If you have bred your cat or it is unexpectedly having kittens, it is vital that you know everything you can about caring for both the kittens and the mother cat before the kittens are born. It would be best if you armed yourself with information so that you are prepared for every situation. Doing so will help you to make sure that your cat and her kittens are safe and well. You may have asked yourself, how long can a mother cat be away from her kittens? Here is the answer to that question and some additional information about separating a cat from its kittens.
How Long Can a Cat be Away from Her Kittens?
According to The Spruce Pets, the first two to three weeks are the most important for a mother cat and her newborn kittens. At this stage, the kittens need their mother constantly, and it is during this time that the mother will bond with her litter. During the first few weeks, a mother cat will spend all her time with her kittens. They need feeding regularly, and this will come first in the form of colostrum and then in the form of milk. The mother will also spend a lot of her time licking her kittens to clean them and as part of the bonding process. Another reason why a cat stays close to their kittens so much while they are young is to keep them warm. Kittens cannot regulate their body temperature well, so the mother will make sure they are warm by curling up with them against her belly.
While her kittens are still young, the mother will usually only leave them to feed herself and to go to the toilet, either in the litter tray or on a brief spell outdoors. Whenever possible, she will try to keep the kittens in sight. As soon as she has done what she needs to do, a cat will return to her newborn kittens to feed them, bond with them, and keep them warm. As the kittens grow, the mother will gradually increase the time they spend away from their litter, says Pool House Vets. The kittens’ feeds will become further apart, and then they will begin to eat solid food. They will also become more dependent as they develop the skills needed to care for themselves. However, until the kittens become fully independent, the mother cat will continue to stay close to them to make sure they are alright. You should not separate kittens from their mother until they at least 12 weeks old so they can learn how to behave like a cat and take care of themselves. If you need to separate the kittens from their mother for any reason, such as taking the mother to the vet, make sure you keep the separation to a minimum and reunite them as soon as possible.
What if a Cat Abandons Their Kittens?
It is unusual for cats to abandon their litter, as all mammals have the instinct to care for their young. However, there are some occasions when a cat may abandon its litter, says Cat Time. When people find a litter they think has been abandoned, it is usually the case that the mother has simply left the kittens briefly to hunt. Therefore, you should not remove the kittens straight away. Instead, give the mother cat the chance to return. There are some situations where a mother cat will abandon their kittens. For example, if the mother cat is suffering from mastitis, she may shun the kittens as it is painful for her if they attempt to feed. Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands, says VCA Hospitals.
Illness or defects in the kittens can also lead to rejection from the mother. If a kitten has an infection, then the mother may shun it to prevent it from spreading the infection to the other cats. Likewise, a mother cat may decide to abandon a cat with deformities to focus on the other kittens. Two further reasons for abandonment are large litters and young mothers. When a litter is large, a mother may struggle to provide enough milk for all her kittens. Therefore, she may shun some of the kittens to focus on feeding the rest. A cat who is having her first litter when she is not fully mature may encounter a similar problem. She may either find it difficult to produce milk, or not have developed the skills for motherhood.
What to Do if a Litter is Abandoned?
Unfortunately, there are some situations where a litter does not have a mother, either through abandonment or the mother’s death. If the litter is very young, under two weeks old, then it is unlikely they will survive. However, specialist care from a veterinarian or animal workers at a shelter may pull them through. In the case of kittens that are four weeks or older who have started to wean onto some solid food, it is possible that you could care for them yourself. However, you will need to bottle feed them and feed them a diet specifically for weaning kittens. Therefore, you should seek the advice of a veterinarian before you commit to caring for a litter of abandoned kittens.
The Final Verdict – How Long Can a Cat Leave Her Kittens?
A cat will instinctively want to spend time with her kittens, so it is unusual for a cat to abandon a litter. However, as the kittens grow, start eating solid food, and become less dependent on her, she will begin to spend longer periods away from them. You should not separate a cat from her kittens until they are at least 12 weeks old, even if they are eating solid food. Doing so will inhibit the self-care skills they will learn from their mother.