Mother Cat Behavior With Kittens

Mother Cats & Kittens

Mother cats are a endearing, enchanting and confusing. One moment they move the kittens other times they seem to ignore them. Sometimes they even reject them. Read below to understand and manage their very normal behavior and prepare the kittens for their eventual weaning.



Mother Cat Constantly Moving Kittens


Hi Simba, My cat just had kittens. We keep her in our cupboard where it is dark.
Yesterday she took off with one of her kittens and ran into another room with it and hid it under the bed.Sometimes little kids look at them and we've handled them at times. She is good with them but it is her first litter and we do not know if that's OK with her. Should we move her back into our garage even though it is cold and loud? Thanks so much! - Marie
Dear Marie - Mother cats will move their kittens around if they believe that they are in danger or if there is too much light. First-time mothers are more anxious than others and their moving kittens from place to place will endanger them if they are placed in a cold location (see temperature). Your best bet is to keep mom and her kittens where they are and not create too much noise or distractions. The children should look at the kittens but should not yet handle them or make any noise near them. Mom needs to care for them free of worry. Simba


Dear Simba:
Missy’s kittens are 2 weeks old today. I have her and her kittens in a quiet room. She gave birth in a Lazypet Cat Pen that we bought for her. It is a cloth-lined soft box with two holes in it…nice, private but small. She is starting to move the kittens. Today she took one out and hid in a closet with it. She left the other kittens where they were. I moved the kitten back and closed the closet. She went back took the kitten out and placed it by the closed closet door and left it there. I moved it back. Thinking the cloth box was too small, I got another box lined it with towels and moved all the kittens into that box. That seemed to upset her because she kept walking around the room meowing and walking in and out of the small cloth box. I put the kittens back in the cloth box and she was fine. I guess she wants to do the moving.

I fear she will move one and forget the others. Is it good for her to be moving them around so much? Should I close the door and keep her confined to the room? I'm afraid she'll place one somewhere and neglect it. I am also worried that, as the kittens grow, the box will be too small for everyone. What do you suggest? John K


Dear John K,
It is natural for mother cats to move recently born kittens. Mother cats do this a few days after birth so as to throw potential predators off the scent, thus ensuring that they do not become some other animal’s dinner. Anxious first-time mothers do this more frequently. Missy will not forget about her kittens. She will move them one-by-one to their new location where she feels they will be safe.

As for what you can do. Give her freedom to choose where to move her kittens, you do not need to do it for her.A nice big box lined with cloth may be an attractive place for moving her kittens. Again, place it in the room or in the closet and let her go from there. As for her movements around the home, it does not matter too much if she leaves for a few minutes at a time. The biggest threat lies in children or pets getting in the room and handling/mishandling the kittens.

Also, have momma cat spayed as soon as the kittens are weaned...will help ensure no further 'accidents' and will make for a healthier momma cat. Your Pal, Simba


Mother Cat Not Attentive to Kittens


Dear Simba,
My cat just had kittens. She does not seem like she is going to be a good mother. She leaves them alone a lot. She also sits and lays on top of them. I am worried about them. She does not want them to get any attention from us. How do I know if they are feeding and getting the attention they need? She has already had one litter of 3 but they all died, because she did the same things she is doing now. Help me. After these kitten are big enough to leave home I am going to have her spayed. How old do the kittens have to be to be out of danger? Worried KittenLover

Dear Worried Kitten Lover,
It is normal for a mother cat to not want people near her kittens.It is her instinct to protect them from people and animals. However, if you are worried about the mother not taking care of the kittens, such as her leaving them alone for prolonged periods of time, not nursing them or her playing rough with them and crushing them (not simply keeping them warm and near her), you may want to remove them from that environment. However, only do so if you are sure they are in danger.

One way to ensure they are receiving the attention they need is to see them growing quickly. Watch for their increasing in size. You may want to weigh them periodically to ensure they are growing (see Feeding & Weight and Feeding Kittens for more information). The age that kittens can leave the home is dependent on how dangerous it is for them to remain at home. Usually, you do not want to separate kittens from their mother until they are at least 5 weeks old, however, you may want to accelerate that if you think they are in danger. Also, it is super that you are having her spayed. Keep me posted. Simba

PS
Check out the Pre & Post Natal Care section to learn more about the mother's behavior.

Mother Cat Rejects Kittens



Dear Simba,
Is it true, or just an old wives tale, that if baby kittens are handled by people too soon that they will die (or that the mother will no longer care for them)? Please answer quickly. Love, The Smith Family

Dear Smith Family,
You ask a good question. Mother cats reject kittens that have either a health problem or anatomical defect. They do this because kittens born with health problems have a very low survival rate even under the most intensive care. By passing on these unhealthy kittens, mother cats are able to focus and better care for those kittens that have the best shot at making it through.

As a general rule, you should handle kittens under 4 weeks of age, only under the mother cat’s supervision. Otherwise, you run the risk of removing mom’s scent from the kitten in which case momma cat will have greater difficulty identifying the kitten. This then makes the kitten different than the others and, in turn kicks in the rejection instinct. Be sure to make the interactions brief (10-15 minutes at a time) and do not allow kids to play with the kittens without adult (human) supervision. Simba



How to Wean Nursing Kittens


Hi Simba,
We have 4 kittens that are 8-weeks-old. We’ve started weaning them about 2-3 weeks ago with Gerber baby food and kitten formulas. While they show interest in solid foods, but they would rather nurse than eat solid foods. We’re having problems making the transition. The mother cat is starting to show signs of exhaustion and she’s losing weight from supporting them. We want to find the kittens good homes, but we need to find a way to wean them effectively. Richard

Dear Richard,
Many times, weaning is the mother cat's responsibility. When the kittens are 4-5 weeks of age, mom will begin to refuse nursing. This encourages the kittens to eat solid foods. As part of the process, mom will resume nursing them periodically. In a few weeks, the kittens should be completely weaned.

It is understandable that your kittens want to resist weaning. Try placing warm kitten formula alone, in a dish for them. Slowly place foods that add texture, progressing to tuna. Kittens and cats all love tuna and I have found this to be one of the more effective foods in weaning. As a final step you may want to physically separate the kittens from mom cat. This will not only give mom a break but will also help break the kittens' dependence. Keep an eye on mom and take her to the vet if become concerned for her health. Let me know how things go. Simba