How Do Mother Cats React to Kittens Leaving?

Kittens aren't fully weaned until 10 to 12 weeks old.
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Your furry friend had a litter of kittens and now those cuties are ready to find forever homes of their own. You might worry how Mom will handle losing her kittens after all the time they've spent together. No need to fear; it's natural for kittens to leave the nest.

Weaning Kittens

When they're around 4 weeks old, Mom will begin to wean her kittens. She'll begin teaching them how to hunt and will expect them to start eating solid food instead of suckling. She may growl at them when they try and nurse to encourage them to look elsewhere for food. She may move her kittens to an area near her favorite hunting grounds, or the food dish, to make it easier for her little fur babies to have access to solid food. Once the kittens are fully weaned, around 10 to 12 weeks old, they are old enough to move away from their mama.

Empty Nest

When her kittens first leave, your cat may be a little upset. She might search the house looking for them or meow expecting a response. Normally, this only happens for a couple of days and then Mom will go back to her normal routine. While it may seem cold that she lets go so easily, it's natural. The kittens will leave to have their own lives, eventually having kittens of their own. A male will leave to claim his own territory and sow his seed. The kittens, however, may have a little more trouble with the process. Sometimes a kitten may refuse to eat or seem depressed for several days after leaving his mom.

Sticking Around

If allowed, the mom and her kittens will stay together. As their time together increases, the bond grows stronger. Well into adulthood, Mom may bring her kittens choice scraps of food and groom them. Feral cats will often form large social groups, usually consisting of Mom and her numerous kittens, as well as any offspring they may have had. These large social groups work together to raise any new litters of kittens. These usually only include female cats, since the males will leave the nest and form large territories of their own.

Stranger to Mom

No matter how long it's been since a woman has seen her child, she would easily recognize him. This isn't the same for Kitty. A mom and her kittens nesting together have a unique smell that all of them recognize. Once her kittens are separated from her, that nest smell is quickly lost. Her baby will have a whole new slew of scents on him from his new home. You'd think that she'd recognize her son's homecoming, but she'll treat him just like any other strange cat. Since he no longer smells of the nest, she won't recognize him at all. The same thing goes for siblings. While they'll cuddle and sleep together as long as they're kept together, once separated the familiarity is quickly lost. So for Kitty, a long-awaited reunion with family will likely include a lot of hissing and stress. To her, you'll have just brought a stranger home.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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