Your cat just had kittens. Your heart warms as you watch her care for her babies. However, you get nervous when she leaves her kittens. Is she leaving them alone too long? Will the kittens be ok? Why is she leaving them? 

Why does my cat leave her kittens?

There are a few reasons why your cat might leave her kittens. The good news is, it’s normal for your cat to leave her kittens for short periods of time. However, it can be a sign of kitten rejection. 

Meeting Needs

Your cat will have to leave kittens to take care of her own needs. This includes eating, drinking, and using the litter box. If she doesn’t care for herself, she can’t care for her kittens. 

Me Time

Just like a human mother, your mother cat needs some me time. During the first few days, she will not leave the kittens other than to meet her basic needs. As they grow, she will spend more time away. 

She will socialize with you, and spend time just playing and resting. She needs some time to do her own thing, away from her babies. 

Encouraging Independence 

Mothers will also leave their kittens to encourage their independence. Mother birds push babies out of the nest when they are ready to fly. Cats will leave their kittens alone for longer and longer periods of time for the same reason. 

Their kittens need to learn to care for themselves, and they can only do this if mom gives them the space to do so. 

Kitten Rejection 

The most concerning reason a mom leaves her kittens alone is because she is rejecting them. If this is the case, she will leave them for long periods, or move them away from her living area. 

She will not groom or nurse them properly if she is rejecting them. If she seems completely uninterested in the kittens, she may be rejecting them. 

This raises the question, why would a mother cat abandon or reject her kittens? 

Immature Mother 

One of the most common causes of a mother rejecting her kittens is the mother being too young. Cats have their first heat when they are still very young themselves. A cat can go into heat at 5 or 6 months of age. 

She is not physically or psychologically ready for kittens at this age. If she has kittens, there’s a chance she will reject them. 

Health Issues

Health issues are another reason a mother rejects kittens. If the kittens are sick or deformed, she will abandon them. She doesn’t expect the kitten to survive, so she will not waste her resources on it. 

She may also reject the kittens if she has a health issue. If she is sick, she will be unable to care for the kittens properly. Rather than risk her own survival, she will abandon the kittens. 

Large Litter

A mother cat can only care for so many kittens. Litters of kittens can range from just one kitten to as many as 12. The average number of kittens per litter is 4, which the mother should be able to care for. 

However, if she has a large litter, she may abandon some of the kittens. To her, this is a logical decision. Better for a few kittens to die than the entire litter. 

Why does my cat leave her kittens with me?

If your cat brings you her kittens and leaves them with you, you can consider it a high honor. She does this because she trusts you, and considers you part of the family. 

Protection

One of the reasons a cat will bring you her kittens is because she expects you to keep them safe. You’ve done a great job of protecting her from predators, so she expects you to protect her kittens as well. 

Anytime your cat brings you her kittens, it’s because she trusts you to keep them safe from harm. 

It’s similar to a human mother leaving her baby with a trusted friend or family member. She knows her baby will be safe in her absence. 

Seeking Your Help

Your mother cat will also come to you for help. She may need a break from the kittens, but not want to leave them alone. In this case, she’ll enlist your help. She’s essentially asking you to babysit. 

She may also bring a kitten to you if she fears something is wrong with it. She may be aware that you can help her kitten. 

Family

She may also bring her kittens to you because she sees you as family. Despite their reputation for solitude, cats are capable of forming close and complex social relationships. 

A dog will view you as the leader of its pack, but a cat has a more human view of things. If they are bonded with you, they will see you as an equal. The human equivalent may be a sibling, or a close friend. 

Is it normal for my cat to leave her kittens?

Yes, it is normal for your cat to leave her kittens. In the early weeks, she should only leave them for short periods. As they age, she will leave them for longer periods of time. 

Cats need time to themselves, just as human mothers do. They also have to take care of their own needs. As the kittens age, leaving them alone encourages independence.

The measure of success for any parent is preparing their offspring to face the world alone. This requires giving them time to be on their own, under their mother’s watchful eye. 

How Long is Too Long? 

It can be tempting to monitor your mother cat closely, to be sure they don’t leave their babies too long. However, you don’t have to have a stopwatch to know if she is spending too much time away from the kittens. 

The truth is, the exact amount of time she spends away isn’t the issue. Instead, look at how the kittens are doing. 

If the kittens are well groomed, lively, and gaining weight, she is spending enough time with them. If the kittens have dirty fur, are constantly meowing, and not gaining weight, she is leaving them alone too much. 

Common sense also comes into play. If a mother is leaving their newborn kittens for an hour, this is concerning. If she leaves them for an hour at 3 weeks, this is perfectly acceptable. 

How long does a mother cat normally leave her kittens?

How long your cat will leave her kittens depends on their age. As the kittens age, she will leave them for longer periods of time. 

Newborns 

When kittens are born, they are completely dependent on their mother. They are deaf and blind. They can’t regulate their body temperature, so they need their mother’s warmth to survive. 

If she leaves them for too long during this critical period, they will die. It’s normal for her to leave the kittens long enough to see to her needs during this period. She will leave them long enough to eat, drink, and use the litter box. 

She may not leave them at all if the food or litter box is too far away, so you should keep everything she needs close by.  

In the wild, the mom will leave the kittens long enough to hunt, but will return as quickly as possible. 

It’s ok to remove the kittens long enough to weigh them at this stage. You can handle them long enough to check for fleas and signs of illness. They should not be away from mom for more than a few minutes. 

Toddlers 

When the kittens are 2-3 weeks old, mom will leave them for a bit longer. They now have their eyes open, and can regulate their own body temperature. It’s normal for mom to seek a little me time at this point. 

The kittens will begin walking, and may venture out and begin exploring. Mom will not let them wander very far before bringing them back. 

At 3 weeks, it’s ok to spend a little more time with the kittens. A quick cuddle or play session can help socialize the kittens, and mom may appreciate the break. 

In the wild, mom will leave the kittens long enough to hunt and take care of their needs. As the kittens get older, they will spend more time entertaining themselves, and need mom less. 

Weaning Teens

At 6-8 weeks old, the kittens are teenagers. They still need mom, but they will spend longer periods of time away from her. She begins weaning them during this time, and will start to push them away. 

In the wild, she would spend more time hunting, and bring prey back to the kittens. She won’t wander too far away, but she will spend more time watching them from a distance. 

Their training ramps up at this point as well. She will teach them to hunt, as well as social skills. She should also teach them to use the litter box, and eat solid food. 

It’s ok to spend more time with the kittens during this time. In fact, it’s essential for proper socialization. Give them plenty of love and play time. 

Young Adults 

The kittens are completely weaned between 10-12 weeks. Once they are fully weaned, mom will likely distance herself from them more. They are essentially on their own as young adults at about 12 weeks. 

Mom may still interact with them, and continue to teach them the ways of the cat world.  At 16 weeks, she may lose interest in them completely. It’s also possible for her to maintain a relationship with them. If she does, it will be as two adult cats, instead of mother and kitten. 

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.