One of the most heartwarming things to see is a mother cat caressing and feeding her little ones. Even in shelters, abandoned kittens are sometimes put with a nursing mom who will accept and nurture the motherless babies as her own. So what would make a mother cat reject or abandon her kittens? The reasons are many, and it’s helpful to understand them. Here’s what you should know.
1. Leaving The Nest
First of all, many people come upon litters of kittens outdoors and assume they have been abandoned when, in fact, mom is nearby, probably hunting. Outdoor or stray moms sometimes scatter their kittens to avoid predation. If the kittens seem well fed, are in a safe place, and fall asleep after crying for a short while, mom is probably around. It’s best to monitor a nest for a couple of hours to see if she comes back.
If she doesn’t, she may be ill and unable to come back, or she may have been killed. Kittens can also wander away and get lost or stuck in places where mom can’t get to them. This can happen indoors or outdoors. So if you see a mom prowling around nervously, or find a kitten crying somewhere, they may be trying to find one another.
2. Illness Or Deformity
Sometimes a mom will reject a sick kitten to avoid spreading the illness to the others. It’s not always the “runt” who is ill. A mother cat may also reject a physically deformed kitten, such as a “Janus” cat, even though the kitten is perfectly healthy, despite some physical difference. Experts recommend removing any completely rejected kittens so mom doesn’t reject others in the litter.
Some nursing moms develop mastitis, an infection of the mammary gland. This can happen spontaneously or from kittens scratching the tissue during nursing. The nipple becomes swollen, hard, and hot to the touch. So it may look like mom is rejecting her babies, when it’s actually just too painful to let them suckle.
4. Litter Size
Too large a litter can also lead to rejection. If there is not enough milk for all her kittens, mom may reject a few to save milk for the others. A careful observer will probably notice this behavior within the first 24 hours of birth.
5. Premature Mom
A very young mom who hasn’t developed maternal skills may act confused or disinterested. Some moms start out this way and then figure it out. Some don’t. A disinterested mom may also have been traumatized during the birth if she was, for example, not in a safe place or had physical difficulty in labor. Her hyper-vigilance and nervousness might make it difficult for her to relax and lie down so the kittens can suckle.
Motherhood can be a challenge for any species. Give these cat moms compassion, consideration, and help if they need it, just as you would for any struggling mother. Call your local shelter, rescue group, or veterinarian for help if you need it, and remember; even though kittens are adorable, over 4 million animals are euthanized annually in the U.S. due to overpopulation. Please spay or neuter your pets.
Have you ever seen a mama cat reject her young? What did you do to help? Let us know in the comments below.