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Are cats sad when their kittens leave?

Your cat just had kittens. It’s a beautiful and exciting time. You love playing with the kittens and watching them interact with mom. There’s a lot that can be learned about raising babies, even human ones, from the way cats raise their kittens. 

However, you may wonder if cats miss their kittens after they leave. Do they wonder where they are, and if they are ok? Is it wrong to give kittens away? 

Are cats sad when their kittens leave?

If it’s handled correctly, the mother is usually fine with her kittens leaving. She may miss them for a day or two, and then go on with her life. Cats raise their kittens to be independent. For them, their kittens leaving is something to be proud of. They’ve done their job, and now their kittens are ready to live their own lives. 

See what I mean about their being things to learn? 

However, it doesn’t always work out this way. Sometimes a mother does get sad after the kittens are gone. The good news is that you can help your cat through this transition. 

Species Survival 

To understand why cats don’t typically miss their kittens very long, it helps to think about their life cycle.

It’s the way of the cat world. A cat gets pregnant. She has kittens. When the kittens are able to care for themselves, they leave. Then, the cat gets pregnant again, and the cycle continues. 

If the kittens stay too long, it interferes with her ability to have new kittens. Some cats live in social groups, while others are solitary. If the cat prefers being solitary, she will not want the kittens around after they’ve grown up. 

Kittens can breed at an early age, at 4 to 6 months old. They are indiscriminate breeders, which means that they will mate with family members. Pushing kittens away when they are old enough helps ensure that they don’t breed with their mother as well. 

Time Frame

To avoid the mother becoming depressed when her kittens leave, you must give them enough time to wean. The weaning process begins at about 4 weeks. By 8-12 weeks, the kittens should be fully weaned. 

The mother will begin denying the kittens milk during the weaning process. She will gradually allow them to suckle less and less once they begin eating solid food. This is also part of the separation process. 

She will teach the kittens to hunt and how to behave socially. As they get older, she will spend less time with them. Just like weaning, she gradually withdraws her attention. 

Kittens that are taken from the mother before they are weaned are not ready, and the mother knows this. It’s part of her instinct to take care of her kittens, and she will be very sad if they are removed. 

What to Expect When Kittens Leave

Most cats handle the first kittens leaving pretty well. The last one or two kittens may be more difficult for them. Even if the kittens were weaned, it’s normal for mom to be sad for a day or two. 

She may meow and wait for a response from her kittens. She may walk around the home looking for them. Some cats cry or meow frequently during this period. Some will adopt a stuffed animal or even another pet in the home to be their new “baby”. 

If a mother has a difficult time with the kittens leaving, she may seem depressed. She may not eat well, and spend lots of time sleeping, pacing, or searching for her kittens. This is rare as long as the kittens were at least 10 weeks before they left the home, however. 

Should I Keep A Kitten?

Some owners decide to keep one or more of the kittens for a variety of reasons. They may want to continue the mother’s bloodline for breeding or just for sentimental purposes. They may want a companion for their cat. Sometimes, they keep a kitten so the mother doesn’t have to lose all their babies. 

This isn’t necessary, but your mother cat may appreciate having a kitten stick around. If you don’t keep them, she will be fine within a few days. However, the bond between a mother and kitten can remain strong as they grow, and provide them with companionship. 

Helping the Mother Through the Process

Most experts recommend removing the kittens one or two at a time. This means one or two kittens leaves the home, and then more leave a few days later. This gives the mother time to adjust, and they don’t have to deal with the loss of all their kittens at the same time. 

It’s unclear if it’s better for the mother to be present when the kittens leave. Many owners prefer to sneak the kittens away so the mother doesn’t notice. Others prefer to allow the mother to meet her kitten’s new parents, and be there to say goodbye to them when they leave.  

Once the kittens are gone, you can support the mother through the process of getting used to the empty nest. New toys can work wonders for a cat missing her kittens. Of course, they don’t replace her kittens. They do give her something to occupy her mind, however. 

Treats are also helpful. Be sure to give her extra attention and lots of snuggles. She’ll soon be back to her normal self. 

It’s Not Always Empty Nest Syndrome

Your cat’s kittens have just went to good homes. Now she’s acting strange. She’s making lots of vocalizations. She seems anxious or hyperactive. She doesn’t want to eat. She wants to go outside, to look for her kittens, right? 

It’s possible that she’s not missing her kittens at all. She’s simply in heat. A cat will go into heat soon after her kittens are weaned. It can be easy to mistake the signs of heat for those of a grieving mother. 

After all, your cat can’t tell you exactly what’s going on in their mind. It’s up to us to decode the signals they give us. And as humans, we aren’t always correct.

We also tend to apply our natural emotions to our animals. If your children leave, you are sad. So, you expect your cat to feel sad as well. 

Do mother cats remember their kittens?

Mother cats spend an immense amount of time and energy caring for their kittens. Given all the effort they put into it, you may expect them to remember their kittens after they leave. 

It Makes Scents

Mothers don’t remember their kittens after they are separated. If they encounter them as an adult, they will not recognize them. This is because cats remember and recognize each other by scent most strongly. 

Once a kitten leaves its mother, how it smells will change. This makes it very difficult for the cat to recognize their kitten. 

Kittens don’t recognize their mother either. Young kittens don’t have a fully formed memory. They will remember some things, but many things will be forgotten. Once the mother and kitten are separated, they aren’t likely to remember each other. 

What if They Aren’t Separated?

It’s thought that if the mother and kitten aren’t separated, they will continue to remember each other. However, they will treat each other as cats, not mother and child as the kitten gets older. 

They will have a relationship typical of adult cats. They can get along very well, and remain close, however.  

Is it cruel to separate kittens from their mother?

It is cruel to separate kittens from their mother too early. When separated early, particularly before they are weaned, the mother will mourn the loss of the kittens. 

When the kittens are ready, between 8-12 weeks old, the mother is much more comfortable letting them go.

It may seem cruel, and it can feel cruel if the mother begins searching for her kittens. However, in the wild, the kittens would go off on their own when they were ready. So, separating a mother and kittens when the kittens are mature is simply part of the natural order of things. 

How long do kittens stay with their mother in the wild?

Life is much different for feral cats than it is for domesticated kittens. Just like domestic cats, feral cats stay with their kittens full time for the first two weeks, leaving only when necessary to survive. 

At about 4 weeks, the mother begins to wean the kittens. By 5-6 weeks, the kittens should be eating solid food, and beginning to hunt. 

Mother cats actually don’t leave their kittens. They will go hunt, and then return to the nest where the kittens are. As the kittens age, the mother encourages them to go out and hunt for themselves. 

Eventually, the kittens stop returning to their mother’s den, and find their own territory. In some cases, the kittens continue to live with the mother as part of a social group. Each cat has its own territory, but they will remain nearby and perhaps even share hunting grounds. 

Big cats, like lions, are a different matter. It takes these large cats much longer to develop. Lions begin eating meat at 3 months old, and are fully weaned by 6 to 7 months old. It will be nearly another year, at 16 months old, before they are able to survive on their own. 

They stay near their mother until they are 2. Then, they either leave or remain a part of the pride. They are then expected to hunt with the rest of the pride.