A mother cat knows instinctively when it is time to let her kittens venture off on their own into the big, bad world. But she can still experience a sense of loss at their separation, especially if her babies are taken away prematurely.
The Mother-Kitten Relationship
Newborn kittens require constant love and attention from their mothers. The mother cat, also known as a queen, grooms, feeds and toilet trains her kittens. She takes care of every aspect of their lives, and continues to train them in socialization, hunting skills and more once they become mobile. Around 6 weeks, Mama Cat begins the weaning process. It is not a good idea to separate kittens from their mother until they have been completely weaned, but even then, their removal can be stressful for both Mama Cat and her offspring.
Separating Mother and Kittens
Once the kittens have been weaned, usually around 10 to 12 weeks, it is fine to remove the kittens from the household. Normally, Mama Cat is not upset by this, and she will act normal after a day or two apart from her kittens. While there has not been extensive research into mother felines grieving for their young, you should keep an eye on Mama Cat if she continues to act strangely after the kittens have been taken away.
Signs of Grief
Behavioral changes are the most obvious sign of grief. Searching around the house, yowling, or changing eating or sleeping patterns are common signs of a cat in mourning. Some cats experience personality or behavioral changes as well. For example, a formerly aloof cat may become clingy and need attention, while a cat who used to bask in human attention may hide and ignore your presence now.
How to Help
If you notice any of these signs, you'll probably want to help your cat immediately. But just as with humans, the mourning process takes time. You should not force attention on your cat if she doesn't seem to want it, but you can try playing with new toys, offering her catnip, or making sure to pet and cuddle her whenever she expresses the desire for companionship. If your cat is not eating properly, try sitting with her at mealtimes to provide encouragement or warming up the food slightly to make it more appealing. Do not try to change the cat's diet, since this can cause her more stress. Maintain your cat's normal routine as much as possible.
Seeking Veterinary Assistance
If you think your cat's symptoms are severe enough to harm her, especially if she refuses to eat, a vet may be able to prescribe medicine for her anxiety or examine her for any underlying medical problems.
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.
Ellen Goodlett has been a writer since 1999. Her work has been published in the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" and "Nimbus" magazine. Goodlett holds a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and languages from Bryn Mawr College.