Are you worried that your mother cat is rejecting her kittens or that the mother is spending too much time away from her little ones?
Usually, cats are excellent mothers and will even raise kittens that aren’t theirs.
However, some first-time mothers have a rough time.
So, today we’re going to talk about 7 common reasons why a mother cat rejects her kittens.
7 Reasons Why a Mother Cat Ignores Her Kittens
When people find a litter of kittens outside, they immediately think that the mother has abandoned them. But it’s normal for the mother cat to leave her kittens from time to time.
How long a mother cat can be away from her kittens depends on their age. Newborn kittens need their mother full-time because they’re born deaf, blind, and unable to move.
Most mothers don’t leave the nest for the first few days unless they have to feed or go to the bathroom.
However, once the kittens are older, the mother will be away for a couple of hours, looking for food and having some me-time to rest between feedings.
They’re not abandoning their kittens.
Unfortunately, some cats do reject their newborns and refuse to feed and care for them. Usually, there’s a very good reason why.
#1 The Mother Lacks Experience
Cats can come in heat when they’re as young as four months and might give birth when they’re around 6-7 months. These cats are too young to be mothers.
Any first-time mother can be overwhelmed by their meowling kittens or stressed by the birth and reject her offsprings. Even older cats can freak out when they become mothers for the first time.
If a cat doesn’t know what to do with the kittens, they might bright the kittens to you, looking for help.
Others might hiss at their little ones or run away from the nest shortly after the birth.
Unfortunately, mother cats suffocating their kittens due to lack of experience is also possible.
Some cats sit on their kittens to hide them whenever they’re feeling anxious and stressed and might smother them by accident.
However, it’s normal for a mother cat to ignore her kittens while still in labor. She should start taking care of them when the last one is born.
#2 Mother Is Gravely Ill
Cats rarely have problems giving birth, but it happens. Sometimes, the cat might not be able to deliver all the babies, or part of the placenta might remain inside.
In such cases, the mother will become progressively lethargic and weak.
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She won’t have the strength to care for her newborns and will neglect them.
You have to watch the mother cat for excessive bleeding and smelly discharge, which point to an infection.
Other signs of illness include fever, depression, lack of appetite, and drastic changes in behavior.
Some cats also develop milk fever a few weeks after the kittens are born.
It’s the result of dangerously low levels of calcium (lost through the milk) in the blood. It’s a life-threatening condition that requires urgent medical care.
Usual symptoms of milk fever are uncoordinated movements, panting, muscle spasm, and an increased heart rate.
But one of the first things you’ll notice is that the mother is ignoring her kittens because she’s not feeling well.
Milk fever is more common in large litters, first-time mothers, and malnourished felines.
One of my foster cats had it a couple of days with a litter of five kittens, and it was a scary experience. Don’t take it lightly.
#3 The Mother Has Mastitis
A cat might stop feeding her kittens if she has mastitis. It’s a breast inflammation that causes swelling and pain and makes nursing too painful for the cat.
The usual signs of mastitis are fever, lack of appetite, and thick, yellow milk. The affected breast area will be warmer to the touch and redder than the rest of the nipples. The cat might meow or hiss while the kittens are nursing.
Usually, mastitis is the result of a bacterial infection.
Kittens might scratch their mother while they’re fighting for the nipple, and bacteria might enter the body. That’s why you should keep the nest spotless.
Mastitis is also likely if you notice that your kittens aren’t gaining weight as they should.
The milk can’t pass well through the blocked nipples, and the little ones remain hungry.
You should take your cat to the vet if you suspect mastitis. She will need antibiotics to treat the infection.
Moreover, the kittens shouldn’t nurse because the milk is contaminated with bacteria.
#4 The Mother Doesn’t Have Milk
Rarely, a mother cat might not have milk to feed her kittens. It might be a genetic condition that prevents her from lactating, physical defects, or malnutrition.
Extreme stress might also prevent lactating because the oxytocin (the happiness hormone) is missing.
So, how to tell if a mother cat is feeding her kittens?
If the kittens are restless, meowing, and constantly looking for a nipple to sick on, the mother might not have milk. Moreover, you’ll soon notice that they’re failing to gain weight.
In large litters, the mother also might stop feeding some of the kittens because she doesn’t have enough milk for everyone.
You’ll have to step in, and bottle feed them to help them survive.
#5 Lack of Maternal Instinct
As a child, I had one cat that failed to raise kittens several years in a row. She would forget about them, leave them alone for hours, or kill/eat them.
If spaying/neutering were a such a commonplace thing back then, we would probably have fixed her.
This experience taught me that not all cats develop a maternal instinct after the kittens are born.
As it turns out, hormones play a role in activating this instinct, so some cats with hormonal disease/imbalance never make good mothers.
Such cats might suffocate their offspring, attack them after birth, or hiss at them as if they’re unfamiliar cats.
You might have to separate the two if you want to same the little ones.
#6 The Kittens Are Ill
Another reason why cats reject a kitten is an illness.
While the little one might seem healthy to you, the mother can smell that something is wrong. The kitten might be born with a birth defect, might be the runt, or too weak to nurse.
Birth and nursing put a lot of strain on a cat’s body, and it will take months for your cat to recover.
From your cat’s perspective, there’s no point in wasting efforts in nursing sick kittens.
So, the mother might stop caring for the weak kittens or the whole litter if she doesn’t think that the kittens will survive.
#7 The Kittens Are Ready to be Independent
All cats start to ignore their older kittens sooner or later. So, it’s normal that a cat will reject her kittens when they’re about 3-4 months.
Most specialists recommend that kittens remain with their mothers until they’re 12 weeks old.
By that time, some cats might start growling at their older kittens or “beat” them when they attempted to nurse.
Even if the kittens remain with their mother, she will chase them away until they stop seeking her to feed.
While heartbreaking, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. It’s part of the growing up process.
Will a Mother Cat Abandon her Kittens if Touched by Humans?
One of the most widely spread misconceptions I’ve encountered is that a cat will abandon her kittens if you touch them.
That’s not why cats reject their offspring.
What some mother cats do when you touch her kittens is move them somewhere away from you. In the process, mama might forget one of the kittens or return for it much later.
To you, it might look like the mother has rejected her young.
I’ve raised several litters of kittens, and I’ve touched them from the very first moment without any issues.
As long as the mother doesn’t growl at you, there shouldn’t be a problem to handle the young ones briefly.
Moreover, kittens need socialization. If you don’t handle them when they’re young, kittens will grow up suspicious of humans.
So, they will never turn into lap cats or be comfortable with human presence.
While it’s normal for a mother cat to growl at her older kittens, it’s worrisome if your cat ignores her newborns.
You should take the mama and the kittens to the vet to rule an illness and hand-raise the little ones if the mother doesn’t want them.
What do you think about these 7 reasons why a mother cat rejects her kittens? Has it ever happened to you? Share your experience in the comment section.
I’ve grown up surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, and horses and that has shaped me into what I am today – a crazy cat lady who always has a place for one more cat (or a dog). I’ve got two female cats – Kitty and Roni, and two tomcats – Blacky and Shaggy, but I also feed my neighbors’ cats when they come for a visit. I just can’t say no to them.
I discovered that writing is my vocation early in my school years. Since then I’ve taken part in several literature contests – writing horror and fantasy short stories and novellas.
For the past three years, I’ve been an ELS teacher, pouring my heart into showing children and teenagers how important English is for their future and trying to educate them how to treat their pets with care.