any signs of disinterest in her babies, be prepared to take over for her. However, she might not want you to go near them until she is ready to let them go. Tread carefully.
- Pool House Vet: Kittens: What to Expect 0-12 Weeks
- The Spruce Pets: How Long Should a Kitten Stay With Its Mother?
- The Nest: Is It Normal For Mother Cats to Leave Kittens Periodically?
- Cat Time: 5 Reasons A Mother Cat Might Abandon Or Reject Her Young
- Petspruce: When Do Mother Cats Leave Their Kittens?
- Out of the Cage: What to Do (and NOT Do) If You Find a Newborn Kitten
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.