How Long Can A Mother Cat Be Away From Her Kittens?

A kitten depends entirely upon the nutrients from its mother’s milk for the first three weeks of its life and typically would not survive more than twelve hours.

Kittens also need their mother close by for warmth, as they cannot regulate their body heat.

In the first three weeks of life, a kitten cannot eliminate on its own and must rely on its mom for stimulation through licking in order to do so.

The mother cat will usually only leave for a short time during this period to eat and use the litter box or relieve herself outside. After three weeks, the mother may leave for longer periods of time. 

The Domestic Cat: The Biology of its Behaviour – Google Books

Benefits Of Staying With Mom

A kitten should stay with its mother for at least six to eight weeks.

However, if it is absolutely necessary for the mother and kitten to be separated, it is crucial that the kittens not be rehomed until after the kitten has been weaned.

The weaning process usually begins at four weeks of age and can last for an additional two to six weeks thereafter, or sooner if the mother decides that she no longer wants to nurse.

The nourishment provided to a kitten from its mother’s milk is the most important benefit of staying with its mother for longer periods, but there are many other beneficial reasons as well. 

Social skills

Kittens learn social skills from their mother and littermates. A kitten becomes aware of its surroundings around the age of three weeks. At this age, they become interested in playing with their littermates.

The mother will show her young the correct way of using their claws to differentiate between play and as a defense mechanism. As they get older, their social skills mature through play.

Mama cat teaches kittens to play! – Bing video

Manners

 The mother cat will teach her kittens manners through the use of socialization.

If the kittens play too rough, the mother will correct the behaviour through hissing, tapping with her paw or gently biting them to show that their behaviour is unacceptable.

Sometimes the mother will pick her young up by the scruff of the neck and move them to another area, much like humans would do for their children as a timeout.

Mother Cat teaching Manners To her Kittens || Mother Is With Her Kittens Like A Shadow – YouTube

Grooming

 Kittens learn how to care for themselves by watching their mother. For grooming habits, they will mimic the habits displayed and copy them into their daily routine.

Once they become experienced self-groomers, they will help to groom their littermates. This usually happens between six and seven weeks of age.

Hunting for prey

 Feral cats and even domesticated outside cats will teach their young how to hunt for food. They will bring the food to their babies while they are young, but as they mature, the mother will teach them appropriate prey and the correct stalking methods.

Indoor cats may not have this teaching advantage, but will still display the hunting method through play.

Health Conditions Of A Mother Cat If Separated Too Early From Her Kittens

Depression

Some mother cats will experience a grieving process when their babies leave. The mother will usually be back to herself within one to three days of her baby’s absence.

Typically, they know that this day will come, but for some it is a difficult process.

It is best if the kittens can stay with their mother for at least eight weeks, but both the mother and kittens will benefit if that time is extended to ten to twelve weeks. This time allows the mother to teach her babies everything they will need to continue developing without her.

If your cat is displaying abnormal behaviour after three days, it is recommended to consult with your veterinarian. 

 Some symptoms your cat may experience because of depression are:

  • Howling
  • Hiding
  • Not eating
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • No energy
  • Being clingy

Mastitis

Mastitis is an infection in the breast tissue, common in cats whose babies have left the nest early.

Mastitis occurs when the milk accumulates in the breast and cannot be expelled as it normally would be through a kitten’s suckling.

It’s important for the mother to nurse her babies, and wean them naturally to prevent this from happening.

Antibiotics will most likely be needed, so consult your veterinarian if your cat is displaying any of these symptoms:

  • Swollen nipples
  • Discharge
  • Open sores around the breasts
  • Cat is reacting differently when touched

Kitten Growth

Week 1

Kitten’s eyes are closed, and they cannot regulate body temperatures, so mom needs to stay close.

Week 2

Kitten’s eyes will open, and they will notice noise and smells. They should double in weight at this stage.

Week 3

Their teeth will appear in week three, and their ears will unfold. This is when they become active and move around within their surroundings. 

Week 4

The mother will leave her kittens for longer periods of time, and this is usually when the weaning process starts. Their eyesight and hearing is much stronger in week four.

Week 5-6

The kittens will become more dependent and will eat solid food. Play is becoming a daily ritual. They should have learned to use the litter box in these weeks.

Week 6-8

The kittens will become more playful and full of energy. They should have no problems eating solids. 

Weeks 8-12

The kittens are ready for their new homes between eight and twelve weeks. They have become more confident and playful. By eight weeks they will have all of their baby teeth. 

Final Thought

In general, the longer a mother cat can stay with her kittens, the more beneficial it will be for both. She will rely on all the time she can spend with her babies for nursing, bonding, and teaching.

It is best if the kittens can stay with their mother for at least eight weeks.

As if they are taken away too early, the mother may experience adverse reactions, whereas the kittens may not learn proper socialization skills and manners. This may lead to behavioral problems, which can sometimes be hard to correct.

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