Just like all new moms, your mommy cat must have a little "me time" too. She will leave her kittens for a few minutes at a time for a visit to the litter box or to eat and drink. The older her kittens, the more time she will spend away.
During the first week of life, mommy cat will leave her babies for only a few brief times each day. During their first few days of life, not only are the kittens both blind and deaf, but they are dependent on their mom to regulate their body temperatures, for food, and even for stimulation to be able to potty. It is best if you keep her litter box, food and water near her babies. She doesn't want to go far during these critical early days.
By the time the kittens are 3 weeks old, they are not quite as dependent on mom. Mommy cat may spend a little longer away from the kittens, exploring a bit or finding you for a bit of cuddling before returning to her maternal responsibilities. At this point she is nursing the kittens for shorter lengths of time. Their eyes and ears have opened, and they are starting to walk. They may even begin exploring a bit away from their nesting box, though mommy cat is likely to call them back if they stray too far.
When her babies are 6 to 8 weeks old, mommy cat will start to wean them. At this point she will begin to spend longer amounts of time away from her babies. She may even find a sunny windowsill and nap for a couple hours while her babies play or snooze in their own area. During this time she will also begin teaching her babies to hunt, to use the litter box, and other skills that will help them to be successful adults.
Although they are no longer as dependent on her and she will spend longer amounts of time away from them, mommy cat is still teaching her babies important skills and socialization until they are 10 to 12 weeks old. Although kittens are often put up for adoption when they are as young as 6 weeks old, it's best if the kittens stay with mom until they are at least 10 weeks. This will ensure that mommy cat has a chance to teach them and it will help them to be more stable adult cats.
Bethney Foster is social justice coordinator for Mercy Junction ministry, where she edits the monthly publication "Holy Heretic." She is also an adoption coordinator with a pet rescue agency. Foster spent nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter/editor. She graduated from Campbellsville University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English, journalism and political science.