At some point, baby animals need to leave their mother and start exploring the world on their own. This is also true for kittens, who have to bid farewell to their mom and siblings and sometimes go to live with a caring family. It is important to wait for the right time to separate a kitten from its mother, as doing it too early can have negative consequences. So, when exactly do cats part ways with their kittens?
Cats usually separate from their kittens when the litter is approximately twelve weeks old. Some kittens may stay with their mother for a few more weeks, but generally, by the third month of their lives, kittens are mature and developed enough to be given to their new owners.
Removing a cat from its mother before this time can harm the health of the kitten, particularly if it hasn’t been weaned yet. However, there are often situations where early weaning occurs, especially among cats in the wild.
When cats are able to eat solid food and are fully weaned, their mother cat will typically leave them. At this point, the kittens are independent enough to be on their own and don’t require constant care from their mother.
Reasons Cats Leave Their Kittens
There are many reasons why a cat might leave her kittens. Here are a couple of the most crucial ones to remember.
The Kittens Are Weaned
The ideal situation for why a mom cat is leaving her kittens is that the kittens are done nursing and can now eat regular food. When kittens reach this point, they don’t need to be with their mom all the time anymore and are old enough to be on their own.
Many mother cats are very caring, even if they have a distant or unfriendly personality. It is instinctual for cats to protect their babies, and they will do whatever they can to ensure their kittens are safe and well.
As cats grow older, it is normal for the mother cat to become more distant. This is a natural part of her preparing to let her kittens go off on their own.
The Mother Cat Moves To A New Location
Occasionally, a mama cat might abandon her kittens if she’s suddenly compelled to relocate and can’t bring them along. Whether it’s because of a natural disaster or human intervention, a cat may flee to protect herself and leave her kittens behind.
Although the dad cat usually doesn’t stay to assist with the kittens, the mom cat typically doesn’t want him around. If the dad cat tries to approach the mom or her babies, she will probably hiss at him and chase him away.
The Kittens Know How To Hunt On Their Own
Once kittens reach an age where they can learn to hunt on their own, their mother cat’s job is complete and she will leave them. At this stage, the cats are considered capable of taking care of themselves and can venture out into the world on their own.
Cats are not creatures that stay together forever, so this is the natural time when a group of kittens and their mother will go their separate ways.
The process of cats leaving their kittens does not happen abruptly. When kittens reach around three months old, the mother cat usually begins to urge them to hunt alongside her, especially if she lives in the wild or has the opportunity to go outside.
Having multiple kittens has the advantage of having more helpers for hunting! A mother cat will teach her kittens to join her in searching for food, making her task easier and providing guidance on how to do it.
The mother cat might continue doing this for a couple of weeks until she thinks that her kittens have learned her skills and are capable of hunting and protecting themselves from other animals.
The Female Cat Is Pregnant Again
Yes, it’s true! A female cat can get pregnant again soon after having kittens. Female cats usually go back into heat around eight weeks after giving birth, but this timeline can vary by a few weeks depending on the individual cat (Vet West).
If that happens, a cat might abandon her current litter as she gets ready for her next litter. Normally, at this stage, the original litter of kittens should be almost ready to eat solid food and take care of themselves, but the transition might happen a bit earlier than expected.
That’s why it’s really important to have your cats fixed to avoid them having babies that you don’t want. In the cat world, getting pregnant can happen a lot and it’s not hard for something to go wrong.
Having multiple litters in a row is not good for a female cat’s health. It puts a strain on her body and can cause health issues that will ultimately shorten her lifespan.
Although cats may not experience emotions in the same way humans do, it can still be distressing and confusing for them to leave their kittens before they are fully grown.
To avoid your cat having to go through this situation, it’s best to keep your female cat away from any male cats while she is in heat.
The Kittens Are Sick
It’s a heartbreaking situation, but if a mama cat realizes that her kittens are weak or close to dying, she might abandon her litter.
Sometimes, you might notice a small and weak kitten in a litter. This could be because the mother cat doesn’t provide enough milk or keeps it away from the rest of the litter.
Although it may appear harsh, it is a fact of nature that many female cats will have multiple litters during their lives, and they do not put effort into taking care of their kittens.
Cats understand that they cannot assist others. They need to prioritize their own well-being and the well-being of their healthy babies.
If you have a pet cat and you see this happening, the great thing is that you can step in and take care of the sick kitten. With help from your vet, you can probably save the kitten’s life, even if the mother cat has left it behind.
Is It Normal For Cats To Leave Their Kittens
When kittens are still solely consuming their mother’s milk and residing together, a mother cat will only temporarily separate from her kittens. Usually, a mother cat will only leave her kittens for about an hour, and this only happens if she feels the need to take a break for nourishment or hydration.
How Long Will A Mother Cat Leave Her Kittens
If you come across a group of kittens without their mother, don’t just grab them and assume they’ve been abandoned (Feral Change).
If you wait and keep an eye out, you might see the mom cat come back if she’s just gone for a little bit. She’ll probably be nearby and will rush back if she hears her kittens crying.
It’s not usual for a mom cat to leave her kittens for more than a few hours. If she’s gone for a longer time, something might be wrong with her or she might have decided to leave the litter.
When that happens, it’s time to step up and lend a hand to ensure the kittens get the nourishment they require to stay alive. The most effective way to assist abandoned kittens is by bringing them indoors to a cozy and secure location, far from any possible threats.
Will A Mother Cat Abandon Her Kittens If You Touch Them
Contrary to popular belief, it is not true that a mother cat will abandon her kittens if a human touches them. However, if a human is too close to the kittens or watching over them, the mother cat may choose to stay away. This could be because she feels scared or uncomfortable with your presence, especially if she doesn’t know you.
Since most cats live indoors with humans, they are accustomed to the smell of humans. While a cat may get upset if a human touches their kittens, it is unlikely to result in the mother cat abandoning the kittens.
When it comes to newborn kittens, they are quite fragile, so people need to be very careful when dealing with them when they are young. Cats are very protective of their babies and should be able to take care of them without too much interference from humans during the first few weeks of the kitten’s life.
After giving birth, some mother cats have such strong motherly instincts that they willingly adopt kittens from other mothers or even babies of different species.
Will A Mother Cat Come Back For Kittens
Usually, a mom cat will return to her kittens if she has only left them for a short time. If you come across a group of young kittens who are less than six weeks old, it’s best to avoid picking them up or interfering right away.
Cats don’t stop nursing their kittens until they are around six weeks old, and a mother cat understands that she needs to stay with her kittens for that duration to ensure they are well-fed and healthy. The majority of mother cats will make every effort to be with their kittens during this time.
Usually, when cats that live in the wild abandon their babies, they are able to locate nourishment. It is important for them to keep themselves satisfied in order to keep producing milk for their kittens, which means they need to be properly nourished.
If you stumble upon a group of cats in the wild that seem to be twelve weeks or older, chances are the momma cat won’t return. Once the cats have learned how to hunt and take care of themselves, the momma cat usually moves on.
When cats are not spayed or neutered, their main goal is to mate and keep reproducing. Even if the mother cat has recently had a litter, once the kittens are old enough to be independent, she will start thinking about mating again.
Things To Consider
Although the family connection may not be as strong, cats do care about their babies. But that doesn’t stop mom cats from allowing their kittens to leave and explore the world.
Cats don’t feel the same emotions or separation anxiety as humans or some other animals when they are separated from their kittens.
But cats do have a strong response if one of their babies dies. If a kitten dies while still being taken care of by its mother, she will attempt to keep the body nearby and may even carry it in her mouth.
A momma cat will hide a kitten in the safest spot she can find, like under dirt or rocks. Sometimes the momma cat will even stay close to where she buried the kitten to grieve their loss.
If one of the kittens dies, it’s important to let the mother cat know what happened so she doesn’t get too upset. Mother cats have a strong instinct to protect their kittens, so if one of them disappears, it can cause them to become very anxious.
Place the dead kitten next to the mother cat and allow her to smell and examine it. She will realize that the baby has passed away and can then start grieving the loss.