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Is It Normal for a Mother Cat to Periodically Leave Her Kittens? Reasons Why It Happens

Welcoming new kittens is both mentally and physically taxing on your mama cat. Imagine giving birth to four or more babies every time you got pregnant—they go through a lot! Most mother cats are doting, always staying on guard to protect their kittens. But if you’ve noticed your mama cat distancing herself, you may wonder what’s going on.

Don’t worry! Cats have great instincts and, in most cases, it’s easy to explain. Let’s take a look at the reasons why a mother might leave her babies—in both small intervals and for long periods.cat face divider 2

Motherhood for Cats

Cats can breed anytime during a year when the time is right, but spring is usually the peak time. Gestation lasts 2 months, roughly between 60 and 70 days. Once the mama cat gives birth, she’s going to stay busy for a while recovering, cleaning, and caring for her young.

But maybe you have come to notice that she leaves her babies for longer than you might think is normal. As kittens age, they become more independent, this is usually standard—but what are some other reasons?

1. Nursing or Afterbirth Woes

Newborn red kittens suck milk_NataVilman_shutterstock
Credit: NataVilman, Shutterstock

If the mother cat isn’t feeling well, she could easily distance herself from her kittens. There are a few issues that can pop up during birth or shortly after.

Mastitis

After birth, your cat’s body immediately starts to produce food for its young. While most times, this process is seamless, it can have complications like anything else. Mastitis is an infection that can move up the teat to the mammary gland.

Symptoms of mastitis:
  • Swelling or discoloration of the nipple
  • Lethargy
  • Shows visible discomfort

It’s not unusual for a mother cat to separate from the kittens, especially if she’s feeling pain.

Stuck Kitten or Placenta

If a mother cat is unable to care for her kittens within the first several hours after birth, pay attention to visual cues. There could be a kitten stuck in the birth canal, which can be deadly for both the mother and the lodged kitten. It could also be that the afterbirth didn’t make its way out.

Signs of a stuck kitten or afterbirth:
  • Labored breathing
  • Ignoring live kittens
  • Lethargy
  • Inability to eat
  • Visible discomfort

Eclampsia

If your cat’s diet is lacking majorly in calcium, they can develop a problem called eclampsia. This condition usually occurs when all of the mother’s calcium intake is given to developing kittens, creating a major lack of her own supply. It typically develops after 1-4 weeks post-birth.

Symptoms of eclampsia:
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Fever
  • Disorientation

If you think that your cat could be leaving her young because of a veterinary emergency—don’t wait. These conditions can be life-threatening. You must seek medical help so the mom can stay healthy for her babies.

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2. Mother Cat is Out Hunting

cat hunting in grass
Image Credit: SJ Duran, Shutterstock

Mama is hungry, too. Her body is incredibly fragile right now. After all, she’s caring for many babies and her body is producing the milk. She needs a high-protein, well-balanced meal to replenish what she loses.

It’s not unusual to see a mama go out, for either a self-guided hunt or just a jaunt to the food bowl. If you have an outside cat, the mother might try to find a mouse or small rodent. She’s going to have to teach her children to do the same. This is an expected phenomenon.

Moms usually start leaving longer when she’s ready to wean her kittens, which is just after 3-4 weeks. The desire to hunt or eat doesn’t mean the mother is losing interest in her babies, it just means she has to take care of her needs, too.

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3. The Mother is Very Young

fluffy cat pregnant give birth and new born baby kittens_iarecottonstudio_shutterstock
Credit: iarecottonstudio, Shutterstock

Female cats can get pregnant as soon as they reach sexual maturity, which is usually by 6 months of age. If you think about it, they are still very young and not even fully grown themselves. Taking on a litter can be challenging at this stage.

Even though females can carry a litter physically, sometimes they aren’t mature enough mentally. Young mothers with an underdeveloped maternal instinct might not take the best care of their kittens. They just haven’t reached a point where those senses kick in—it’s different for every cat.

Young mothers might feel like they have better things to do than nurse babies. If they are ignoring their kittens or seem to venture off a bit too much, you can always limit their space. Kittens must get their milk meals on time—so make sure mom stays close by if she’s just not ready herself.

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4. Something is Wrong with a Kitten

cream silver tabby point ragdoll kitten_Nils Jacobi_shutterstock
Image Credit By: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

If you see your cat singling out a particular kitten, look for signs something more is wrong. Sometimes, if a kitten is ill or deformed, the mother will reject her baby. It might seem like a cruel action, but it’s just the work of nature.

Some mother cats just know that the kitten won’t be viable. Or, they might have such a large litter that they can’t feed them all. If your cat rejects a kitten, you can try to bottle-feed the animal. You can also take the kitten to your veterinarian for an examination.

If you do end up having to bottle feed, many major pet store outlets have kitten formula available for purchase. Make sure to read instructions carefully so they are getting the exact amount of nutrients they need to thrive.

There is always a chance to save a baby, but don’t get too let down if your efforts don’t pay off. Sometimes, there really is nothing you can do—and mothers often know best.

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5. Mother Cat Needs a Break

Maine Coon kitten chattering_Linn Currie_shutterstock
Credit: Linn Currie, Shutterstock

If you’re a parent, you probably can relate all-too-well when it comes to needing a break to recharge your batteries. Some mother cats leave their kittens for brief intervals to have a little time to themselves. Nursing multiple kittens takes a big toll on the mama’s body.

Some mothers will be extremely doting, patient, and nurturing with their litter. Other mothers will require more space and be more distant from their young. Feelings toward motherhood can be drastically different from cat to cat.

You shouldn’t really panic if your female is the more paws-off type. As long as she’s feeding them every one to three hours for the first 3 weeks of their life, you have nothing to worry about. When mom is comfortable, you can start bonding with the kittens if you feel like they don’t get enough motherly love.

If your female needs a breather—just let her have her time. She will come back to the kittens when she knows her kittens need her.

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6. Lack of Maternal Instinct

sphynx kittens
Image Credit: mjlovesmm, Pixabay

Just like every other mother on the planet, some cats just aren’t cut out for it. It isn’t natural—for them. It’s not unusual for another female cat to step in when a mother steps down to take over that role. Of course, if you don’t have multiple females, this isn’t an option—but rather a cause for concern.

Sometimes, certain females just take a little longer to transition—so don’t be too concerned if it’s taking her a second to learn the ropes. This can be a big step for lots of first-time moms and you can try to intervene if you think you must.

A lack of maternal instinct can lead to malnourished kittens, which can have dire consequences. If you can’t get her interested in giving the kittens minimal care, you might have to take over feedings until they are on solid foods.

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7. Kittens Are Becoming More Independent

a kitten eats food from a large plastic bowl
Image Credit: Maria Moroz, Shutterstock

Kittens don’t stay little very long. Mothers know when it’s time to back off and allow their little ones to develop some independence. You might see the mom leaving just a few weeks after the kittens were born. That’s perfectly normal and expected behavior.

Your mother cat will know when it’s time to show the kittens around. She might go on longer solo trips at this point, or come to teach them the ways of the house. If your kitties are up walking around, it’s safe to say she’s giving them what they need at this stage.

Once a kitten is 4 weeks old, you can start feeding them solids. Even though they won’t be ready to leave their mom for a few more weeks, it’s the beginning of their adult diet. So, if she leaves around this marker, it’s because she knows the kittens are just fine.

Remember, your mother cat has just been tirelessly raising a litter—and she’s probably enjoying her lengthy breaks.3 cat divider

Ways to Prevent Mothers From Leaving Kittens

When it comes to a cat’s reaction to motherhood, it’s hard to know what to expect until the kittens are already here. Some cats can be wonderful pets, but terrible mothers. Or reversed—the mother could be unfriendly to humans but warm to her babies.

Some cats are just more independent and free-spirited. They will take care of their kittens, but only for what they need and nothing more. You could say they’re a bit stingy with their time. Young mothers just might not understand the seriousness of motherhood quite yet—by no fault of their own.

Measures to help the connection between mother cat + kittens:
  • Keep the litter box and food dishes close by
  • Make sure mom is healthy, eating a well-balanced, high-protein diet
  • Keep the mother cat in an enclosed room when you can
  • Make sure the kittens are with mom at night
  • Supplement with kitten formula, if needed
  • Make sure the nesting space is noise-free
  • Don’t disturb or touch the kittens or mom during feedings

If you need help, don’t hesitate to call a vet or rescue group. Your vet may have a few suggestions for you to try. If your mother cat won’t care for her kittens after you tried all you could, consider giving them to a professional to raise.cat + line divider

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are several reasons a mother could leave her babies periodically. Some of it is normal, but some of it needs attention. Kittens’ bodies need constant nutrition throughout the first several weeks of life. If your mother cat isn’t feeding or caring for them correctly, it might cause a bunch of problems for your litter.

Monitor the situation closely. If you have any questions or concerns about the behavior, don’t hesitate to call your vet for further guidance.

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Featured image credit: Naratiwat Pochoom, Shutterstock