OK for New Cat Mommy to Sort of Ignore Her Kittens?
May 15, 2011 5:11 PM   Subscribe

OK for New Cat Mommy to Sort of Ignore Her Kittens?

My almost 2 year old cat, Kissa, just gave birth last night to 5 kittens.

Everything went smoothly. Today, Kissa has been very active (went outside for a bit, eating a lot, jumping around), and as the day has gone on, she's spending less and less time with the kittens. Right now she's sleeping on top of my other cat...

From what I read on the web, I expected her to spend all her time with the kittens. So, I'm just wondering if her behavior is normal?

(If there's something weird going on--e.g., Kissa not bonding with the kittens for some reason--just want to know what signs to look for and what I might be able to do to nip it in the bud.)

Thanks for any reassuring words, or insights....

posted by Jon44 to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Throughout the animal kingdom, first time mothers are often incompetent. In nature, this means fewer offspring of first-time mothers survive. In your cases, it may mean you need to step in to ensure the kittens are warm and fed.
posted by orthogonality at 5:30 PM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think she should be with them more rather than less.
Try bringing her back a few times and pointing the little kitties out to her, encourage a little grooming and nursing.

They look darling. Good luck!
posted by SLC Mom at 5:38 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I speak as an involuntary foster parent, not as a vet. There are only two things to worry about: if the mother actively threatens/attacks the kittens, which seems to be more of a problem if the birth was medically induced and her hormones have been disrupted, then you will have to remove the kittens and bring them up yourself :). On the other hand, if she's just sick of feeding the damn things, then the kittens will be letting you know of their starvation in no uncertain terms, and you will see them becoming more and more listless. At that stage you will need a vet to help you get them rebooted, because their systems will have begun to shut down. If they're feeding properly, they will play with one another, so don't worry about the bonding. At some time of course mother also provides some social education, so don't adopt them out too early!!
posted by alonsoquijano at 5:59 PM on May 15, 2011

With kittens that young she should be with them most of the time and nursing them extremely frequently. Check in with your vet or local humane society - if you have to supplement with kittens that young it's not likely to go well. Agree with SLC Mom about putting her back in with them - not sure I'd let her out now either.
posted by leslies at 6:27 PM on May 15, 2011

I have had several cats throughout my life, only once have I had a cat who reproduced and did a poor job at doing so, and she acted much as your cat is acting.

I grew up with cats, but I am by no means any expert on cats or cat husbandry. However, of all the cats I ever had, and many of them had kittens (almost all of our cats were females), only one was un-motherly. She gave birth and almost immediately left them behind. She wanted to go outside and interact with our other cat. We tried to get her to groom and nurse, but she was unwilling - she hissed and fought whenever we brought her kittens around.

Of course we brought our vet into the mix, and she even came to our home to consult. She told us as kindly and gently as she could: we could save some of the kittens, but not all of them, because their mother had clearly abandoned them. Evidently, this is not an uncommon occurrence in the feline realm. Maybe it is because the mother is too young, or maybe the cat was never meant to be a mother in the first place (which was our case, this cat was always a little 'different').

Either way, our cat attacked her kittens when forced into contact with them, and we had to remove the kittens from their bed. We fed them as best as we can, and we were only able to save half of them. I am so sorry to be such a downer, but I want to be honest about our experiences.
posted by msali at 6:41 PM on May 15, 2011

First of all, don't be lettin' your Kissa-kitty out unless you want her preggers again. It's not unusual for females to come into heat within days after delivery. Most won't leave their kittens on the first heat, but apparently your Kissa isn't one of them.

Secondly, Kissa needs to be kept close to her kittens to help her to bond. She's a very young mom, and as ortho said, first time moms frequently have trouble bonding. Try shutting her in a room with them and checking all is well frequently. Put food and water in the room with her. If the kits are crying and squirming, she needs to be in the bed nursing them. You might be able to assist her by putting her in the box, sitting with her, and petting her. Hopefully the more she nurses and is around them, the stronger she'll bond. Reassure her that she's a good mom and tell her how pleased you are that she's taking care of her babies. (not that I think cats understand, but your tone of voice may soothe her) Taking turns gently petting the kits and then her might help her get the idea. Try not to pick them up unless you absolutely have to--you want them to smell like her.

If the kittens are continually restless and crying, and she doesn't feed them, you'll have to get formula and a bottle and raise them yourself. Hopefully it won't come to that.

Lastly, I'm assuming you adopted your kitty and she was preggers when you got her. Please, please, spay her ASAP, especially if she's an indoor/outdoor cat, and neuter all the kittens (or make it a condition of adoption that the new owner pick up their adoptee at the vets and pay the bill)

Kissa is beautiful and her kittens are adorable! Good luck.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:53 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for help so far. I did try coaxing Kissa back to the kittens (who looked cold and were all rolled up in a furry ball) and moved her food there. She then settled in to feed them and is now sleeping with them rather than my other cat.

It's always hard not to anthropomorphize, but it really seems like there's conflicting urges in her--she obviously attached to kittens (eagerly grooming them, etc.)--but seems to want to revel in being free of all the excess weight and size (she's very small and kittens seems relatively big). Like she didn't quite know what she was getting herself into. (The tragedy of teen mothers everywhere....)
posted by Jon44 at 6:53 PM on May 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

We had a cat like that. Ex-feral, captured pregnant (neutered now), probably about one and a half years old, probably one previous litter. She never completely abandoned her kittens and all six grew up just fine, but she did spent as much time as possible outside the kitten box. And then up in a high place after they could get out of the box but couldn't really climb. She is kinda "special", though, these days she follows my grandfather around like a dog.

Her mother (finally captured and neutered) was a grade A mother, though, who had raised about a million litters of parking lot kitties, hovering over them, nurturing them, teaching them manners... you would think it'd rub off but I guess not.
posted by anaelith at 7:44 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Growing up, our cat gave birth to her first (and only) litter under the blankets on my parents bed. She was apparently under the impression that her job was done - my mother had to coax her to stay there so the kitten could nurse. My mom spend lots of time petting the cat and giving her a reason to stay put. After a day or two of this, the cat figure it out. Although when I was home sick, she used to bring the kittens upstairs, one at a time, and leave them on my bed - she seemed to be expecting me to babysit them while she took care of her personal business. Only problem was that she seemed to count "1, 2, many" and she knew she had many kittens so she would stop once she had brought up 3 of them, forgetting about the 4th. Similarly if we took 1 kitten off to play with she never minded but if we took 2, then she would come looking to see where they were.
posted by metahawk at 8:41 PM on May 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

We used to foster cats and have had several queens over the years who were pregnant when we received them. The first rule of cat-birth, we've learned, is that Mama will ignore any cushy bed-box you prepare for her blessed event, no matter how private. We had one who gave birth behind the toilet in our bathroom somehow, even though we kept that door closed 90% of the time. The second rule is that mother cats don't spend the majority of their day with their babies. Much like in the wild when folks occasionally find a nest of unattended baby rabbits and think they've been abandoned, Mama cat (even 100% indoor ones) leaves her brood unattended for large chunks of time, especially when their eyes are still closed. The kittens huddle together and keep each other warm. Mama returns periodically to feed and bathe them. For our first litter I kept carrying the wandering mother back to her babies but when I finally frantically consulted the vet he said "Leave her alone, she knows what she's doing." We've never had a queen who spent most of her day nestling with her babies, but they've all managed to keep tabs on and raise their litters just fine. When I discovered the behind-the-toilet gang on the cold tile floor, I gently lifted them, placed an old beach towel on the floor for cushion/warmth, and replaced them. I didn't see her move them, but when I used the bathroom later that day the kittens were gone. I followed Mama later when I saw her dart into the spare bedroom; she'd relocated her family to a pair of Mr. Adams' sweatpants under the bed.

It seemed that the Mama cats always got much more actively involved in parenting once the kittens' eyes open and they became mobile. Suddenly she spent most of her day trying to corral her wandering youngsters and carry them back to the "nest." Like most errant children, as soon as a kitten was reluctantly carried back to the nest (I know I'm anthropomorphising, but so often the squirming kitten in her mouth looked like he was thinking "Aww, gee, mom, I wanna play...") he'd tear off in search of adventure, while Mama was trying to retrieve another baby from his quest for exploration. At that stage the babies didn't all nurse at once like they did when they were helpless; many times we witnessed Mama restlessly sitting upright in the living room while two kittens nursed so that she could keep an eye on the other two who were chasing each other around the legs of the coffee table.

To summarize a tl;dr reply, I don't think your queen's apparent disinterest is necessarily anything to worry about. IANAVet, but in my experience it's very common for the mother to spend only bursts of time with her babies at this stage.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:55 AM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much--you are describing perfectly Kissa's behavior the last two days. Good to get validation that it's normal. She does seem to magically know when to head back to the nest to head off trouble (and other times, she seems like she just needs a break from being sucked at constantly).

She also shows an intense desire to go outside and I interpret this as her being extra attuned to cleanliness (i.e., not wanting to poop inside). When she was forced to use the litter box, she spent about 3 times the normal time covering up.
posted by Jon44 at 6:38 PM on May 16, 2011

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