Mother cats give birth to an average of four kittens in each litter, although the number can vary from 1 to 12 kittens. Breeds like the Siamese, Burmese, and Oriental have larger litters than other breeds. If you are excited to check on your cat’s newborn kittens, give it a second thought before holding the babies. Observe your cat’s demeanor when you come near the nest; you do not want to mess with a mama cat.
Will a mother cat abandon her kittens if they are touched by humans?
No, she will not abandon her kittens if they are touched by humans, especially if the human who touched the litter is you, her main caretaker. According to Dr. Katherine Houpt of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, if a mother cat has been in the home for some time and is already used to you and your scent, she will not mind you touching her kittens. However, keep it brief so she won’t get stressed.
Cat experts agree that there is no harm in touching newborn kittens. However, do not attempt to do so while their eyes are still closed unless it is an emergency. Mama cats are naturally aggressive and protective of their newborn kittens.
If you and the mother cat have a strong bond, she will not mind if you touch her kittens briefly. It may be to check for abnormalities, to see their gender, or to make sure they are gaining weight. If, while doing so, you notice a change in your cat’s demeanor, put back the kitten and respect the mama cat’s feelings.
Do cats eat their kittens if you touch them?
No, cats will not eat their kittens if you touch them. Some cats tend to move their litter to a new location or nest. Some felines tend to kill their kittens if they feel they are threatened or if they are apprehensive about their safety. This happens if cats are unable to move their litter to a safer location. However, it appears to be a rare occurrence among indoor cats that are well-cared for by their owners.
How long after a cat has kittens can you touch them?
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends waiting around two weeks after a cat has kittens to touch them. However, this may depend as emergencies could happen while a cat is giving birth. It is okay to hold newborn kittens for a minute or two, stroke them, and return them to their mom.
Before you touch or pick up the kittens, allow the mama cat to sniff your hand. Show her affection and pet her head so she will be assured that you are not a threat. If the mama cat purrs, licks your hand, and has a relaxed demeanor, you can gently pick up a kitten one at a time. Young kittens should not be taken away from the mama cat for more than a few minutes to avoid maternal stress.
Is it bad to touch stray kittens?
No, it is not bad to touch stray kittens. To be on the safe side, you should not willfully touch them if the mama cat is around. You should only touch them for medical reasons and if they are in distress or injured. If you are a foster parent who brought home stray kittens that were separated from their mother, protect yourself and wear gloves until the stray kittens are comfortable enough to be held and touched.
Can you move newborn kittens?
No. Cat experts note that newborn kittens should not be transferred to another area. You should wait for at least a few days (even up to two weeks) before you move them. However, it will depend on the mother cat’s character or personality. If you have established a good bond with the mama cat, you may be able to touch and move the newborn kittens right away.
When should you check and touch newborn kittens?
You should check and touch newborn kittens if their lives are at risk and they do not move or breathe. You can also touch them if they are born in the sac or if they are feeling cold. Most importantly, you should check on them if they are not suckling milk within two hours after birth, if the mama cat is not giving them any attention or if she has difficulty while giving birth. If this is so, take her and the kittens to the vet for prompt treatment.
Mother cats are protective of their offspring and tend to be aggressive. However, they will not abandon their kittens if touched by humans, especially if it is their owner with whom they have a strong bond. Make sure to keep it brief and observe the mama cat’s demeanor. If you notice that she is becoming agitated or anxious, place the kitten back in the nest and respect the mother’s feelings.
Image: istockphoto.com / Iryna Mylinska