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So you’ve just had a new litter of kittens – congratulations! Raising newborn kittens is an incredibly rewarding experience. But it can also be highly stressful for anyone whose never raised a litter before. You need to give the kitten the best care possible, so they have a good start in life.
Thankfully, the mother cat instinctively knows how to care for her newborns. As long as you’ve set up a nesting area to keep your kittens safe in their first few weeks of life, mom does the rest of the hard work. However, some mother cats seemingly keep walking away from their kittens – a situation that can leave you worried and confused.
Anyone thinking, “My cat keeps walking away from her kittens,” is likely concerned. Why does your cat keep walking away from her newborns? Has she failed to form an attachment with her litter? Do you need to take over the parenting responsibilities? I answer all these questions and more in this article, so keep reading to put your mind at ease.
Why Does My Cat Keep Walking Away From Her Kittens?
Newborn kittens rely entirely on their mom in their first few weeks. They need regular feeds and to be groomed. The mother cat also has to keep her kittens warm while they are in their most delicate state. This time of your kittens’ lives is crucial. It is their fastest period of growth and development, and they are incredibly vulnerable for the first few weeks.
However, it is normal for your cat to walk away from the kittens periodically. Yes, they require constant care and love, but a few minutes apart isn’t going to put your kittens at risk. In fact, there are several reasons for this behavior, all of which are very normal.
1. Motherhood is Exhausting!
Newborn kittens cannot do anything for themselves – they can’t even see when born! Therefore, the constant care required by the mother is highly tiring for her. She continually has to nurse and keep an eye on all her kittens as they grow and become more independent. Therefore, it is normal for the mother cat to get up and leave her kittens periodically throughout the day.
Your cat is probably exhausted! She needs a minute to stretch her legs and have a break from feeding. It’s a non-stop job being a parent, and she’s just taking a few minutes to regain her composure – motherhood is hard work!
2. Your Cat Needs to Eat
One of the most crucial roles of a mother cat during the newborn period is to feed her kittens. Young kittens cannot eat solid goods and need to drink milk. The milk from the mom is nutritionally balanced and provides kittens with everything they need to grow into strong adult cats.
However, remember your cat must also eat food herself! Feeding her kittens is essential, but she must look after number one. If your cat walks away and returns a few minutes later, she probably went to have a bite to eat. After all, she needs all the strength and energy she can get to produce enough milk to feed her growing litter.
3. Using the Litter Box
Your cat’s need to use the litter box also doesn’t disappear now she’s had a litter of kittens. She’ll still need to poop and pee regularly, just as before. When first born, your kittens aren’t litter trained and will urinate and defecate in the nesting box. However, the mom will do no such thing!
Unlike the unbeknown kittens, your cat knows that poop and pee are unhygienic. In fact, mother cats actually clean up after their kittens and eat their waste to keep the nesting box as clean as possible. If your cat walks away from her kittens and returns a few minutes later, she’s probably just gone to do her business in privacy.
4. Moving the Nesting Location
It is instinctive for your cat to keep her litter of kittens safe. When kittens are newborns, they cannot move and stay within their nesting area. If the mother doesn’t view the nesting area as a safe space, she might decide to move her kittens to a new location.
Next time your cat walks away from her kittens, count how many are left in the nesting box. She might be moving her babies one by one into a new place! This generally happens if she doesn’t feel like she’s getting any privacy, so ensure you’re not hovering too much over the litter. Cold drafts or other pets and children accessing the kittens can also be deemed a threat and cause this behavior.
Should I Worry That My Cat Walks Away From Her Kittens?
In most cases, you don’t need to worry about your cat walking away from her kittens. Most mother cats that walk away from their litters do so periodically. They are taking a breather and will return within a few minutes to check on her babies. It’s extremely common and just a normal part of parenting. Your cat needs to rest, eat, and use the litter box, so it leaves the nesting area to do so.
As your kittens get older, your cat spends less and less time with them. This is also entirely normal. Newborn kittens cannot do anything without their mom, but kittens develop quickly and soon become more independent and active. The more independent they get, the less time their mom needs to spend with them.
To help you better understand how fast kittens grow up, here is a timeline for their developmental stages in the first few months of life:
- 0 to 2 weeks: Kittens depend highly on the mother and near to learn how to navigate the world. They slowly learn to orient toward sounds, and their eyes gradually open by the end of the neonatal period.
- 2 to 4 weeks: Kittens’ senses continue to develop within the next two weeks. Their eyes open fully, their hearing develops, and their sense of smell starts to mature. Their teeth also start breaking through, so you may want to get some kitten chew toys. They also begin interacting with other littermates, and litter training can commence.
- 4 to 6 weeks: You can start to wean kittens from their mother by 4 weeks of age, so their mom spends more time away from her litter. Your kittens also start self-grooming and begin running, jumping, and pouncing. They’re pretty independent by now!
- 6 to 8 weeks: Most kittens are fully weaned from their mother by 6 to 8 weeks. Kittens need wet food initially, and you can gradually transition to kibble once they’re used to eating. With no need to nurse, your cat spends even longer away from the nest.
- 8 to 10 weeks: This is your kittens’ most social and active period. By now, they can navigate the world alone and eat solid foods. They aren’t reliant on their mom for much at all! Kittens this age are usually fully litter trained as well and eager to play and explore.
- 10 to 12 weeks: Kittens leave their mom around 12 weeks, so this final period is more time for socializing and improving physical coordination. Your kittens might still beg their mom for milk, but they’re ready to leave the nest and go to their new home as independent kitties.
Is My Cat Rejecting Her Kittens?
You might be worried that your cat is rejecting her kittens. This is unlikely, and most cats will return to nurse the kittens after having a short break. Your cat will also start to refuse to feed kittens from the age of 4 weeks onwards as they transition to solid foods, but this is normal behavior.
With that said, mother cats occasionally reject their kittens. When this happens, it is typically one kitten from the litter that is rejected. This is usually the runt of the litter – the mother feels this smaller kitten is weak and sleepy and won’t survive. She turns all her attention to looking after the other kittens that she thinks will grow and thrive.
This generally happens more with larger litters of six or more kittens. Your cat might not be able to nurse all six at once, so she prioritizes feeding those she thinks are more likely to survive. On the other hand, mother cats rarely reject kittens when the litter is small. If she can successfully look after and raise all of her kittens, she will!
Therefore, rejection is unlikely if your cat walks away from her entire litter. You’re more likely to see her neglecting one kitten and refusing to feed it. She may even physically remove the kitten from the nesting area, a clear sign of neglect. You will now need to raise this kitten on your own.
However, mother cats can abandon the whole litter if she cannot care for them successfully. This usually happens if the mother is ill or malnourished; she’s not strong enough to raise her young.
Below are some signs of rejection from the mother you should be aware of:
- Your cat is not licking the kittens and keeping them clean
- The mother cat licking its fur off or other signs of stress and irritation
- You notice signs of cat depression after a new kitten
- Your cat is not snuggling her newborns to keep them warm
- The kittens are often crying out for attention from the mother
- You hear the mother cat hissing at new kittens
What To Do If Your Cat Rejects Her Kittens
You will need to step in if your cat is rejecting her kittens. Your first step is to call the veterinarian. Mother cats generally only walk away from all kittens and abandon the entire litter if she’s experiencing health problems. This could be a problem with mastitis, dehydration, or malnourishment.
Your vet will offer advice on how you can help. They may recommend switching foods that provide the proper nutrients for the nursing mother. It needs to be nutrient-dense to support the mother and the kittens. Your vet might also recommend changes to your nesting area. The mother and kittens must have a private, warm, quiet place for the first four weeks of life.
Nevertheless, most mothers that have rejected their litter won’t change their minds. Unfortunately, it is too late! This is why it’s crucial to have the correct setup for your kittens and check on your cat’s health throughout the pregnancy. You now need to hand-rear the kittens yourself.
Raising kittens is a non-stop job. They must be fed every few hours during their first few weeks. You must also provide other aspects of motherly care. This includes keeping the kittens warm and clean and helping them urinate and defecate.
Below is an overview of the critical tasks involved with hand-rearing kittens and some must-know tips:
- Bottle-Feeding: You’ll need to feed your kittens specially formulated kitten milk from a bottle. Never feed the kittens any other types of milk as this can be difficult for them to digest. You must feed the kittens slowly and carefully every few hours during their first few weeks.
- Toileting: Newborn kittens cannot go to the bathroom by themselves. The mother cat stimulates urination and defecation by licking the anogenital area. You need to mimic this by wiping this area with damp cotton wool before and after every feeding session.
- Cleanliness: Young kittens are highly vulnerable and prone to infection. Handle the kittens as little as possible and only when feeding and toileting. Always ensure you have clean hands and sterilized utensils to reduce the risk.
- Temperature: Newborn kittens cannot regulate their body temperature and must be kept warm. Without the mom there to snuggle, you need to provide an alternative heat source. A water bottle or heat pad wrapped in blankets works well.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
When my cat keeps walking away from her kittens, I never panic. As long as she returns to nurse and your kittens seem healthy and thriving, there is nothing to worry about. Your cat is getting a well-deserved break and regaining her strength.
However, mother cats can reject kittens or entire litters. There is usually a health issue if your cat abandons the whole litter, so take your cat to the vet. You’ll now need to hand-rear the kittens on your own. However, there’s no reason your kittens cannot grow into thriving, happy, healthy adult cats as long as you put in the time and care.