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Why isn’t my cat feeding her kittens?

Your cat giving birth to kittens is a very exciting time. You watch as she gives birth to the most adorable fluff balls on earth. You smile with pride at how well she did. Your heart warms as you see her caring for her kittens. She cleans them, and then begins to nurse. 

This is the way every cat owner expects and hopes the process to go. However, sometimes, something goes wrong with this process. If your cat isn’t feeding her kittens, you will naturally be worried. Why isn’t she feeding her kittens? What can you do? 

Why isn’t my cat feeding her kittens?

Cats have a natural instinct to care for their young. A mother will remove the birth sac, cut the umbilical cord, and then clean her kittens. Once they are settled, she will allow them to nurse. 

When a cat doesn’t nurse her kittens, it’s because something isn’t right, either with her or the kittens. To help your cat and her litter, you’ll need to do some investigation to determine the issue. 

Illness or Fatigue

If your mother cat is sick or fatigued, she will not nurse her kittens. Essentially, your cat’s survival instinct is stronger than the maternal one. If she feels she needs to choose between herself and her kittens, she will choose herself. 

It can be hard for us to grasp this. After all, human parents will put themselves at risk, and even die, for their children. 

The birthing and nursing process takes a toll on your cat’s body. It requires lots of energy and nutrition. If your cat is battling her own health issue, there may not be enough energy left to provide for her kittens. 

If she had a difficult or long birth, or gave birth to a large litter, fatigue can also be the problem. If she isn’t nursing the kittens in the hours right after birth, she may simply need time to recover. 

Keep an eye out for signs of illness in your mother cat. These include lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

Kitten Rejection 

If your cat rejects her kittens, she will not nurse them. In fact, she will not care for them at all. She may even leave them alone, or move them away from her den area. 

Sometimes the mother will reject the kittens immediately after birth. In this case, she will not clean them up or show any care towards them. 

In other cases, she may reject them after some time has passed. She may begin caring for them, and suddenly stop. 

It’s possible for her to reject all the kittens, or only some of them. There are many reasons for this. They range from her being too young to care for them properly, to the kittens being ill. 

If the mother is not caring for the kittens at all, she is rejecting them. If she’s not nursing, but still cleaning and cuddling them, there’s another reason she’s not nursing them. 


If the mother isn’t getting proper nutrition, she will not be able to nurse properly. A nursing mother should be fed kitten formula. You can supplement this with tuna or chicken, especially if she doesn’t have a good appetite. 

You should start feeding her kitten food during pregnancy. Continue the diet when she is nursing, but increase the amount of feeding each day. 

Nursing mothers need 2 to 6 times more energy than those who aren’t nursing. If she hasn’t had a good diet prior to the birth, nutritional deficiencies can interfere with nursing. 


Just like humans, cats can get stressed or anxious. Birthing and nursing is a stressful but rewarding process for mothers, kittens and people alike. However, a healthy and mature cat is equipped to cope with the stress and care for her kittens properly. 

If there’s added stress, this can cause your cat’s milk production to be low. It can also prevent them from caring for her kittens properly. We often tell human mothers that if they aren’t ok, they can’t take proper care of their offspring. The same is true for your kitty. 

A common cause of stress for new mother cats is too much human interaction. Of course, everyone in the family wants to spend time with the new additions. However, this can be very stressful for mom, especially during the early weeks. 

This can also be an issue if she is in a high traffic area. If people are frequently walking by and making noise, this will keep her in a state of stress. 

Lastly, other pets can cause stress. Other cats and dogs can hurt or even kill kittens. It’s rare, but certainly a possibility. Until your mom is ready to introduce her kittens to the household, it’s best to keep all other pets away from the kittens. 


Mastitis is an infection in the mammary gland. It causes pain and swelling in the gland. It can prevent milk from flowing, and make the mother not want to nurse because it’s painful. 

Mastitis needs to be treated by a veterinarian. If you notice red or swollen nipples, she may have mastitis. If the teat itself is swollen and hot, mastitis is highly likely. She may also have a discharge coming from her nipples. 

Sick or Deformed Kittens

If the kittens are sick or deformed, the mother will often reject them. In the wild, survival is never certain. A mother cat has limited resources, and it’s illogical to use them on a kitten who isn’t likely to survive. It seems cold to us, but it’s part of how cats survive as a species. 

If she rejects one or some of the kittens and refuses to nurse them, this could be the reason. The kittens can appear healthy to human eyes. Because cats can sense things that we can’t, they may have a better picture of their health status. 

Too Many Kittens

If your cat had a large litter, she may refuse to nurse some of them. She can only produce enough milk for so many kittens. Rather than risk all of the kittens starving, she will choose to not nurse the weaker kittens. 


Cats began weaning kittens at 3 to 4 weeks. The kittens will attempt to nurse, but the cat will begin denying them. This is a gradual process. As the kittens get older, she will nurse them less and less. Eventually, the kittens may even get a hiss or a swat when they attempt to nurse. 

How to get my cat to feed her kittens?

In some cases, you can get your cat to begin feeding her kittens. If she doesn’t, you’ll need to step in and care for the kittens yourself. 

Vet Visit 

If your mother cat isn’t nursing, or you think the kittens aren’t getting enough milk, the first step is to take everyone to the vet. It’s best to bring the mother and all the kittens. The vet can check the mother for illness, mastitis, and malnutrition. They can also check the kittens for any health problems. 


A cat with mastitis may still be able to nurse, but she may avoid it due to fear of pain. The vet can prescribe antibiotics that will clear the infection. These are safe for the nursing kittens as well. 

Applying warm compresses or cabbage leaves can help relieve the symptoms while the infection is clearing up. You may need to hand express the affected gland to relieve the pressure. 

If she is able to nurse, allow her to do so. If she refuses, you may have to feed the kittens yourself. 


If stress is affecting your cat’s ability to nurse, you’ll need to make some changes immediately. Be sure that she is in a private place with her kittens. If at all possible, she should have a room with a closed door. 

This allows her to have privacy, which will reduce her stress. Limit your visits with the kittens to what his necessary to care for them and the mother for the first two weeks. You do want her to get comfortable with you handling the kittens, but don’t overdo it. 

If you have other pets, they should not be able to access the area where the kittens are. 

Proper Diet 

Be sure that mom is getting a healthy diet. She may eat as much as 4 times her pre-pregnancy diet when nursing. You’ll need to feed her 3 to 4 times a day when she’s nursing. 

Many experts recommend leaving food out when a cat is nursing. You can feed her wet food meals, and leave dry food out for her to graze on between meals. This allows her to eat when she feels hungry. 

Sharing the Responsibility

If too many kittens are the issue, you’ll need to help mom out. She won’t be able to produce enough milk to feed all the kittens. It’s best if you allow her to nurse all the kittens, and supplement her feeding with a few formula feedings. 

However, if she refuses to nurse some kittens, you will need to take complete responsibility for them. If you can begin supplementing before she stops nursing some of the kittens, you may be able to prevent this. 

Caring for Kittens 

If you plan to care for kittens yourself, you’ll need to keep them safe, well fed, and warm. Kittens eat every 1-3 hours during the first week or so of their life. You can expect each kitten to eat about 1 teaspoon of formula per feeding. 

You can feed them with a kitten bottle, or a medicine syringe. The syringe allows you to squirt the milk into their mouths if they refuse to suckle from the bottle. 

  After they eat, you’ll need to take a warm wash cloth and wipe their butt. This stimulates them to pee and poop.