In animal life, all around the world, mothers love their babies unconditionally and are extra protective about them. They can move mountains if they ever spot their little ones in danger.
But oftentimes, we have also witnessed incidents where the mother had left the children for some time or have abandoned them altogether. Consider cats for example. When do mother cats leave their kittens?
A mother cat may decide to leave her little bunch now and then. She may do it because she has to set out in search of food, or for better shelter for her little kitties, or maybe she just wants to take a break. She will come back after some time, say after 30 minutes or 1 hour, or a while longer.
If she does not come back, however, it might only mean that she may have lost her way, or been harmed in some way, or maybe because her children have grown up enough to fend for themselves.
Whatever the reason is, keep reading to find out how mother cats take care of their babies, and when are the times they take a break or leave their kids forever for good.
How mother cats take care of their kittens
Expecting cats, referred to as Queens affectionately, seek out dark and cozy places to make the delivery of their babies. You can make a nice delivery theater for the Queen by placing a piece of cotton cloth on the ground, in a dark spot, and line the place with a soft towel from all sides.
If she prefers that place, she will go there when she desires, and make the delivery. She might be all panic-stricken at first, running around here and there, calling for attention. If she does that, and if you have the time, you can sit with her for a few minutes until she calms down.
After the delivery is complete, she will lick the babies to remove the amniotic fluids of the bodies of the newborns. The mother may also eat away the placentas, and it is absolutely fine if they do that—this action causes no harm to the mother.
During the first few weeks of birth, you will find the mother cat licking the babies quite frequently—especially on the abdomen and anal regions. This action stimulates the babies to release their body wastes. You might not need to be bothered about cleaning the soiling, because the mother usually ingests al fecal matters and other wastes.
The newborns start suckling on their mother within the first couple of hours—if you are raising the newborn without their mother, then it is crucial that you ensure that the newborns drink some milk within the first 24 hours.
Newborns cannot see anything when they are born, and for a long time after that, because they are born with their eye-lids attached, that bloom later on. But they can smell, the reason why they face no problem locating the mammary glands and start suckling on their mother.
After the first few weeks, when the kittens have started moving around independently, they would not need excessive licking and would be able to urinate and defecate on their own.
After about 3 weeks, the kittens start moving about, leaving their nest. The mother cat would grab them by their neck and pull them back to their house oftentimes during this chaotic development process, and you would witness this for the first 12 weeks.
The mother would start weaning her babies starting at the 4th week, and this will go on up to the 12th week. Weaning starting and ending times are crucial, regulated by the mother, because lack of it would leave the babies to suckle on blankets, shoes, or other inanimate objects, thus exposing them to higher risks of poisoning themselves.
Between the 4th and the 6th weeks, humans can start touching and fondling the babies, the mother will not mind or shoo the humans off. During this time, you and your family can take over and caress the little furballs to your heart’s content.
It is usually after the 12th week that the mother cat starts giving herself a break from the back-breaking hours of motherhood. She may leave the house altogether, and come back hours later.
When Do Mother Cats Leave Their Kittens?
Mother cats may abandon their kittens for countless reasons. She might be shifting, and she may lose one because that one kitten crawled off astray, far away from the bunch, so far in fact that the mother cat could not locate it.
In the entire animal kingdom, mothers, intentionally, never leave their young ones unprotected or abandon them for their own selfish motives. If they have gone away and have never come back to their offsprings, then there must be a sincere reason behind it. Let’s take a quick look at some of these reasons and try to rationalize:
Have lost her way back or died:
Lucky are those mother cats that could give birth in the safety of a warm 4-walled space, be it inside a cozy human shelter or a garage, or even inside a throw-away television box.
Think about those mother cats that give birth to their children in a forest, or beside the road, on open grassland, inside a tunnel, or in a public place where people walk about all the time, only because she could not find a safer and cozier place to deliver her babies in and time was running out.
Say, she has safely managed to give birth to 4 or 5 kittens– now think about all the natural and man-made threats her children are exposed to 24/7. It would be a matter of great luck if all her kittens manage to survive at the end of any given day.
On top of that, the mother cat has to occasionally leave in search of food or a newer, safer shelter. What if she encounters an accident on her way back?
Mother cats, and all cats in general, are quite active at night. Let’s not forget, cats encountering and dying in road accidents are also quite high during night time. The mother cat may have been hit by a car or a bus, and left her kitties forever to face the adversities on their own and survive somehow.
Alternatively, the mother cat may have been pursued or attacked by humans or dogs, and instead of taking the right turn to her kids, she ran away to another spot out of her radar and lost her way back. Tragic as these probabilities may sound, but they may happen to any mother cat anytime.
Mother has gone afar:
While rescuing little newborn kitties off the streets, you will be recommended to wait for the mother cat to come back, before relocating the kitties to a safer spot. She may be back within 1-2 hours.
If she comes back, and if the little ones are only 2-3 weeks old, just let the family be on their own. But if you see the cat-family is under several life-threatening situations, say a busy road or a lot of dogs nearby, then trapping the mother cat along with her kittens and relocating them, would be a wiser option, if at all possible.
Usually, if the mother cat is safe, and is out looking for food, then she will be back within a couple of hours.
The kittens born are dead or sickly:
Cats usually give birth to more than two kitties at a time, sometimes as many as 4 or 5. A few of them might be a result of still-birth or born to be quite weak and sickly. The mother cat can sense that a few kitties are too sickly to survive, and may decide not to take responsibility for them.
If the sickly kitties are born in your home, you can definitely intervene, take the baby to the vet, follow all steps necessary to retain the life of the newborn, but if not, then the mother cat cannot do much to revive the sick kitty’s life.
Additionally, it is an extra hassle to carry them around from one place to another, and they can never fend for themselves if their health condition does not improvise.
Cats also avoid other sick cats or newborns instinctively. It may appear as if the mother cat is selfish or indifferent, but it is tough to understand the language they like to speak in. The mother cat might be crying from inside, and her heart completely broken, but we will never get to know.
Do not interfere into kitty–life:
Some mother cats do not like to, at the least bit when humans intervene in their private affairs. When humans stroke her children or try to take away her children from her, for her own good, the mother may get so upset that she might decide to stop nursing the babies altogether.
Therefore, especially during the first 5-6 weeks, stay away from the mother cat and her babies, and this applies specifically if the cat family is rescued or feral.
Mother cats who have been brought up by you may not mind if you go near her kitties because she trusts you, but it is still a better idea if you just let them be on their own for a while.
Mother cats do not abandon their kitties for no reason. If you are experienced with cats you would know that there is always a good reason why a mother has, intentionally or unintentionally, left her babies to fend for themselves.
If you want to know when do mother cats leave their kittens, you would need to observe cat behavior carefully, bring them up, and spend a lot of time with them.
Mother cats leave their children from time to time to search for food, or to look for a newer shelter. On her way back, she may be chased off by humans or dogs and may lose her way. She may also get struck by a car or face some other kind of life-threatening situation.
In certain cases, mother cats are also known to leave their kids when the kittens are born dead or sickly, or if humans interfere too much in the nursing process.
If none of these situations apply, then do not worry, the mother kitty may be chilling out somewhere and will be back to her little bunch in no time!