Seeing a mother cat grooming and tending to her kittens is a heartwarming sight to behold. But unfortunately, some mother cats abandon their kittens.
When do mother cats leave their kittens?
Mother cats abandon their kittens for a variety of reasons. These include kitten sickness or deformity, large litter size, and lack of maternal instincts.
1. Sickness or deformity
Cats have the unique ability to identify when other cats are sick. You will notice these in two cats living in the same household. One will avoid grooming or even become aggressive against the sick cat.
Mother cats instinctively know when one of her babies is sick. And when she thinks that one of her kittens is sick, right or wrong, she may leave that young cat behind.
Although it may seem cruel, from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense. If that abandoned kitten is sick with a contagious disease, there is a risk that the other kittens can also become infected.
Mother cats may also abandon kittens with congenital defects like deformities and those with conditions like low birth weight and anemia. With limited resources available, the mother cat will focus her attention on her healthy babies instead of continuing care for that one kitten that may have little to no chance to survive.
If your pet has abandoned one of her kittens, separate it from the rest of the litter to prevent the mother from abandoning the others too. As for the abandoned kitten, you should take him to the vet to determine if he can still be salvaged.
Mastitis is a condition where a mother cat’s breast becomes inflamed due to a bacterial infection. Typically, the bacterial infection occurs because the microorganism travels into the mammary glands due to trauma. Sometimes, bacteria can also enter the breast due to unsanitary living conditions. Mastitis usually occurs after giving birth. However, it can also occur if milk accumulates in the breast for a long time.
The mother cat may abandon her kittens, often temporarily because her breasts are too painful to the touch and too swollen.
Mastitis is often treated with antibiotics. The vet may also prescribe pain medication to your pet cat. While your cat is still recovering from the condition, you will need to express milk from her which will promote healing.
3. Large litter size
On average, a cat will give birth to four kittens. However, some cats, especially Oriental breeds like the Siamese and the Burmese, can produce litters as large as 12 kittens.
A large litter size can cause a few problems beginning with the birth of the kittens. These complications can endanger both the cat and her kittens.
If the cat and her kittens do survive, they will face another challenge: feeding. The mother cat can suffer from exhaustion and dehydration while the kittens can become malnourished. With limited resources available the mother can essentially abandon one or more of her children to focus on the rest. This is particularly true if there are more than eight kittens in the litter.
4. Lack of maternal instincts
You would assume that motherhood comes naturally for cats, that after seeing her babies her maternal instincts will kick in soon after. But in some cases, the maternal instinct does not kick in.
A cat can become aloof to her litter if she was traumatized while giving birth. Perhaps, she did not feel safe or she might have felt intense pain. In turn, this may have undermined her ability to relax and focus on her young.
In some cases, the inability to display maternal instincts is temporary. But in other cases, the cat completely abandons her kittens.
What should you do if you find an abandoned kitten or litter?
If you find an abandoned kitten or even a litter, the first thing that you need to do is to confirm whether the cat was truly abandoned or the mother was simply looking for food.
But how can you tell if a kitten has been abandoned or if his mom is just looking for food?
If you find a kitten inside a box or plastic box, he was probably left by somebody who wanted to get rid of him for one reason or another. In such a case, the young cat will fare better if you take care of him.
It is also possible that the kitten has just been separated from his mom. The mother is probably looking for her little one and is nearby. You should wait for the mom and kitten to reunite before attempting to rescue the young cat. If the mom does not arrive, something untoward may have happened to her.
If you find a litter, restrain yourself from picking up the cats. If the kittens look clean and are just sleeping, it is possible that the mother is hunting for food or may have become spooked. Eventually, she will come back when she has found food or feel secure.
If the mother is still around, you should not rescue her kittens. Mother cats are exceptionally adept at taking care of their young ones and taking away the kittens can reduce their chances of survival.
To confirm if the mother is still around, you can scatter flour around the area where you found the litter. If the mother comes back, you will see her paw prints. You might not have seen her because she was scared by your presence.
You can help the mother cat by providing her with food and water. Nursing cats require more food compared to normal cats because she has to feed her kids.
Why kittens need to stay with their moms
The first few months of a kitten’s life are critical for his growth and development. If he is taken away early from his mom or abandoned, his health and social development can become compromised.
A cat’s milk contains essential nutrients as well as colostrum which are critical for the development of a young cat’s body. Taking the cat away immediately from his mother can lead to a host of health issues later in life.
Furthermore, kittens need to stay with their moms so that they can learn invaluable social skills. Without learning these social skills, a kitten can grow into an aggressive or timid cat.
Ideally, kittens should stay with their littermates at least until they are three months old. Although it is possible to adopt a kitten earlier than this, it is always better to bring a kitten home at a later time.
But what happens if the kittens stay with their mother?
In a home, the mother cat will continue caring for her children. It is not unusual for moms to feed her kittens and even groom them. As for feral cats, the tomcats usually go away to establish their own territories. The females, on the other hand, stay with their mother and help in rearing new litters.
When the bond between a mother cat and her young does not exist
A mother abandoning her young may seem unimaginable for humans. But cats can and do abandon their kittens for a variety of reasons. It may be heartbreaking to you but in the grand scheme of things, a cat is thinking of the survival of her genes.
If you do chance upon what you think is an abandoned kitten, do not act in haste and rescue it. His mother might still be around and you might be doing the kitten a great disservice by a attempting a rescue when there is no need to do so.
Image: istockphoto.com / Volodymyr_Plysiuk